DEA Congressional Testimony
April 12, 2000

Statement by:

Michael S. Vigil
Special Agent in Charge
Caribbean Field Division
Drug Enforcement Administration
United States Department of Justice

Before the:

Subcommittee on Criminal Justice, Drug Policy and Human Resources


April 12, 2000

Note: This document may not reflect changes made in actual delivery.

Mr. Chairman, Members of the Subcommittee: I appreciate the opportunity to appear today to discuss the issue of drug trafficking throughout the Caribbean and specifically, Haiti. I would first like to thank the Subcommittee for its continued support of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and overall support of drug law enforcement.

As all of you are aware, the international drug syndicates operating throughout our hemisphere are resourceful, adaptable, and extremely powerful. These syndicates have an unprecedented level of sophistication and are more powerful and influential than any of the organized crime enterprises preceding them. Traditional organized crime syndicates, operating within the United States over the course of the last century, simply cannot compare to the Colombian and Mexican drug trafficking organizations functioning in this hemisphere. These drug trafficking organizations 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 not previously thought possible. The leaders of these drug trafficking organizations oversee a multi-billion dollar cocaine and heroin industry that negatively affects American life.

Trafficking through the Caribbean to the United States:

The Caribbean has long been an important transit zone for drugs entering the United States and Europe from South America. The drugs are transported through the region, to both the United States and Europe, through a wide variety of routes and methods.

The primary method for smuggling large quantities of cocaine through the Caribbean to the United States is via maritime vessels. Go-fast boats (small launches with powerful motors), bulk cargo freighters, and containerized cargo vessels are the most common conveyances for moving large quantities of cocaine through the region. Drug traffickers also routinely transport smaller quantities of cocaine from Colombia to clandestine landing strips in the Caribbean, using single or twin-engine aircraft. Traffickers also airdrop cocaine loads to waiting land vehicles and/or maritime vessels.

Couriers transport smaller quantities of cocaine on commercial flights from the Caribbean to the United States. Couriers transport cocaine by concealing small multi-kilogram quantities of cocaine on their person or in baggage. Couriers also transport small quantities (up to one kilogram) of cocaine by ingesting the product.

Compared to cocaine, heroin movement through the Caribbean is limited. Heroin is generally not consumed in the Caribbean, but rather is transshipped to Puerto Rico or the Continental United States. Almost all of the heroin transiting the Caribbean originates in Colombia. Couriers generally transport kilogram quantities of Colombian heroin on commercial flights from South America to Puerto Rico or the Continental United States, concealing the heroin on their person or in baggage. Couriers also transport smaller quantities (up to one kilogram) of heroin by concealing the heroin through ingestion. The couriers sometimes make one or two stops at various Caribbean islands in an effort to mask their original point of departure from law enforcement.

Jamaica remains the only significant Caribbean source country for marijuana destined to the United States. Go-fast boats from Jamaica often transport multi-hundred kilogram quantities of marijuana through Cuban and Bahamian waters to Florida.

The Caribbean also plays an important role in drug-related money laundering. Many Caribbean countries have well-developed offshore banking systems and bank secrecy laws that facilitate money laundering. In countries with less developed banking systems, money is often moved through these countries in bulk shipments of cash -- the ill-gotten proceeds of selling illicit drugs in the United States. The ultimate destination of the currency and/or assets is other Caribbean countries or South America.

Haiti: Drug Trafficking Crossroads of the Caribbean:

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. Recently, DEA has significantly increased manpower on Haiti (from one to seven Special Agents) and increased interdiction efforts to counter air drops and identify freighter shipments. However, recent statistics released by The Interagency Assessment of Cocaine Movement (IACM), in which the DEA participates, indicates that approximately 15 % of the cocaine entering the United States transits either Haiti or the Dominican Republic.

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.

Trafficking Routes and Methods in Haiti:

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.

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 Toll of the Drug Trade in Haiti:

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.

Since the inception of the Haitian National Police (HNP) in 1996, limited progress has been made. As presently configured, the HNP lacks logistical support and training, a unified drug intelligence system, command and control capability, and resources. Furthermore, several incidents have occurred which have further destabilized the leadership and effectiveness of the HNP. Firstly, on October 7, 1999, the Haitian Secretary of State for Public Security Robert Manuel formally resigned and left Haiti with his family for Guatemala. Following this, on October 8, 1999, an advisor to HNP Director Pierre Denize and confidante of President Preval and former President Aristide was assassinated. It was learned shortly after the assassination that the advisor, Jean Lamy was the potential successor to Manuel. Finally, during the evening of October 14, 1999, an assassination attempt was made against Mario Andersol, head of the Judicial Police.

To further exacerbate this tenuous condition, the Haitian judicial system lacks any meaningful criminal code or drug laws. Prosecutions move at a snails pace and convictions are almost nonexistent. Defendants are oftentimes detained without any legitimate cause and a number are still incarcerated despite being granted orders of release. As a result, a significant obstacle for the DEA is the lack of a law enforcement entity capable of conducting investigations and making arrests and seizures that will stand up to judicial scrutiny. Haiti has, regrettably, made only the most tentative steps in the direction of viable drug laws or effective law enforcement.

A Hemispheric Law Enforcement Response:

With the assistance of state and local partners domestically as well as 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. Over time, this strategy serves to steadily degrade a criminal organization's ability to conduct business, leaving it even more vulnerable to law enforcement strategies. Successful cases against the leaders of international drug trafficking groups most often originate from investigations being conducted in or having a nexus to, the United States.

As such, in an attempt to augment this strategy, DEA enhanced the Port-Au-Prince Country Office (PAPCO) in August 1998, by increasing manpower and immediately deploying six Special Agents. Presently, the office is staffed by one (1) Country Attache, six (6) Special Agents (S/A) and one (1) Administrative Support Specialist. In an attempt to further enhance and invigorate counterdrug activities in Haiti, the PAPCO office has established an Airport Task Force, a Street Enforcement/Interdiction Task Force and a Maritime Interdiction Task Force. Each of the respective task force groups has developed an area of expertise for both the DEA S/A's and HNP officers alike. Primarily, the long term goal of each of these units is to target, then immobilize major trafficking organizations through the arrest, prosecution and conviction of its' principal members. In addition, each group attempts to maintain and foster cooperative efforts with their HNP counterparts.

In Haiti, a viable counterdrug strategy must incorporate an interdiction component that is furnished critical, time sensitive intelligence. 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.

As a result, the Caribbean Field Division, in an attempt to diffuse this intelligence void, created the UNICORN system (Unified Caribbean On-Line Regional Network). With this system, participating Caribbean law enforcement agencies can share photographs, data, and information concerning various targets, locations, and groups involved in drug trafficking and money laundering. The Drug Enforcement Administration loans the equipment to participating agencies and provides training to host-nation counterparts, as well as installing and implementing the system.

The UNICORN system has already reaped tremendous benefits, as exhibited in the success of Operations Columbus, Genesis, and most recently, Conquistador. These enforcement operations, planned and coordinated by the Caribbean Field Division, have severely disrupted drug trafficking organizations throughout the Caribbean region. The first of these operations, dubbed Genesis, was a bi-national initiative designed to foster cooperation between Haiti and the Dominican Republic. Due to a mutual, long-standing mistrust, Haiti and the Dominican Republic had never before coordinated anti-drug efforts. The second action, titled Operation Columbus, was a multi-national operation, comprised of fifteen nations and their respective law enforcement agencies. The final initiative, the recently concluded Operation Conquistador, was a multi-national regional operation designed to expand upon the successes realized in Operation Columbus. The following is a brief synopsis of each operation:

Operation Genesis:

In concept, Operation Genesis was designed to foster and maintain cooperation between Haiti and the Dominican Republic. This operation, which was conducted during November 1998, resulted in 126 arrests throughout Haiti and the Dominican Republic. Prior to Operation Genesis, Haiti and the Dominican Republic had never before coordinated their anti-drug efforts. However, the results garnered through Operation Genesis will undoubtedly assist in improving the ability to coordinate anti-drug efforts on the island of Hispañola.

The long-term objectives for Operation Genesis were to promote the exchange of information between Haiti and the Dominican Republic, facilitate the integration and coordination of Haitian and Dominican anti-drug efforts, establish a mechanism that will support the counter-drug effort, develop institutional mentoring and training, and disrupt drug trafficking operations that are being conducted on the island of Hispañola.

The operation was executed in both Haiti and the Dominican Republic, using roadblocks at strategic locations and border crossing points, interdiction operations at the international airports and seaports, and United States Coast Guard maritime interdiction along the southern coast of Hispañola.

Operation Genesis resulted in unprecedented exchanges of law enforcement cooperation by both the Dominican Republic and Haiti. As a result, the Haitian National Police (HNP) assigned an officer and an analyst to the Dominican National Drug Control Agency's (DNDC) Santo Domingo office, and four (4) more HNP officers were stationed at Dominican border crossing points. DNDC officials, on the other hand, were assigned to the HNP headquarters at Port-au-Prince, as well as several Haitian border crossing points.

The exchange of information was further expedited by the UNICORN system, which facilitated data base checks of suspicious persons and vehicles that were stopped. The information was sent to the Caribbean Field Division (CFD)/San Juan office where system checks were performed. The information was then sent back to the HNP via the UNICORN system.

Operation Columbus:

Operation Columbus was a multi-national regional effort involving the island nations of the Caribbean, in addition to Colombia, Venezuela and Panama. The operation focused on air, land, and maritime interdiction, eradication and clandestine airstrip denial. DEA's Santo Domingo Country Office and Trinidad and Tobago Country Office served as the northern and southern command posts. The UNICORN system was used to facilitate the exchange of actionable intelligence. Operation Columbus's principle objectives were:

  • The development of a cohesive/cooperative environment among source and transit countries,
  • Disruption of drug trafficking activities,
  • The consolidation of the counterdrug efforts in the Caribbean transit zone,
  • The continued development of a comprehensive regional strategy.

Operation Columbus was planned and initiated by the CFD to severely impact the drug trafficking activities in the Caribbean and source country areas. Columbus was implemented through interdiction and eradication efforts, enforcement operations involving the use of undercover agents, confidential sources, Title III intercepts, and surveillance.

Operation Conquistador:

Operation Conquistador was a 17-day multinational drug enforcement operation involving 26 countries of the Caribbean, Central and South America. The operation was simultaneously launched on March 10, 2000, in Panama, Colombia, Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador, Suriname, Trinidad & Tobago, Montserrat, Dominica, St. Kitts, Nevis, Antigua, Anguila, St. Martin, British Virgin Islands, Barbuda, Grenada, Barbados, St. Vincent, St. Lucia, Aruba, Curacao, Jamaica, Haiti, Dominican Republic, and the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico. The primary objective of Operation Conquistador was to develop an effective regional strategy intended to disrupt drug trafficking activities and criminal organizations operating throughout the Caribbean.

Operation Conquistador's main objectives were: 1) The development of a cohesive and cooperative environment between source and transit countries; 2) The integration within each country of all counterdrug entities; 3) The continued development of a comprehensive regional strategy; 4) To facilitate the exchange of information between the participating countries with the use of the Unified Caribbean On-line Regional Network (UNICORN); 5) The mentoring and training of counter-drug entities in host countries ; 6) To impact and disrupt drug trafficking organizations in the Caribbean area and source countries.

Command and control of the operation was executed from the DEA Caribbean Field Division in San Juan, PR, with forward command posts in Trinidad & Tobago and Dominican Republic. The U.S. Coast Guard provided expanded presence of interdiction assets throughout the Caribbean and executed air and maritime command and control of sea and airborne drug interdiction assets from all countries. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (BATF) conducted traces of all seized weapons. The operation concluded on March 26, 2000.

Although the arrests and seizures in Operation Conquistador were extremely impressive, they, however, were secondary to the cooperation and coordination among the 26 countries that participated in this endeavor. Despite limited resources and infrastructure in many of the countries, all responded with notable efforts and results. Throughout the duration of the operation, all participants exchanged information with each other through the UNICORN system.

Conclusion: The Road Ahead:

Haiti requires a great deal of progress before they are able to effectively impede and diminish drug trafficking. A working legislature is required to implement counterdrug legislation. Conspiracy and asset forfeiture laws especially deserve attention. The Haitian judicial system must be reformed and modernized to uphold the rule of law.

Haitian law enforcement requires extensive training and resources. The Haitian Coast Guard requires more bases, especially on the south coast. Also, airport and port security should be strengthened. Until such reform is undertaken, Haiti will continue to be used as a significant transshipment point for illicit drugs.

Presently, the DEA has an effective working relationship with key officials in the HNP, Judicial Police, and other members in the Haitian government. With this in mind, DEA will continue to aggressively address the trafficking threat in Haiti and improve the ability of DEA personnel assigned to the island to confront this threat. We will continue to plan U.S. law enforcement operations, in conjunction with the HNP. These operations will include enhancing the capabilities of drug units, investigating money laundering operations, improving the HNP's drug interdiction capacity and providing the basic framework for a drug intelligence system.

DEA will remain actively engaged with our Haitian counterparts to develop a respectable, dedicated, and corrupt free drug unit. Over time, trafficking organizations that rise to prominence in Haiti can be effectively dismantled, provided the Haitian National Police continue to progress and enhance their law enforcement and judicial capabilities.

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 Sub-Committee may have.

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