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US special counsel lays blame on DEA in bungled Haiti drug-trafficking case

Jay Weaver and Jacqueline Charles, Miami Herald on

Published in News & Features

The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration’s office in Haiti mishandled a major investigation into a Colombian ship loaded with hundreds of kilos of cocaine and heroin, including assisting and paying Haitian officials to destroy some of the drug evidence, according to a U.S. special counsel’s report issued Friday.

The DEA’s botched procedures were highlighted by the Office of Special Counsel in a letter to President Joe Biden in which the drug agency’s own findings and report on the 2015 narcotics-trafficking case involving the MV Manzanares ship were found to be “unreasonable.”

“(S)ince the U.S. government expends resources for the DEA to operate in Haiti, it is incumbent on the agency to be as effective as possible in its mission to disrupt the flow of illegal drugs into the United States,” wrote special counsel Henry Kerner, who was tasked with assessing the allegations of wrongdoing by two former DEA agents in Haiti.

Kerner criticized the agency’s claim that because it has a “limited role” in promoting seaport security, “it is not accountable for the effectiveness of its work in Haiti,” calling that assertion “not reasonable.” He also said the DEA “does not adequately explain its destruction of drugs in the Manzanares investigation” and that the agency “failed to explain why there was a significant delay in severing ties with a corruption Haitian official.”

The counsel’s report is based on two former DEA agents once stationed in Port-au-Prince who filed whistle-blower complaints.

In his letter to the president, Kerner urged the DEA to “more closely review its operations in Haiti and implement measures to improve its effectiveness.” In a news release issued Friday, Kerner said the DEA whistleblowers’ claims were “serious allegations.”

 

Although coincidental, the long-awaited special counsel’s report was released just weeks after the assassination of Haiti’s president, Jovenel Moïse, on July 7.

How the DEA, whose Haiti narcotics unit falls under the authority of the agency’s Caribbean office in San Juan, Puerto Rico, plans to carry out any corrective measures remains to be seen. The special counsel’s report clearly lays out serious flaws in the way that the DEA supervisor agents in Haiti investigated the Manzanares case — a bungled probe that was exposed by the Herald in 2018.

A spokesman for the U.S. Office of Special Counsel said an “unreasonable finding is fairly uncommon in disclosure cases.”

“The determination itself does not initiate corrective actions, though OSC alerts both the president and the congressional committees of jurisdiction to its finding, which could initiate further oversight,” said spokesman Zachary Kurz.

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