Pubdate: Sun, 15 Jul 2001
Source: Newsday (NY)
Copyright: 2001 Newsday Inc.
Author: Mark Fineman; Los Angeles Times


Grand-Goave, Haiti - It was just over a year ago that a peasant mob in
this poor coastal town ripped off a four-ton shipment of Colombian
cocaine, a haul worth $20 million even at local prices.

Fishermen became instant millionaires. Farmers frequented nightclubs.
And the sudden largess spawned a host of new social ills.

But the populist drug seizure here in a nation that had become a major
trans-shipment hub for Colombian cocaine headed to the United States
also pointed to the latest, and perhaps strangest, trend in Caribbean
drug smuggling.

After a year of mass rip-offs, crashed drug planes and trashed getaway
cars, not even the drug dealers, it seems, can tolerate desperate and
dilapidated Haiti.

So dramatic is the decrease of the drug flow through this country of 8
million that the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration and State
Department have taken notice.

In its most recent narcotics report, the State Department concluded
that Haiti accounted for just 8 percent of all cocaine that reached
the United States last year, down from 13 percent in 1999. It said
little of the decrease could be attributed to the efforts of Haitian
law enforcement, instead citing stepped-up searches of Haitian
freighters on the Mimi River and tough new counter-drug laws recently
passed by Haiti's National Assembly.

But, the report added: "The largest factor may be the difficulties
traffickers experienced in moving drugs through Haiti because of poor
infrastructure or the seizure of drugs by rival traffickers or other
criminals." For example, air drops of large shipments "dropped
significantly in 2000, particularly after several aircraft crashed
trying to land on makeshift runways," the department said.

Another reason: increasingly brazen and impoverished citizens for whom
cocaine has in recent years become "the principal business in some
coastal towns."

"Cocaine is widely known as manna from heaven throughout Haiti, as it
has become a source of income for entire towns," the report said.

Grand-Goave is a model of the phenomenon. The populist cocaine seizure
on June 9, 2000, has fundamentally changed the town by fostering
social evils that were compounded when the drug flows went dry, local
officials, radio correspondents and police officers say.

Like most of the Haitian countryside, Grand-Goave has always been
poor. It has no hospital, park or professional school. It runs solely
on a $2,700 monthly federal handout for municipal salaries. With
unemployment approaching 100 percent, the town's 2,000-or-so people
have survived on subsistence farming and money sent from relatives in
the United States and Canada. But morally, it has been a God-fearing
town where petty crime has been minimal and major crimes such as
murder largely motivated by politics.

That all changed a year ago, residents say, the day two launches sped
ashore and nearly the entire town turned out to meet them.

Grand-Goave's free-for-all began just moments after the 8,400 pounds
of cocaine landed on a local beach about 5:30 a.m. Local police had
been tipped off to the shipment; some probably were hired to protect
the traffickers, said one local officer who asked not to be identified.

Soon, the police were overwhelmed by thousands of townspeople, most
armed with machetes or homemade guns. Outnumbered, the police
ultimately gave up and, witnesses said, even helped distribute the
sacks. In the end, the police officially seized just 300 pounds.

The rest became Grand-Goave's gross national product for the year to

"Simple fishermen became millionaires overnight," said one commentator
at Radio Saka, the local station where broadcasters asked not to be
identified by name for fear of retaliation.

"People were pouring into the local nightclubs and showering
themselves with bottles of beer. In time, it corrupted the town at its
most basic level.  And today, the biggest impact of all this cocaine
is a new sense of insecurity." Many of the townsfolk who scored a bag
or two sold some of the drugs and bought weapons to protect the rest.
With sudden disposable income, there was a new market for
prostitution, and the local radio commentators say girls as young as
12 entered the trade.

But now the money and much of the drugs are gone, they said. Some of
the instant millionaires have taken to stealing bicycles or other
household goods to support new drug habits. And no more manna has
landed from heaven in the past 12 months.

"We haven't seen anything like this since," said another Radio Saka
journalist. "When this thing happened, they were saying that Haiti was
one of the biggest routes for drugs. Now, since the ninth of June last
year, we haven't heard anything about drugs here.

"Before, the drug dealers were doing business with the police. But
when the people got involved, the price for the dealers became too
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