By Joe Colas
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (HCNN) -- Haiti's anti-drug unit chief said on Monday that 238 suspected drug traffickers have been arrested and more than 2,000 kilograms of illegal drug shipments confiscated over the past 20 months, citing progress and a rare political will to uphold efforts to counter drug-trafficking in the Caribbean country.
Haiti's anti-drug unit chief, Joris Mergelus
Joris Mergelus said 114 alleged drug dealers and accomplices have been arrested, 1,554 kilos of cocaine and marijuana and more than US$1 million seized from January to mid September 2013, compared to 124 arrests, more than 634 kg of narcotics and about US$93,000 confiscated from January to December 2012.
"Of the 238 arrested as of August this year, 31 are woman and 18 have been extradited to the US, The Bahamas and the Dominican Republic," Mergelus told HCNN in an interview on Monday.
Properties, including luxurious homes, worth of more than US$5 million were confiscated from convicted drug dealers while 12 vehicles and 30 firearms were seized from drug trade suspects.
"Of course, it is a challenge because drug dealers have big means, but we are making progress in the fight against drug trafficking Haiti," Mergelus said.
The top counternarcotics official said his office and the anti-drug effort as a whole have received unprecedented support from the country's highest political authorities and confirmed that such a stance constitutes a source of motivation for his team.
"Since I've been part of the anti-drug unit, it is for the first time I've seen such a political will to fight drug trafficking," said Mergelus who integrated the unit since its creation in 1997.
"President (Michel) Martelly and Prime Minister (Laurent) Lamothe have personally instructed us to apply zero tolerance against drug dealers and they have given us additional means to do the job," Mergelus stated.
The number of anti-drug officers has more than tripled in less than two years, growing from 42 to 138 in 2012, with a prospective to reach 200 officers before the end of the year.
The anti-drug unit now has a 14-dog canine component with currency, drug and explosive detection capability, while more vehicles, weapons and other relevant means have been provided to officers.
The unit has expanded operations to an increased number of locations in several regions of the country and has received greater support from Haitian coastguards who now have more boats, more staff and more equipment to chase drug traffickers.
In a 2013 International Narcotics Control Strategy report, the US Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) and the State department acknowledged that progress has been made in the fight against drug trafficking in Haiti, but described the efforts as insufficient.
"Despite the incremental gains in 2012 in the number of enforcement actions and the resultant seizures, the pace of HNP counternarcotics activity leaves room for improvement," reads the report.
Haiti remains on the US blacklist of countries labeled as transit points for cocaine from South America and marijuana from Jamaica for transshipment to the United States, Canada, Europe, and elsewhere in the Caribbean.
In the report, the US State department insisted that "despite progress, the tempo of drug enforcement actions in Haiti remains stubbornly low".
Haitian anti-drug officials say the DEA report is based on data collected in 2012. They say much more actions and efforts have been made in the meantime and expect to see a more positive report.