US avoided pressing drugs rap on junta

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The Independent Online
THE Clinton administration failed to push for indictments for drug-trafficking against Haitian military commanders earlier this year, passing up an opportunity to win popular support in the US for removing them by force.

In a confidential memo in April, the Justice Department warned senior officials at the CIA, State Department, FBI and other agencies that witnesses had 'established that the Haitian military has been closely involved in the facilitation of drug-trafficking since the early 1980s'. The cocaine, en route to the US from Colombia, was carried principally by freighter.

The investigation was being carried out by the US Attorney's Office in Miami. Among those under investigation were Lieutenant-Colonel Michel Francois, the Port-au- Prince police chief who is one of the three members of the Haitian military leadership. He was also identified by a former member of the Medellin drug cartel, now in prison in the US, as personally doing business in Colombia with Pablo Escobar, the leader of the cartel in the 1980s.

Despite the evidence implicating the Haitians in the cocaine trade, Mr Clinton, in contrast to President Bush's denunciations of General Manuel Noriega before the invasion of Panama in 1989, has mentioned drugs only once in attacking the Haitian generals. His reason was apparently fear that if he denounced them as traffickers, it would be impossible to be seen to be reaching an agreement with them.

Haiti is well suited to drug smuggling because of inlets and isolated coves. A smuggler, George Morales, says he used the island as a trans- shipment point because planes could come and go without filing flight plans. Gabriel Taboada, who worked for Pablo Escobar, told Senator John Kerry's narcotics sub-committee that 'the cartel used Haiti as a bridge so as later to move the drugs towards the United States.' Senator Kerry estimated that the Haitian military was making 'dollars 100m or more on providing sanctuary for drugs coming to the US.'

Asked why he was not pressing for indictment, Lawrence Pezzullo, then the administration's special envoy in Haiti, said 'you do not foul your own nest'. Another official, who insisted on anonymity, said: 'The best sources of the DEA (Drug Enforcement Adminstration) were in the Haitian army and were biased. Second, the Justice Department did not want to play ball because, after Noriega, they did not want another prosecution which would look politically motivated.'