Newsbrief: Players in Haiti Revolt Linked to Drug Traffic 3/5/04

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The government of Haitian President Jean Bertrand Aristide fell Sunday morning after the US and France stood aside rather than defend a democratically-elected president from an armed rebellion. While the US government has criticized Aristide's drug enforcement record for years, even suggesting sotto voce that drug corruption "reached the highest levels" of the Haitian government, it is now becoming evident that the men who rose against him are even dirtier than the US accused Aristide of being.

As the Haitian economy went into freefall amidst political gridlock between Aristide and an intransigent elite opposition backed by funds from the National Endowment for Democracy's International Republican Institute, the country became an increasingly important transshipment center for cocaine from South America destined for the US and Europe. With a weak, underpaid police force (and no army), Haiti was both easy and corruptible, according to US and foreign diplomatic sources cited this week by the Chicago Tribune and the San Francisco Chronicle in separate reports.

"They were all on the payrolls," one unnamed senior US law enforcement official told the Tribune, adding, "There's nothing else to be involved in there if you want money."

US displeasure with Aristide's drug fighting efforts is also a matter of public record. The US refused to certify Haiti as cooperating in the war on drugs for the last two years. In recent years, the US has revoked travel visas for at least six Aristide officials because of their suspected involvement in the drug trade.

But with Aristide now cooling his heels in the Central African Republic, the question of his or his government's culpability in the drug trade is of less interest than the question of the narco-involvement of the men who overthrew him as the US stood by. The armed rebels were led by two men, Guy Philippe and Louis-Jodel Chamblain, who are both accused of involvement in the drug trade.

Philippe "became involved in narcotics smuggling in the 1990s while he was a leading Haitian police official," the Tribune reported "experts and diplomats" as saying. The Chronicle repeated the charge, citing internal documents from a regional governmental organization adding that Philippe's second-in-command, Gilbert Dragon was also involved in trafficking.

The other leader of the armed revolt, Chamblain was a member of the FRAPH, a paramilitary death squad that murdered hundreds of Aristide supporters after he was overthrown in a 1991 military coup. FRAPH was allegedly bankrolled by former Haitian Police Chief Joseph Michel Francois, the Tribune reported. Francois was indicted in 1997 on charges he headed a smuggling ring responsible for delivering 33 tons of cocaine to the US during the 1990s. He remains a fugitive.

Both Chamblain and Philippe denied the charges, the papers reported.

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