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Haiti: Drug Trafficking Crossroads

Haiti is among the four most important countries for drug transit to the United States. Haiti is a major transit country for cocaine and marijuana from South America and the Caribbean respectively. In 2007, air smuggling of narcotics to Haiti from Venezuela increased by 38 percent. Haiti is strategically located in the central Caribbean, occupying the western half of the island of Hispaniola, which it shares with the Dominican Republic. At 27,750 square kilometers, the country is slightly larger than the state of Maryland. With the Caribbean to the south, and the open Atlantic Ocean to the north, Haiti is in an ideal position to facilitate the movement of cocaine and heroin from Colombia to the U.S. DEA is represented on the Island of Hispaniola by the Port-Au-Prince Country office in Haiti and the Santo Domingo Country Office in the Dominican Republic.

The island of Hispaniola is just under 430 miles from Colombia's most northern point, and easily accessible by twin engine aircraft hauling payloads of 500 to 700 kilos of cocaine. The two countries on the island, Haiti and the Dominican Republic, share similar coastal features, facilitating intra-island boat traffic. Just as is the case with the Dominican Republic, Haiti presents an ideal location for the staging and transhipment of drugs. Furthermore, there is effectively no border control between the two countries, allowing essentially unimpeded traffic back and forth. In addition, there is no effective law enforcement or judicial system in Haiti, so there are few legal impediments to drug trafficking.

Due to the numerous uncontrolled points of entry and internal instability, vast amounts of narcotics from South America arrive in Haiti after being transported across the porous border with the Dominican Republic, and then shipped on to Puerto Rico. Just 80 miles from the East Coast of Hispaniola, Puerto Rico is easily accessible from Hispaniola by plane or boat. The key to the drug trade in Puerto Rico is the island's U.S. Commonwealth status. Once a shipment of cocaine, whether smuggled from Haiti or the Dominican Republic by maritime, air, or commercial cargo, reaches Puerto Rico, it is unlikely to be subjected to further United States Customs inspections en route to the continental U.S.

Drug smuggling through Haiti is aided by the country's long coastline, mountainous interior, numerous uncontrolled airstrips, its 193-mile border with the Dominican Republic, and its location in the Caribbean. Haiti's thriving contraband trade, weak democratic institutions, and fledgling police force and judiciary system, contribute to its utilization by drug traffickers as a transshipment point.

As is the case throughout much of the Caribbean, the primary method for smuggling cocaine into Haiti is via maritime vessels. Traffickers also smuggle cocaine from Colombia into Haiti via general aviation; either by airdrops at sea or by landing at clandestine strips. Other common conveyances for smuggling cocaine into Haiti include cargo freighters, containerized cargo vessels, fishing vessels, and couriers on commercial aircraft.

As cocaine enters Haiti, it is usually stored locally until it can be shipped to the United States or other international markets. Cocaine is often smuggled out of Haiti in containerized cargo or on bulk cargo freighters directly to Miami. The cocaine shipments aboard cargo freighters are occasionally off-loaded to smaller vessels prior to arrival in the Continental United States (CONUS). Cocaine is also sometimes transferred overland from Haiti to the Dominican Republic for further transshipment to Puerto Rico, the CONUS, Europe, and Canada.

As in most locales where the cocaine trade flourishes, competition for control of the local market has resulted in an escalation of drug-related crime and violence. Tragically, as we have seen in Colombia, Mexico and the United States, violence and corruption are attendant to the drug trade. Reports of drug corruption are widespread and numerous. Haiti's long history of economic and political instability has increased the attractiveness of the country as a significant transit point. Furthermore, Haiti lacks a functioning judicial system and a credible law enforcement element, making traffickers feel safe from potential arrest and prosecution.

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