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Addicted to Haiti?

Here’s a perfect example of a story often underreported in the media or, one we don’t want to hear.

After the earthquake that shook Haitians, leaving the masses homeless and desperate for the basics, the world responded with aid and celebrity-endorsed TV fundraisers. Not to say any actors have anything to do with the interesting consequence. But according to Ben Fountain’s op-ed article in the New York Times (February 6), there’s an eerie consequence with the sudden attention on the poverty-stricken country and its ports being closed due to the natural disaster.

Prior to the earthquake, Haiti was already well-known as a “parking lot” for the cocaine trade and related political maneuvering. In fact, a 1993 memo written by John Kerry as the chairman of the Senate Subcommittee on Terrorism, Narcotics and International Operations, asserted that “there is a partnership made in hell, in cocaine, and in dollars between the Colombian cartels and the Haitian military.” At the time, Haiti was well on its way to becoming the Caribbean’s leading transshipment point for cocaine entering the U.S. from South America. While the players up top have changed, this partnership has continued to flourish.

Today, drug trafficking is a billion-dollar-a-year enterprise in Haiti, generating tremendous profits in a country where most people survive on a few dollars a day. Former President Jean Betrand Aristide, who was elected many times over before various coups took him out of power, told the UN that each year Haiti is the transit point for 50 tons of cocaine worth more than a billion dollars, providing Haiti’s military rulers with $200 million in profits.

After the coup in September in 1991, Port-au-Prince’s chief of police, Lt. Col. Joseph Michel Francois became known as the key man in Haitian drug trafficking, along with a network of solders and paramilitary attaches who carried out ruthless political terrorism which killed thousands of Haitians. By 2000, an estimated 75 tons, or 15 percent of the cocaine consumed annually in the United States, was being channeled through Haiti. And so, as New York Times writer Fountain points out, Americans have shown tremendous generosity toward Haiti since Jan. 12 –more than $20 million in donations have been made to the Red Cross, $57 million or more was raised by the Hope for Haiti Now telethon, including the countless private planes taxied at airport runways in Florida, waiting for a landing slot in Port-au-Prince.

Ah yes, this is the good news story that makes us all feel good. Then there’s the other part—that darker side to the story. As Fountain reminders, the U.S. is currently the largest consumer of cocaine. Now, if you put two and two together it means, it’s all about drug wars, corrupt governance, death and poverty.

Isn’t it rather sickening to think that there is a straight line from our drug habit back to the conditions in Haiti? Has it really come down to some of the richest countries in the hemisphere and the poorest, trapped in the global war on drugs? One would have to agree with Fountain that it is naïve to hope that Americans will quit their cocaine any time soon for Haiti’s sake. But it would be equally naïve not to recognize this huge obstacle standing in Haiti’s way, and the role we’ve played in creating it.

Still, it is rather gross to think our hope for Haiti lead straight back to our addictions.

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