Who Really Supports Cocaine Traffickers?

This week, despite having no clear evidence, US prosecutors announce an investigation of Jean Bertrand Aristide's alleged ties to cocaine traffickers; meanwhile, a Peruvian court tries Vladimir Montesinos -- a 30-year CIA asset -- for supplying Colombian drug traffickers with weapons.

April 3- AFP reports: Prosecutors are investigating whether Haitian former president Jean Bertrand Aristide took millions of dollars from drug traffickers who moved cocaine through his impoverished nation, it was reported.

"It's in the early stages," one law enforcement source told The Miami Herald. "It's a bit premature to say we've got anything yet. But you're not wrong if you say that's where we're going."

The report quoted officials in Florida and Washington as saying investigators had been briefed on reports that relatives of Aristide and his wife, Mildred, hold nearly 250 million dollars in European banks. The officials added, however, that there is no indication yet whether the funds actually exist.

Haiti's Justice Minister Bernard Gousse meanwhile said that Friday he planned to set up a commission next week to investigate allegations against Aristide "from misuse of government funds to human-rights abuses."

Aristide's Miami lawyer Ira Kurzban attributed the investigation to politics: "After kidnapping President Aristide, the Bush administration is not content to simply end democracy in Haiti -- they need to politically assassinate Aristide."

April 4- The Scotsman reports: Vladimiro Montesinos is a legendary figure in Latin America and is now at the centre of the most explosive trial in Peruvian history, watched with the kind of devotion usually only reserved for soap operas.

But the 58-year-old's latest trial, in which he is accused of smuggling 10,000 rifles to Colombian terrorists, has also seen the US intelligence services become embroiled in an embarrassing row about whether the CIA not only knew what Montesinos was up to and turned a blind eye, but have actively undermined Washington's multibillion-dollar war on drugs by doing so.

The plot is something out of a John le Carre novel. In 1999 a shadowy spymaster brokers an arms deal to send 10,000 AK-47 rifles to guerrillas of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).

A Lebanese arms dealer, Sarkis Soghanalian, known as 'The Merchant of Death', gets the rifles from Jordan and puts them on a Ukrainian plane that parachutes them into the Colombian jungles controlled by the rebels.

The payment for the consignment comes from Brazil's most feared drug lord, Luiz Fernando da Costa, better known as 'Freddy Seashore' after the slum from which he rose to power. He gets his payment in drugs from the FARC, allegedly 20 tonnes of cocaine.

The story is spectacular enough, but there is another complicating and compelling element: if not the involvement, then the knowledge of the deal on the part of the CIA. Peruvian prosecutor, Ronald Gamarra, after two years of investigation of the case and hundreds of interviews, is convinced the CIA knew of the plot.

"In the trafficking of the arms to the FARC, Montesinos could have had the support of the CIA," said Gamarra. "I don't have hard evidence of it, but various leads indicate that it is probable."

That there have been links between the CIA and Montesinos for the best part of 30 years is no secret. In 1976, Montesinos was expelled from the army and put in prison for selling secrets to the CIA, when George Bush senior held the top post at Langley.

Montesinos then put himself through law school and became the defender of drug traffickers. But once he became former president Alberto Fujimori's right-hand man in 1990 the relationship with the CIA became still closer and Montesinos became known by the American agency as 'Mr. Fix'.

Gamarra believes the CIA have something to hide, saying that the FBI and Drug Enforcement Administration have been very co-operative in his investigations, while the CIA has stonewalled him on everything.

His fears are supported by arms dealer Soghanalian, currently in US custody. Soghanalian said he would not have had anything to do with the deal had not the CIA been aware of it.

In his declaration to US authorities he said: "When I went to get the license from the Jordanian authorities I went to [US] military intelligence and foreign intelligence [the CIA]. I said that this was an area very sensitive to the Americans on a political level."

His testimony is backed by the Jordanians. The AK-47s, made in East Germany, were destined, so the Jordanians thought, for the Peruvian army.

According to Atef Halasa, the head of protocol at the Jordanian Foreign Ministry, his country would not have released the weapons without informing US authorities. Halasa was reported as saying that the American government not only knew of the deal, but that it was authorized by the CIA.

The severity of the accusations against the CIA has sent US authorities into panic. The FARC have long been on Washington's terrorist list and the Colombian government is one of the largest recipients of US military aid in the world after Israel and Egypt. Over the years, several Americans have been killed by the Colombian rebels, who have threatened to target US personnel in their bloody war to seize power and establish a Marxist regime.

Indeed the FARC have three US intelligence operatives in their power, captured after their spy plane crash landed in guerrilla territory in February last year.

The CIA has refused to comment, except to say, "it's a matter before the courts".

The former CIA Head of Station in Peru, Robert Gorelick, believed to have been the linkman for the agency with Montesinos, has also refused to testify in a Peruvian court.

Montesinos during interrogation in May 2002 said he "met an average of two or three times a week with Mr. Gorelick".

State Department spokesman Phil Chicola, responsible for the Andean nations, called the accusations against the CIA "the greatest foolishness... irresponsible, black propaganda made by people that do not know what they are talking about".

Many find it unbelievable that the CIA would have turned a blind eye to, or actually helped with, such an order, actively undermining the work of the US in Colombia, arming the guerrillas that Washington describes as "narco-terrorists".

But a senior judicial source in Peru said the CIA appears to be instigating a process to get Montesinos extradited to the US to face some charges there, most likely in an attempt to halt the damaging proceedings in Peru and prevent more explosive revelations.

"How can people doubt that the CIA is capable of something like this," said a senior Peruvian judicial source on condition of anonymity. "Did the Iran Contra scandal teach you nothing?"


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