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More evidence of drugs-for-guns trade between Jamaica and Haiti

By Charles Arthur

London, 6 Feb. 07 [AlterPresse] --- Jamaican police have carried out a series of arrests and seizures of firearms that appear to confirm long-held suspicions of the existence of an extensive criminal network smuggling marijuana and guns between Jamaica and the nearby nation of Haiti.

On February 4th, following a shoot-out between Jamaican police and an unidentified man in Spanish Town in the central parish of St Catherine, a gun was recovered from the man who had been shot dead by the police. The weapon was found to have originated in Haiti and to have once belonged to a Haitian police officer. "The firearm was stolen from the Haitian police," said Jamaican police inspector, Steve Brown. "We suspect that it’s a part of the ongoing ’guns for drugs’ trade between Jamaica and Haiti, and again this raises concerns about the viable trade that is going on."

Jamaican police officials have sought the assistance of international policing organisation, Interpol, to try and locate the Haitian police officer to whom the gun was issued, and to determine how the gun got into the hands of local criminals.

"We want to know how this gun reached our shores," said Assistant Commissioner Glenmore Hinds, head of Operation Kingfish, the special police unit formed in October 2004 to counter drug-trafficking and to stem the rising crime rate and gang violence in Jamaica.

Just a few days earlier, on February 1st, officers from Operation Kingfish carried out a raid on the Hampton Court area of St Thomas that netted four illegal handguns, which the lawmen believe had just arrived from Haiti, and resulted in the arrest of 11 people, including three Haitians and a Honduran. The arrests were made by police with the assistance of a Jamaica Defence Force (Army) helicopter, and those arrested were airlifted from St Thomas to the Jamaican capital, Kingston.

Assistant Commissioner of Police Hinds said that some of those arrested had been under surveillance for some time, and indicated that several business interests are believed to be responsible for the financing of a massive drugs-for-guns smuggling ring between Jamaica and Haiti.

Police sources allege that a St Elizabeth woman, who is among the detainees, accompanied her Honduran husband on a recent trip by boat to Haiti, and returned to Jamaica with the three Haitians. Hinds told the local daily newspaper, The Gleaner, "Our intelligence has suggested that persons operating legitimate businesses are now employing people as ’fishermen’ to transport the drugs to Haiti and trade it in for the guns." According to Hinds, powerful handguns and sub-machine weapons are being traded in the other direction from Haiti to Jamaica.

Just a week earlier, Jamaican police arrested three Haitians in connection with two large marijuana busts. In the first operation, that took place in the community of Orange Hill, in the western parish of Westmoreland, on January 25th, two Haitians were detained after authorities discovered a one-acre marijuana field. The spokesman for Operation Kingfish, Inspector Brown, said a police team also went to the central parish of Clarendon where a large quantity of marijuana was seized, and another Haitian arrested.

Brown said, "The fact that these Haitians are getting involved in criminal activities means we will be asking the authorities to take a serious look at the status of these Haitians who are in Jamaica. A lot of them came here under the disguise that they are seeking refuge, but soon they get involved in the illegal gun and drug trade..."

The Operation Kingfish discoveries come just weeks after Haitian President René Préval made a working visit to Jamaica during which he discussed the illegal trade in drugs and guns between the two countries with Jamaican Prime Minister, Portia Simpson. At a joint press conference on January 3rd, the two leaders stressed that security forces in both countries were taking strident moves to curtail the illegal gun and narcotics trade. Further talks on the issue are expected at the first Jamaica/Haiti Joint Commission, in Jamaica, during the second quarter of 2007.

Speaking to reporters following the meeting with President Préval, Prime Minister Simpson said Jamaica’s security forces would be working closely with Haitian authorities in several areas. "Bringing guns into Jamaica to kill poor people is something not to be tolerated. It has to be dealt with....(and) I believe that the people bringing them in - the traffickers - are to be taken by surprise. That’s the only way we are going to end this," she said.

President Préval said Jamaica stood to benefit if Haiti was made a more stable democracy, "because if we continue to be a weak state, weapons will continue to come into the country to kill Jamaicans."

In a study published in 2005, the Small Arms Survey estimated that as many as 170,000 small arms are held illegally in Haiti (the total population is 8.3 million), and later the same year, the UK’s Control Arms Campaign called for a new international Arms Trade Treaty, based on the principles of international law, to help reduce the human cost of irresponsible arms transfers. As part of the campaign, Oxfam GB produced a report entitled, ’The Call for Tough Arms Control : Voices from Haiti.’ This report noted that “Haiti produces no firearms itself except for home-made ‘Creole’ guns which are usually crude handguns or rifles made from old ones. Most arms are smuggled into Haiti from neighbouring countries in the region, including from the USA.”

On his return to from Jamaica to Haiti President Préval made an annual address to the National Assembly (Parliament) during which he said Haiti remained a "victim of drug-consuming countries", accusing the United States in particular of not doing enough to help to fight the illegal trade. Most of the marijuana smuggled into Haiti from Jamaica, as well as the cocaine coming in from Colombia and Venezuela, is destined for the North American market.

Renewing a criticism that he made during his first presidential term (1996-2001), Préval accused drug-consuming countries of blaming Haiti for failing to stop drug-trafficking, while doing little to boost the country’s weak defences. He said, "A lot of crimes happening in the country are connected to drugs. But everybody knows that Haiti doesn’t produce drugs. Haiti isn’t a big consumer of drugs. ... Haiti is the victim of drug-consuming countries, mainly the United States."

During 2006 there were indications that marijuana from Jamaica was being smuggled into Haiti en route to the United States in ever-greater quantities. At the beginning of November, Jamaican police seized 1,598 pounds of compressed marijuana with an estimated street value of US$570,000 in separate operations in Kingston and Portland. “Six hundred and thirty pounds were found along the Manchioneal beach in Portland, waiting to be picked up by a boat," according to Carlton Wilson, head of the local Narcotics Division. Wilson added, "We understand that from time to time go-fast boats are used to pick up drugs in Manchioneal and transport them to Haiti or the Bahamas." On the same day, police detected a stash of compressed marijuana, packed in the flooring of a 40-foot container at the terminal in Kingston.

On December 16th police arrested two men and seized 40 parcels of compressed marijuana on the beach at Leath in the parish of St Thomas. The police believed that the men were about to depart by boat with the marijuana, with the intention of delivering the drugs to Haiti. [ca apr 06/02/2007 13:00]