US: Pace of Drug Enforcement Action in Haiti “Stubbornly Low”

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Above: Port-au-Prince (CJ Photo)

By the Caribbean Journal staff

The tempo of drug enforcement actions in Haiti remains “stubbornly low,” according to the United States State Department’s recently-released 2013 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report.

Haiti remains a transit point for cocaine from South America and marijuana from Jamaica for transshipment to the US, Canada, Europe and the Caribbean region, the report said, with traffickers “taking advantage of Haiti’s largely unguarded shores and skies on both the northern and southern coasts.”

While Haiti does not have “problematic levels of domestic drug consumption,” and is not a significant producer of illicit drugs for export, the report said a recent rise in the use of crack cocaine in Port-au-Prince’s Cite Soleil area “is cause for concern.”

Seizures of narcotics by the Haitian National Police increased in 2012, although the US called the amount “inadequate.” The seizures did include a single 302 kilogramme shipment of cocaine, the largest single seizure in Haiti since 2007. Enforcement actions last year led to 92 arrests, $95,647 in cash, 24 weapons and 12 properties valued at over $5 million.

Cocaine shipped from South America through Haiti constituted about 1 percent of the total that reached the US last year.

Haiti launched a new initiative at its four major border crossings with the Dominican Republic, which has reportedly led to more vehicle inspections — although the US said the focus has been on customs revenue generation.

Despite “incremental gains” in enforcement last year, the pace of counternarcotics activity in Haiti “leaves much room for improvement,” the report said, and the “chronic backlog of pre-trial detainees in the Haitian judicial system leads to delays in prosecutions of cases the HNP does pursue.”

The report did find that “increased political stability” provided the opportunity for Haiti’s government to devote more attention to its security posture, including the role of the HNP.

It pointed to the naming of Godson Aurelus as the new Director General of the police force last summer, who fully staffed the top posts in the Inspector General’s office for the first time in its 17-year history, along with naming a new officer to head the “fledgling” judicial police.

The HNP’s five-year plan aims to increase the size of the force to 15,000 by the end of 2016, as Secretary of State for Public Security Reginald Delva told Caribbean Journal last month.

Last year, Haiti grew its Bureau de Lutte de Trafique en Stupéfiants counternarcotics unit to 138 from 42 officers, with plans to eventually grow the force to 200 officers. The BLTS currently operates from two bases in Port-au-Prince and from posts in Ouanaminthe and Cap-Haitien, with plans to expand. The BLTS also has a 10-dog canine component.

The report said that the Haitian Coast Guard, which has 144 personnel and nine boats, has suffered from a lack of material support and logistical management deficiencies, although last year the US, along with Haiti’s international donors, to update the Coast Guard’s development plan.

But Haiti’s southern coastline, however, remains “virtually enforcement free,” citing a still-unfinished new operating base for the Haitian Coast Guard in Les Cayes.

US President Barack Obama designated Haiti as a major drug trafficking country last year, due to Haiti’s “open channel northward into the Caribbean.”

But Haiti has said it is committed to strengthening the HNP, and the report said that the addition of new BLTS bases in northern Haiti are “a sign that the HNP is beginning to expand beyond a Port-au-Prince centric posture for policing the main corridors for trafficking in and out of the country.”

“The Martelly administration and the government of Prime Minister Lamothe both have noted the importance of improving Haiti’s border security,” the report said. “The United States is prepared to support Haiti’s efforts to improve counternarcotics enforcement.”