Help Haiti keep Drugs out of the Country
Help Haiti keep Drugs out of the Country
Op-Ed / Latin America & Caribbean 2 minutes

Help Haiti keep Drugs out of the Country

A 10th of all the cocaine smuggled into the United States passes through the island of Hispaniola, and a new State Department report says most of it now is hitting Haiti first. With Haiti's skeletal police force too stretched to pursue them, drug traffickers from Colombia and Venezuela easily 'air smuggle' the drug through Haiti.

Over the last two years, the practice has increased by 53 percent. For the same two years, Haiti's President René Préval has been asking the U.S. government to send helicopters to Haiti to intercept those drug flights. The Bush administration refused.

Drug smugglers corrupt Haiti's underpaid police force, judges and politicians, which in turn undermines the efforts of the United Nations, Latin American peacekeepers and the United States to bring security and stability to the hemisphere's poorest nation. Some $2 billion in U.S. aid has been funneled to the reconstruction effort in the past five years alone. But each time there is progress in recruiting, training, equipping and deploying new Haitian police, drug traffickers derail the process. Air smuggling increased 38 percent in 2007 and another 15 percent in 2008, including more frequent and bold daylight air drops, according to the new State Department report.

Two years ago, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency, in cooperation with the Haitian National Police and MINUSTAH, sent two interdiction helicopters to Haiti to see if they could replenish the region's diminished fleet of naval and air forces that had been rerouted to Iraq. The two helicopters and beefed-up interdiction effort turned out to be so successful that for almost the entire eight weeks they were in Haiti, air smuggling ended. But when they left, the smuggling returned. Crisis Group reported earlier that even the former head of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy admitted that the extra effort should have continued longer.

Drug smuggling also infects Haiti's politics. Drug smugglers reportedly not only are financing some candidates for April's already-delayed senatorial elections, but a few candidates themselves are reportedly involved in drug smuggling. They know that if elected, they will have senatorial immunity from prosecution.

Haiti's drug-related problems compound a litany of challenges:

  • The April elections became even more complicated when the provisional electoral council decided to exclude the Lavalas Party candidates because two factions had sent duplicate candidates. Unfortunately, the end result is to punish the Lavalas supporters who may lose their chance for any representation in the Senate vote -- a result that also threatens the legitimacy of the elections themselves.
  • Last April, food price riots allegedly were instigated in part by drug trafficking-linked groups unhappy about recent arrests. The riots ended with the fall of one government and the postponement of a donors' conference that had brought the promise of vital new development assistance.
  • In August and September, the island was hit by four hurricanes. The country is still staggering from their aftermath. The hurricanes wiped out one harvest season, destroyed much of the country's agricultural infrastructure and left nearly a third of the population dependent on food aid.

Haiti is desperate for the long-delayed donors' conference that promises to provide international support for ambitious reconstruction and recovery plans. But before donors open wide their wallets, they want to see stability and security, which is once again threatened by aerial drug smuggling.

During his visit to Washington a few weeks ago, Préval made to President Barack Obama the same plea that fell on deaf ears with his predecessor: Please help us keep drugs out of our country.

The Obama administration should send a permanent helicopter interdiction force to Haiti well before the April elections, or rotate them in and out on an unannounced and regular basis. It's an easy fix that will go far in making Haitian skies a no-fly zone for drug traffickers.

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