DEA Congressional Testimony
Note: This document may not reflect changes made in actual delivery.
Mr. Chairman, Members of the committee: I appreciate the opportunity to appear today to discuss drug trafficking in the Caribbean and the role Haiti plays in the transhipment of cocaine and heroin through the transit zone. First, I would like to sincerely thank you, Mr. Chairman, and the members for your continued support of DEA and its programs, both internationally and on the homefront. You have continually showed your support by traveling within the United States, and to South America, and Asia, to see first hand the devastation caused by the poison that flows from the drug producing and transit regions to the streets of our country.
The international drug syndicates operating throughout our hemisphere are resourceful, adaptable and extremely powerful. These syndicates have an unprecedented level of sophistication and they are far more organized and influential than any organized crime enterprise preceding them. Traditional organized crime, operating within the United States from the turn of the century to the present time, simply cannot compare to the Colombian and Mexican organizations operating in mainland U.S. and the Caribbean area today. Todays international crime syndicates have at their disposal an arsenal of technology, weapons and allies --- corrupted law enforcement and government officials --- enabling them to dominate the illegal drug market in ways we never thought possible. Todays drug syndicate leaders are able to oversee a multi-billion dollar cocaine and heroin industry which affects every aspect of American life.
These drug lords, who mastermind transglobal organizations responsible for all facets of the drug trade, are almost immune to conventional law enforcement strategies. Any effective program must address the threat they pose in a hemispheric approach, because they control the seamless continuum of the drug trade from the jungles of South America, to the transshipment corridors in the Caribbean and Central America, to the streets of almost every city and town in America. Their army of workers is responsible for logistical support --- transporting the drugs, arranging for storage, renting a fleet of cars and cell phones and faxes to ensure the smooth operations of the syndicates. All the business decisions and the laundering of proceeds, are made from headquarters locations in Colombia and Mexico far away from the streets of New York, Chicago, Orlando, and even Haiti.
The Caribbean has long been a favorite smuggling route used by the Cali and Medellin crime groups to smuggle thousands of tons of cocaine to the United States. The narco-traffickers from Colombia seized control of the cocaine trade in the late 1970's, virtually eliminating U.S. based entrepreneurs and independent traffickers from the wholesale cocaine market. These individuals ruled the drug trade with an iron fist, exponentially increasing their profit margins by controlling the entire seamless continuum of the cocaine trade, from coca leaf production in Peru, Bolivia and Colombia to cocaine HCL production in processing centers in Colombia, to the wholesale distribution of cocaine on the streets of the United States.
These traffickers established a labyrinth of smuggling routes throughout the central Caribbean, including Haiti, the Dominican Republic and Bahama Island chain to South Florida, using a variety of smuggling techniques to transfer their cocaine to U. S. markets. Smuggling scenarios included airdrops of 500-700 kilograms in the Bahamian Island chain and off the coast of Puerto Rico, mid-ocean boat-to-boat transfers of 500 to 2,000 kilograms, and the commercial shipment of multi-tons of cocaine through the port of Miami. The "Cornerstone" case in Miami is an excellent example of the ingenuity of the sophisticated leaders of the Cali crime syndicate and the volume of cocaine they were exporting to the United States. In a period of a little over two years, the DEA and U.S. Customs Service worked together to seize over 25 tons of cocaine in just six commercial shipments of cement posts, broccoli and coffee.
With the increased pressure placed on the Cali groups smuggling and distribution operations in South Florida and the Caribbean, in the late 80's and early 90's, they turned to established smuggling organizations in Mexico to move cocaine to the United States. Amado Carrillo-Fuentes and the other major traffickers quickly amassed fortunes from the profits of the sale of thousands of kilograms of cocaine and systematically expanded their distribution networks. This has changed the face of the drug trade in the United States and the organized criminal groups from Colombia have lost their stranglehold on the U.S. wholesale market.
The ascension to power by the groups from Mexico has garnered them enormous wealth and a demonstrative expansion in their spheres of influence. Despite reports indicating the Orejuelas have ready access to both pay and cellular phones in their prison cells, they are unable to exercise their former control over their vast empire from jail. Consequently, their ability to function as the first among all others has been seriously degraded. There are many groups in Colombia and Mexico trying to fill the void left by the incarceration of the Cali leadership. Without question, the organized crime families in Mexico, most notably the Arellano-Felix brothers, Miguel Caro-Quintero and Jesus Amezcua-Contreras, and, until his death in July 1997, Amado Carrillo-Fuentes, have eclipsed the Colombian traffickers as the most dominant figures in the wholesale cocaine trade in the U.S. today. The criminal groups from Mexico now control virtually all cocaine sold in the Western half of the United States and, for the first time, we are seeing a concerted effort on their part to expand into the lucrative East Coast market.
However, Colombian traffickers still dominate the movement of cocaine from the jungles of Bolivia and Peru to the large cocaine hydrochloride (HCl) conversion factories in Southern Colombia and their fingerprints are on the vast majority of cocaine sold in the United States today. It is likely that the remnants of the Cali group, still directed by the Orejuelas, as well some Cali splinter groups, such as the Grajales-Urdinolas, are still using their established connections with the criminal groups in Mexico to smuggle cocaine to distribution groups in the United States.
Splinter groups from the Cali syndicate and the new independent traffickers from the Northern Valle del Cauca have risen to prominence and are responsible for huge volumes of cocaine and heroin being shipped to the United States through the Caribbean. Most of these new groups have returned to the traditional smuggling routes in the Caribbean, including through Haiti, to transport their cocaine and heroin to markets on the United States populous East Coast.
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 Colombias most northern point, and easily accessible by twin engine aircraft hauling payloads of 500 to 700 kilos of cocaine. While smuggling drugs by sea in commercial shipments is more significant, ocean-going "go-fast" boats could make their cocaine runs in the dead of night to the Southern Coast of Haiti, only having to rendezvous with a refueling vessel on their return trip or carry extra fuel, to be able to make the round trip in less than a day. 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 staging and transhipment of drugs.
Because Haiti shares an island with the Dominican Republic, Haiti enjoys a special place in the drug trade. There is effectively no border control between the two countries, allowing essentially unimpeded traffic back and forth. In addition, here is no effective law enforcement or judicial system in the country, so there are few legal impediments to drug trafficking..
A great amount of the South American drug traffic which is landed in Haiti is transported across the porous border with the Dominican Republic, and then 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 islands 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.
The juxtaposition of Haiti and the Dominican Republic and the lack of an effective legal system in Haiti, combined with the current role Dominican traffickers play in the heroin and cocaine trade, allows Haiti to become a key link in the transportation chain. Today, cocaine and heroin traffickers from Colombia have enlisted the aid of traffickers and smugglers from the Dominican Republic to deliver their product to market and have placed an entire command and control infrastructure in the Caribbean, including Haiti, to manage the movement of cocaine throughout the Caribbean Corridor. Drugs smuggled into Haiti, by several routes, are smuggled by Haitians either across the land border into the Dominican Republic or in coastal trade along the northern coast of the island. Once the heroin and cocaine reach the Dominican Republic, Dominican groups take control over both smuggling the drugs into the U.S. and carrying out an increasing percentage of wholesale and some retail distribution along the East Coast.
There has been a concerted effort on the part of Colombian groups to franchise their smuggling and transportation operations to Puerto Rican and Dominican groups in order to minimize their presence on the island chain. By using this approach, they may forego some profits, but they gain the insulation from U. S. justice that they desire. These actions by the Colombians have effectively eliminated one to two levels of the Colombian cell system and forced them to relinquish some profits and control. While the cell system is still employed to provide security and compartmentalization, it no longer exists to the extent that the Colombian traffickers exert complete control over the distribution networks. These new traffickers, vying for Calis former preeminence, understand that direct control creates vulnerability for the criminal organizations leadership in both the United States and Colombia.
There are three primary smuggling routes for cocaine through Haiti. The first brings cocaine from Colombia into Haiti via general aviation conducting airdrops at sea. The second route is from source countries, via Panama or Venezuela, by commercial shipping. The third route is from source countries, via Panama or Venezuela, in coastal vessels or fishing vessels.
The Haitian trafficking groups utilize wooden hulled boats with center consoles as their vessel of choice for smuggling operations. These "yolas" are low-profile, which enhances the traffickers ability to avoid radar detection, and have been retrofitted with plastic fuel tanks in order to extend their range. Boat crews also rely on cellular telephone communications rather than high frequency radios to further enhance their security measures. Slower-moving commercial vessels are also advantageous because their larger cargo or passenger compartments allow the traffickers the option of constructing well-hidden secret compartments to store and transport their drugs.
In the past, the Dominicans and Haitians role in illegal drug activity was limited to being "pick up crews" and couriers who assisted South American smugglers in their drug ventures. Much of this has changed due to the evolution of the Dominican and Haitian traffickers in the drug trade. This new breed of trafficker functions as smuggler, transporter and, in the case of the Dominicans, wholesaler in many cities on the East Coast.
Traffickers from the Dominican Republic have developed intricate trafficking networks to distribute cocaine and heroin for the Colombians in the lucrative New York market, as well as in cities all along the East Coast. Dominican traffickers operate with efficiency, relying heavily on counter surveillance, and operational security to ensure success. They use sophisticated communications equipment, cloned cellular communications, alarm systems, and police scanners to monitor the activity of law enforcement. They also rely heavily on the ingenious construction of vehicle "traps" or secret compartments to secure their drug loads for transportation in passenger vehicles or trucks for transportation to cities throughout the Northeast.
These criminal groups also provide a natural conduit for Colombian heroin to the large addict population in New York and the Northeastern United States. Approximately 63 percent of the heroin seized in the United States last year was of South American origin. Abuse of high quality Colombian heroin, which can easily be snorted or smoked rather than injected, the traditional method of administration, has significantly increased over the last several years, and its use has unfortunately become "fashionable" for many young people. The heroin trade in Colombia is controlled by independent traffickers who harvest the poppy in the mountainous areas of the Andes and produce heroin in small laboratories throughout the area. They then employ an army of couriers who smuggle the heroin into the United States via ingestion, body carriers, and increasingly, in concealed compartments in luggage.
The Bahama Island chain, which lies northwest of the island of Hispaniola and just northeast of Cuba, has been a center for smuggling of contraband for centuries. During the heyday of the Medellin Cartel, Carlos Lehder bought an entire island, Normans Cay; where he flew planes laden with hundreds of kilos of cocaine to stage for entry into the United States. The Bahamas remain a key to drug trafficking from Haiti to the United States.
To counter the threat in the Northern Caribbean, including the Turks and Caicos Islands, the United States government initiated Operation Bahamas and Turks and Caicos (OPBAT) in 1982. A joint Bahamian, DEA, U.S. Customs, U.S.Coast Guard and Department of Defense interdiction operation headquartered in Nassau, Bahamas. OPBAT has had enormous success over the years, seizing thousands of kilograms of cocaine and literally driving the transportation groups working for the Cali syndicate out of the Northern Caribbean.
The threat we now face in the Northern Caribbean and Bahamas is constantly changing, complicating the challenge to drug law enforcement in Haiti.
We are very concerned about the new containerized shipping port facility in Freeport, Bahamas, which will function as a freight forwarding point for containerized commercial cargo being sent to various ports in the United States and Europe. The containers are not to be opened while in Freeport; however, this is an opportunity ripe for opportunistic smuggling organizations, such as those on the island of Hispaniola, to exploit.
While the greatest amount of cocaine is transported from Haiti to the Dominican Republic for further shipment, some Haitian smuggling groups use "go-fast" boats to smuggle drugs to the Bahamas.
As in most locations where the cocaine trade flourishes, competition for control of the local market has resulted in an escalation of drug-related crime. Tragically, as we have seen in Colombia, Mexico and the United States, violence and corruption are attendant to the drug trade. Drug corruption is rampant, even in the police and judicial system. A campaign against narcotics corruption, begun by President Preval in 1996, has already led to the arrest of one judge for releasing an alleged Dominican drug trafficker, and the release from duty of another judge accused of improprieties in narcotics cases. Two police officers were removed in 1996, by the National Police Inspector General, because of drug-related problems.
Examples of corruption are widespread. A Colombian citizen, arrested at the Port-Au-Prince Airport in connection with a shipment of 750 kilos of cocaine, was released from custody under suspicious circumstances involving Haitian governmental officials. In another incident, after large quantities of cocaine were discovered by the Haitian National Police (HNP) at a routine traffic stop in Port-Au-Prince. A senior governmental official ordered the police to release the vehicle, the individuals involved, and the cocaine.
The drug threat in Haiti is best approached from a broad perspective. Successful cases against the leaders of international drug trafficking groups most often originate from investigations being conducted in the United States. Through what was originally designated our Southwest Border Initiative, but has become a Hemispheric Strategy, DEA and our counterparts direct their resources against the communications systems of the command and control functions of the organized crime groups in both Colombia and Mexico and their henchmen throughout the Caribbean and in the United States, who direct the distribution of cocaine and heroin and the collection of profits from the drug sales. DEAs enforcement operations in these efforts rely heavily on court-authorized electronic surveillance or Title III interception orders. For example, the Miami Field Division had 97 court authorized wire taps to support investigations against organized crime groups in 1996 and have employed 57 more as of July of this year. Almost all of these intercepts were targeted at criminal groups smuggling cocaine and heroin through the Caribbean basin, to include through Haiti.
With the assistance of our state and local partners domestically and our counterparts in foreign governments, DEA works to build cases against, and ultimately incarcerate, the leaders of these sophisticated criminal syndicates as well as the underlings they send to other countries, including the United States, to distribute their poison. Over time, this strategy serves to steadily degrade a criminal organizations ability to conduct business, leaving it even more vulnerable to law enforcement strategies.
A successful counterdrug strategy must incorporate an interdiction component that is fed the critical intelligence necessary to be successful. The vastness of the Caribbean Corridor combined with traffickers use of sophisticated compartments utilized in freighters, and the sheer volume and variety of commercial cargo flowing through the Caribbean, make a meaningful interdiction program almost completely dependent on quality intelligence. Our hemispheric strategy relies upon court-ordered Title III interceptions that allow us to support the agencies conducting interdiction with that quality intelligence.
In Haiti, the prospects for successful cooperative drug law enforcement are not promising. Haitis long history of economic and political instability, along with rampant official corruption, have increased the inherent attractiveness of the country as a crossroads of the drug trade. Haiti lacks a functioning judicial system and a credible law enforcement element, making traffickers feel safe -- they probably are, in fact, safe -- in their operations there. There were no successful criminal prosecutions of narcotics cases in Haiti in 1996. Most traffickers are, evidently, able to manipulate the weak and corrupt judicial system.
The Haitian judicial system is not up to the task and drug laws are inadequate to support a viable law enforcement effort against drugs, even if there were a healthy law enforcement element in Haiti. DEAs most serious obstacle in Haiti is the lack of a law enforcement entity capable of conducting investigations and making arrests and seizures that will stand up in court. Haiti has, regrettably, made only the most tentative steps in the direction of viable drug laws or effective law enforcement.
Haiti is nominally a signatory to the 1961 Single Convention, the 1972 Protocol, and the 1982 U.N. Convention. The domestic legislation which would be required within Haiti to implement these international agreements is not yet in place. The Constitutional bar against extradition of Haitian citizens presents an unacceptable obstacle to cooperation on transnational drug cases. Finally, there are no demand reduction programs in place. New narcotics laws are now being developed, including asset seizure and forfeiture and money laundering statutes, but are not yet in effect.
Only in 1996, did Haiti organize the HNP, and name its first Director, Mr. Pierre Denize. The HNP has no demonstrated expertise or law enforcement skills. The organization suffers from a lack of training and resources. The first chief of counternarcotics, Mr. Francois Marie Sandy Charles Pierre, quickly resigned. A second counterdrug chief, Mr. Patrick Chapoteau, also resigned. Neither of these chiefs had a real counternarcotics unit to work with.
The Haitian Coast Guard, which, together with the police, would be expected to play a major role in interdicting drug shipments in the waters around Hispaniola, is not now able to operate on its own. It is operationally limited to the Gulf of Gonave, and lacks sufficient training, personnel, and equipment. On the bright side, in its first two months of operation, the Haitian Coast Guard had two major cocaine seizures, amounting to over 900 kilograms.
There is, at present, an embryonic Counternarcotics Unit [CNU] within the Judicial Police, which is headed by Mr. Pierre Fortin Jean-Dines. The CNU, created with the urging of the U.S. government in February 1997, exists in name only, and is entirely lacking in training, resources, and the support of either the legal system or the Government of Haiti. The Counternarcotics unit has about 22 officers, including the chief, Mr. Smith Jean Payo. The unit members were screened based on a interview, a basic Judicial Police examination, a background investigation, and graduation from the Judicial Police Course.
The CNU has several major hurdles to overcome before becoming viable. None of the officers, including the chief, have had law enforcement experience. The Unit has temporary offices in a training center, and has no communications equipment. The unit has no effective information/intelligence sharing capability. The Director of the Judicial Police, Mr. Fortin, has stated that the unit cannot be regarded as functional until it receives the needed equipment and the personnel have been trained. The Government of Haiti has so far not provided the needed resources, and has clearly demonstrated that counternarcotics initiatives are not a priority.
The prospects for counter narcotics law enforcement in Haiti are not entirely bleak. Steps are now being taken to create some semblance of a functioning counterdrug unit. The DEA Country Office in Port-Au-Prince has a solid working relationship with the key officials in the HNP, Judicial Police, and other public safety officials in the Haitian Government. This relationship is a good basis on which to build more effective cooperative drug law enforcement, the centerpiece of which will be a functioning counternarcotics unit.
Responsibility for training the CNU lies with the International Criminal Investigations Training Assistance Program [ICITAP] and with the Department of State/INL. None of the needed start-up equipment has yet been delivered. An ICITAP training plan is in place, but only initial training has taken place, starting in May 1997. The Government of Canada has also provided basic police training in conducting investigations, arrest techniques, judicial procedures, intelligence collection, and analysis.
DEA began specialized training for the CNU in October 1997, with the goal of initial operational readiness by January 1998. The first round of training took place October 13-24, conducted by the DEA Office of International Training. DEA will also have a Special Agent assigned to work full-time with the CNU as an advisor during the transition from training to an operational force.
Once ready, the CNU will be targeted at dismantling criminal organizations through investigations, arrests, and prosecution of international traffickers. The CNU will, with the advice and assistance of DEA, collect intelligence regarding trafficking organizations, target traffickers using Haiti as a transhipment point, and concentrate investigations on organizations that transship through the country, the Dominican Republic, and Puerto Rico to the United States. In addition, DEA will work with Haitian authorities to establish effective money laundering legislation and to maintain a close relationship between the CNU, Haitian Coast Guard, and U.S. counterparts.
Despite the vital role they play in investigations of international drug trafficking organizations, there is no technical capability for court-authorized electronic surveillance in Haiti. The antiquated communications infrastructure there will not allow it. However, a joint DEA/FBI/US Customs Service group will be used to identify key communications links between source country suppliers and organizations operating in Haiti and throughout the Caribbean.
Proceeding on the basis of partnership with the Haitians, interagency cooperation, and intelligence sharing, DEA will move forward to reduce the flow of drug trafficking throughout the region. DEAs Caribbean Field Division has created a Caribbean Mobile Response Group to provide additional investigative and operational support in the region. OPBAT, referred to above, is being replicated in the central Caribbean in Operation BLUE SKIES. For the first time, it received the total support of the host nations, who provided overflight clearances and enforcement personnel for the interdiction operations.
Thirty years ago many thought traditional organized crime could never be subverted, but fortunately it is now a mere shadow of what it once was. Five years ago nearly every one said that the Miguel Rodriguez Orejuela, and his accomplices in Cali, were invincible. However, we see today that every one of the criminals from the Cali Cartel are either in jail or dead. The law enforcement systems I have described, which attack the command and control functions of criminal syndicates, have been successful. Such an approach can be successful in Haiti. Over time, trafficking organizations that rise to prominence in Haiti can be reduced to ineffectiveness, provided we continue to have the assistance of foreign law enforcement agencies, the ability to attack the communications system of these organizations, and Haiti builds a law enforcement and criminal justice capacity of its own.
Thank you for the opportunity to testify today, Mr. Chairman. I will be happy to respond to any questions you or the members of the Committee may have.