Fri, Mar 26, 2010 - Page 7 News List

Bureaucrats take over drug lords’ property in Haiti

NEW ACCOMMODATIONSThe Jan. 12 quake ruined all government ministries, but only four out of the 30 buildings that had been seized from drug traffickers

AP AND AFP , PORT-AU-PRINCE AND WASHINGTON

The International Organization for Migration distributes food to the quake victims on Wednesday in Port-au-Prince, Haiti.

PHOTO: AFP

Election workers scurry across the airy courtyard of their lavish new headquarters, a three-story building that hardly suffered a crack in Haiti’s earthquake.

With its stately iron gates, the building looks like a government office, but until recently, it was an upscale shopping center, the US$1.8 million property of a major cocaine trafficker.

New cooperation between Haitian authorities and the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) before the Jan. 12 earthquake brought an unexpected yield to a country whose infrastructure is in ruins: confiscated properties that are spacious, opulent — and free.

The drug lords built them to last. While the quake destroyed all the government ministries’ headquarters, only four of the 30 seized buildings suffered quake damage.

“It’s bizarre that the buildings built by drug traffickers survived and the government buildings collapsed,” said Max Boutin, who administers the properties for a Haitian anti-drug trafficking commission. “Now the buildings will be here to support the government.”

In an interview on leather couches in his new office, Provisional Electoral Council President Gaillot Dorsinvil said he could not imagine a better replacement for their collapsed headquarters. His workers fill rooms that held clothing boutiques, a restaurant and a Gold’s Gym.

“It gives an impressive appearance. The space is big enough to hold everyone and, most importantly, it was built to survive a magnitude 8 earthquake,” Dorsinvil said with a smile.

The Haitian government began confiscating traffickers’ real estate a little more than a year ago with help from US investigators. The DEA says the seizures are worth roughly US$25 million so far. The list of stores and mansions includes some of the most desirable properties in areas just outside the hard-hit downtown.

That doesn’t mean the offices of the collapsed Presidential Palace will be operating out of a narco-mansion anytime soon.

Many of the confiscated properties may be too residential or too distant from downtown for the government, said Patrick Delatour, who is in charge of reconstruction. So far, the shopping center is the only one hosting government operations.

In related news, US President Barack Obama asked Congress on Wednesday to approve the funding of the post-quake relief effort in Haiti, swelling the US’ budget deficit by an additional US$2.8 billion.

Wednesday’s move would funnel almost US$1.5 billion to the US State Department and US Agency for International Development for reestablishing Haiti’s “essential services, supporting reconstruction of shelter, water, sanitation, healthcare and electricity infrastructure,” the White House said.

The Pentagon would also get US$655 million for US efforts to help provide disaster relief in the country.

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