MIAMI -- Reports that members of the Haitian military are receiving more than $100 million a year in bribes from drug traffickers are "misleading, unfounded and mere speculation," law enforcement sources in South Florida said yesterday.
Some officials suggested the reports were being deliberately exaggerated to sway public opinion and the Clinton administration into military intervention against Haitian officers who oppose President Jean-Bertrand Aristide's return to power.
The Associated Press, quoting from a confidential three-page U.S. Senate report, reported Wednesday that Port-au-Prince police chief Lt. Col. Michel Francois receives more than $100 million in bribes and that more than 1,000 Colombians are working in the drug trade in Haiti.
But law enforcement officials in Miami and diplomatic sources in Haiti say they have no evidence that the Haitian military is reaping huge profits from the drug trade.
"This is not a Noriega situation," said one official, speaking on condition of anonymity. He referred to the drug-trafficking allegations against Panamanian strongman Gen. Manuel Antonio Noriega that contributed to the U.S. invasion of Panama on Dec. 20, 1989.
"If a congressional informant is alleging this, I question the validity of that, because we've never been told that," the official said. "You've got a lot of misinformation."
Thomas V. Cash, DEA special agent in charge in Miami, said he was unaware of the $100 million figure even though he is responsible for U.S. drug enforcement in Haiti and recently returned from the island.
"I certainly can't give any credibility to that, because I don't know from whence it came," Special Agent Cash said.
He also said another part of the Associated Press story was wrong -- a statement from a Justice Department source saying that the DEA would be withdrawing its agents from Haiti soon.
"We have no intention of withdrawing those agents any time soon," he said. "I don't know where that's coming from."
Even for Colombian drug lords, $100 million in bribes is an astonishingly high figure.
For example, Medellin Cartel leader Carlos Lehder, who ran an operation that shipped tons of cocaine out of the Bahamas in the 1970s, allegedly paid $200,000 a month in bribes to Bahamian authorities.
Noriega, convicted of taking a cut of the action to let cartel traffickers smuggle drugs through Panama, received $660,000 for allowing four 300-kilogram loads through Panama over a two-year period.
Law enforcement experts say both Lehder and Noriega serviced drug operations far larger than the current smuggling through Haiti.
The Associated Press said the Senate report found little direct evidence to tie Haiti's military chief, Lt. Gen. Raoul Cedras, to drug money. But the report added: "Obviously, there is an arrangement" between General Cedras and Colonel Francois.
Law enforcement officials knowledgeable about smuggling in the Caribbean said they have no evidence of such a conspiracy.
Law enforcement sources say Haiti trails Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic as drug-smuggling havens in the Caribbean.
"The U.S. government is not denying that cocaine is going from Haiti to the United States, but not in the massive quantities being quoted," a source said.