Haiti remains a transit point for cocaine originating in South America and marijuana originating in Jamaica, traversing the country’s porous borders in route to the United States and other markets. This traffic takes advantage of Haiti’s severely under-patrolled sea borders, particularly on the northern and southern coasts. Haiti is not a significant producer of illicit drugs for export, although there is cultivation of cannabis for local consumption. Haiti’s primarily subsistence-level economy does not provide an environment conducive to high levels of domestic drug use.
The Haitian government took steps in 2014 to strengthen the Haitian National Police (HNP) and its counternarcotics unit (the “Brigade in the Fight Against Narcotics Trafficking,” or BLTS) with additional manpower, and officials at the highest levels of government have repeatedly committed to fight drug trafficking. However, drug seizures in 2014 did not reflect significant confiscations and the government has been unable to secure borders adequately in order to cut this flow of illegal drugs. Principal land border crossings with the Dominican Republic are largely uncontrolled with only rare vehicle inspections, and the southern coastline remains virtually enforcement-free. The minimal interdiction capacity of the Haitian Coast Guard creates a low-risk environment for drug traffickers to operate. While domestic law enforcement’s interdiction capacity has improved marginally, persistent blockages in the judicial system continue to impede successful prosecution of apprehended drug traffickers.
B. Drug Control Accomplishments, Policies, and Trends
1. Institutional Development
In January 2015, the HNP’s 25th Promotion class of 1,123 cadets graduated, bringing the force to 12,200 police. These large cadet classes must be in session nearly continuously at the police school in order for the HNP to meet its five-year development plan goal of 15,000 officers by the end of 2016. A larger force will expand the HNP to locations it is not currently covering and enable it to take on increasing responsibility for security, particularly amid the gradual drawdown and eventual withdrawal of the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) peacekeeping force.
The HNP’s counternarcotics unit, BLTS, remains the domestic institution dedicated to interdicting drug traffic. In 2014 the unit’s manpower increased substantially from 123 to almost 200 officers, thanks to a contingent of new recruits from the 24th Promotion Class. These officers also completed a supplementary two-month counternarcotics training with BLTS and DEA. Several of the new BLTS officers joined the K9 unit, whereas others have been deployed to Cap Haitien. The HNP is also planning on deploying BLTS officers to regional outposts, including Port-de-Paix, Les Cayes, and border crossings with the Dominican Republic.
BLTS developed its internal capabilities during 2014 by sending six officers to staff new outposts in Ouanaminthe (along the Dominican border) and Cap Haitien, further expanded use of a 20-dog canine unit, and participated in multiple U.S.-funded training exercises within the United States and Colombia. However, BLTS still lacks a permanent outpost in the south of Haiti (though it plans to establish one with a maritime interdiction capability at the Haitian Coast Guard base in Les Cayes in 2015), and therefore currently has minimal operational capacity in a region known for trafficking. The BLTS faces an additional uphill battle in the south, as firsthand reporting indicates continued participation by some local police officers in the drug trade. Such allegations of officer misconduct are investigated by the HNP Inspector General’s office, which since the hiring of a new Chief Inspector General in September 2013 has been more active in pursuing case investigations and imposing internal HNP discipline. However, the HNP still faces challenges regulating its internal affairs, particularly in the more remote provinces.
The Haitian Coast Guard (HCG) is responsible for securing the country’s maritime borders and has an effective strength of 134 officers, with operating bases in Cap Haitien (North region), Killick (Port-au-Prince), and Les Cayes (South). The force has a total of 20 maritime vessels, but only eight are currently operational. Operational capacity of the entire fleet remains extremely low due to insufficient funding, management deficiencies, and an inability to refuel and maintain the vessels in a reliable manner. These issues have prevented the HCG from serving as an effective deterrent force to maritime drug trafficking.
Haiti maintains several core legal agreements in support of drug control goals, and often cooperates effectively with the United States on narcotics cases. A U.S.-Haiti bilateral letter of agreement signed in 1997 concerning Cooperation to Suppress Illicit Maritime Drug Traffic allows U.S. law enforcement agencies to enter Haitian territorial waters and airspace when in pursuit of suspect vessels or aircraft, to board and search suspect vessels, to patrol Haitian airspace, and to carry members of the HCG as ship riders. Although there is no mutual legal assistance treaty between Haiti and the United States, the Haitian government has cooperated, through letters rogatory, on many cases within the limits of Haitian law. The bilateral extradition treaty entered into force in 1905 and although the Haitian Constitution prohibits extradition of Haitian nationals, the Government of Haiti has willingly surrendered Haitians and other nationals under indictment in the United States to U.S. law enforcement agencies.
2. Supply Reduction
BLTS executed several successful operations in 2014 yielding drug and cash asset seizures, including two joint operations with the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) and U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) yielding nearly five metric tons (MT) of marijuana and nearly one MT of cocaine seized under U.S. jurisdiction. Nevertheless, overall results remained inconsistent. Cocaine seizures within Haiti totaled only three kilograms (kg). Marijuana seizures totaled 4.13 MT, the bulk of which came from a joint operation with USCG and DEA in May. Enforcement actions yielded a total of 73 arrests, $70,400 in cash, eight firearms, six vehicles, and four “go-fast” boats. DEA works frequently with BLTS on major operations, and the agency’s assistance in intelligence gathering, logistics, and operational planning helped facilitate most BLTS actions ending in seizure or arrest.
There is no significant availability or traffic of synthetic illegal drugs in Haiti.
3. Drug Abuse Awareness, Demand Reduction, and Treatment
Illicit drug abuse is uncommon in Haiti, as the population’s minimal discretionary income mitigates against a widespread drug abuse problem. The Government of Haiti runs small-scale public awareness and demand reduction programs funded through the counternarcotics policy commission (CONALD), but there is no data on these programs’ impact or utility. An INL grantee, the Community Anti-Drug Coalitions of America (CADCA), carries out some drug abuse prevention training with local non-government organizations, and a Haitian private sector association called APAAC receives funds from CONALD and also conducts prevention and awareness activities.
As a matter of policy, the Haitian government does not encourage or facilitate illegal activity associated with drug trafficking, or the laundering of proceeds from illicit drug transactions. Government officials have expressed their desire to combat drug trafficking and its negative impacts.
Effective government action to fight corruption, particularly related to narcotics, is constrained by two major factors. The first is a historically obstructive legal framework; Haiti did not specifically codify corruption as a crime until 2014. However, in May Haiti’s Executive signed into law a long-standing bill that formally criminalizes public corruption and prescribes set penalties for acts including bribery and illegal procurement. While implementation of the law remains outstanding, training of judicial personnel has begun and the bill’s passage is a positive step in addressing public corruption. Haiti also has asset seizure laws that have enabled the financial intelligence unit (Central Unit of Financial Investigations, or UCREF) and the HNP’s financial crimes unit (Financial and Economic Affairs Brigade, or BAFE) to collaborate to seize assets of drug traffickers convicted outside of Haiti. The Haitian constitution’s grant of blanket immunity from prosecution to members of Parliament, however, is a point of concern for anti-corruption and counternarcotics efforts.
The second constraining factor is systematically poor judicial performance, which impedes both narcotics and corruption investigations. This is due to a mix of factors, including antiquated penal and criminal procedure codes, opaque court proceedings and record keeping, a historical lack of judicial oversight, and widespread judicial corruption. To date there have been no successful convictions on drug trafficking or corruption-related charges in Haitian courts. The Haitian Unit for Combatting Corruption (ULCC) has advanced 27 corruption- related cases to the judiciary since its inception in 2005, but without tangible results.
C. National Goals, Bilateral Cooperation, and U.S. Policy Initiatives
U.S. drug control initiatives in Haiti focus on improving the capacity of the HNP, BLTS, and the Haitian Coast Guard to detect, investigate, and deter the flow of illegal drugs. A 2004 letter of agreement (as amended) between the United States and Haiti governs these activities, as well as a new agreement signed in July 2014. Core goals enshrined in the agreement are to create an overall counternarcotics capability in the Haitian government, and to interdict drug shipments and develop cases against traffickers and other criminal organizations. While the continued growth of BLTS’s manpower, strong coordination on executing counternarcotics operations in conjunction with U.S. agencies, and total quantity of marijuana seized were all positive steps in 2014, the regression from 2013 in numbers of arrests, seized cash, and seized cocaine was a discouraging sign for the BLTS’ operational record. Additionally, the continued absence of narcotics cases ending in conviction underscored the ongoing under-performance of the judicial system.
U.S. assistance supports both general development of the HNP and targeted support to the BLTS via complementary programs. Support to the HNP covers a broad range of activities, including infrastructure, equipment, and both in-country and overseas training. Improved overall operational capacity and professionalism of the HNP are necessary for effective counternarcotics activity in Haiti. With U.S.-funding, the New York City Police Department (NYPD) deploys rotating four-member teams of NYPD officers to Haiti to serve as technical advisors to the HNP, including on counternarcotics activities. This program has been highly effective and has helped improve the HNP’s investigative and community policing capabilities.
Specific support to the BLTS spans a similar range, including procurement of communications equipment, vehicles, non-lethal operational gear, and canine unit training. U.S. support includes multiple training opportunities for BLTS officers, including through an agreement with the Miami-Dade Police Department that concluded in 2014 after training a total of 75 BLTS agents on various aspects of counternarcotics operations, and other trainings both in the United States and in third countries, such as at the International Law Enforcement Academy (ILEA) in El Salvador. The United States also funds joint enforcement operations between DEA and the HNP/BLTS.
The United States is also working to establish a joint Haitian Coast Guard/BLTS task force that will conduct maritime interdiction operations from the coast guard base in Les Cayes. Delivery of two new vessels is scheduled for early 2015, at which time the task force should become operational. If successful, the pilot program will be expanded to other jurisdictions, including Cap Haitien.
Finally, the United States also provides maintenance support for five boats originally purchased for the HCG by the Government of Canada. Additional funds support refurbishment and maintenance of three small vessels at the Cap Haitien base; law enforcement training; mobile training teams and professional development; vessel refurbishment and maintenance; electronic equipment; and HCG facility modernization.
The continued institutional development of both the HNP and the BLTS are positive trends that have helped to improve public security and have marginally increased Haiti’s ability to interdict drug trafficking. Continued strong cooperation between Haitian and U.S. law enforcement has yielded major narcotics seizures, and enabled the apprehension of individuals indicted in U.S. jurisdictions and their return for trial. However, the dysfunctional Haitian judicial system drastically limits domestic prosecution of drug cases, and thus reduces disincentives to trafficking operations. Drug seizures also remain low and Haiti’s minimal capacity to police both its sea and land borders is a particular point of concern, as it further engenders a low-risk environment for traffickers.
Continued engagement from the United States, particularly in support of BLTS operations and general HNP development, will help Haitian law enforcement to capitalize on marginal gains in drug interdiction capacity. However, the benefits of such gains will be limited if the judicial system fails to convict drug traffickers. The judiciary still requires wholesale reform to address arcane procedures and internal corruption. Only the concurrent strengthening of the judiciary, law enforcement, and border security will enable Haiti to make real progress in fighting drug trafficking.