As the poor get poorer in Haiti, the rich and powerful get richer and more powerful. In fact, power has equaled riches in Haiti and no one is richer than Jean Bertrand Aristide, the former priest who took a vow of poverty before he was elected president.
Aristide’s presidential salary was approximate $120,000 U.S. dollars. If he had saved every penny of that money during the five years he was in office he could have accumulated no more that $600,000. There was no official accounting of Aristide’s net worth when he left office, which is required by the Haitian constitution. However, it is now estimated to be between $35 and 55 million.
While most of Haiti’s roads are barely passable, the road from Port-au-Prince to Tabarre, where Aristide built a sprawling pink palace for himself, is said to be “paved with gold.” The vast compound also is home to Aristide’s private army of highly paid “security guards.” Many of his officers also have built expensive homes for themselves.
The United Nations cut off Haiti’s funds almost two years ago. So where is Aristide getting the money to maintain himself in such grand style? Private investments? Perhaps. However, many say it is from drugs.
In 1996, an estimated 5 to 6 percent of all cocaine destined for the United States was moving through Haiti. The Miami Herald reports that, by the end of 1997, the figure jumped to 19 percent and was climbing. Bear in mind, all this has occurred under the watchful eyes of the United Nations. Haiti’s southern peninsula is just a 10-hour boat trip from Columbia’s north coast. Drugs also are dropped from light aircraft and some arrive by freighters. From Haiti the drugs are channeled on to the United States, often through the Dominican Republican, the Bahamas, Turks and Caicos islands.
In October, Barry McCaffrey, President’s Clinton’s drug czar, made a visit to Haiti and described the drug situation there as an “emergency.” Pierre Denize, chief of the Haitian National Police told the New York Times, “We have limited resources, limited training, limited intelligence and investigative capacity, and a very, very limited capacity to control a coast that, geographically, is just across the street from Colombia.” Translation: Give us more money and we will try to fix it.
However, several of Haiti’s legislators have charged that the drug trade is controlled by former military and police officers who now are “associates” of the country’s wealthy former president. All our government officials will say is that they are investigating, but, as yet, there is no evidence that could lead to a prosecution.
Aristide has been losing weight and has been making regular medical visits to New York and Chicago at three week intervals. However, his trips here were suspended for four months between May and September when the Haiti Observateur reported that the Clinton Administration lifted his visa in an effort to get his cooperation. Now, his visa has been restored, perhaps for medical reasons. The White House and the State Department will not confirm or deny these reports.