Haiti's military leaders have been working with Colombian cocaine traffickers for the past four years to help move hundreds of pounds of the drug each month from South and Central America to the United States, American diplomats and other officials say.
In their first detailed account of the role of the Haitian armed forces in international narcotics traffic, American officials said that much of Haiti's military leadership, including its commander, Lt. Gen. Raoul Cedras, has been either actively involved with Colombian drug dealers or has turned a blind eye to their trafficking in cocaine, accepting payments for their cooperation.For months, U.S. officials have discounted reports of drug trafficking by senior Haitian officers, and some see the sudden turnabout by the administration as an attempt to lay the groundwork for a possible American invasion to restore the exiled Haitian president, the Rev. Jean-Bertrand Aristide.
The American officials now are saying the Haitian officers are earning hundreds of thousands of dollars each month for allowing their country to be used as a transshipment center by the main Colombian drug rings in Cali and Medellin.
The officials who discussed the role of Haitian army leaders said their information had been developed in recent months in large part thanks to cooperation from members of the Haitian military itself.
"These sources have been very specific about the dates, the sources and the quantities of narcotics involved, and we have this firsthand now," said one American official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. Asked if the evidence against Haiti's military was sufficiently strong to take legal action against them, the official said, "We are pretty close."
The disclosure of the investigation into Haiti's military comes three weeks after President Clinton cited Haiti's involvement in the narcotics trade as one of several national security concerns that had convinced him that international military action might be required to remove Cedras and allow the return of Aristide.
In recent days, as speculation has grown about a possible U.S.-led military action to oust the country's military leaders, members of the Haitian high command have begun consultations with lawyers who represented Manuel Antonio Noriega, the former Panamanian leader who is serving a 40-year sentence in a federal penitentiary.
Noriega, who was accused by the United States of involvement in international narcotics trafficking and money laundering, was captured in an American military intervention in 1989 and brought to the United States for trial.
Two of Noriega's lawyers, Frank Rubino and John May, acknowledged Tuesday that they had recently been in Haiti for talks with the military. Refusing to discuss further any details of their involvement, May, who was contacted by telephone in Miami, said, "Generals are our business."