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Page last updated at 14:56 GMT, Saturday, 25 October 2008 15:56 UK

Haiti and Jamaica's deadly trade

By Nick Davis
BBC News, Kingston

A drug dealer in Jamaica
Jamaica has one of the worst murder rates in the world

It is a simple kind of trade but one that is increasingly concerning police in the Caribbean: guns for drugs.

Weapons from Haiti are being exchanged for marijuana, or ganja as it is known locally, from Jamaica.

In fact, Haiti is now seen as the major source of illegal firearms entering Jamaica.

Last year, Jamaican police seized more than 650 illegal guns and this year they have already recovered around 450.

Jamaica has one of the worst murder rates in the world and shootings are behind the majority of the deaths.

So far this year, more than 1,300 people have been killed.

Valuable commodity

Recently Operation Kingfish, a major crime taskforce of the Jamaican Constabulary, raided a packing plant hidden in a mangrove swamp. Officers seized more than 2,000kg of marijuana compressed into small bales and ready to be exported.

Police say marijuana has traditionally been destined for markets in the US and Europe but increasingly traffickers are heading to Haiti where they trade weed for guns, a valuable commodity on the streets of Kingston.

"The trade between Jamaica and Haiti is very significant," says Glenmore Hinds, Assistant Commissioner of Police.

"The firearms that come from Haiti are mainly handguns, revolvers, pistols and a few shotguns."

Weapons still come into Jamaica via the more traditional and well-tested method of cargo ships docking at the port of Kingston, packed into crates and containers or hidden inside cars or household appliances.

Bruce Golding, Jamaican PM
It is a major threat to the security of the country
Bruce Golding, Jamaican Prime Minister

But Haiti has grown in importance in recent years.

Haitian refugees fled to Jamaica in 2004 during political unrest after their President Jean Bertrand Aristide was deposed.

Jamaican investigators say that after the Haitian army disbanded there was a large number of military weapons on the streets and that started the illegal trade to Jamaica.

Criminal gangs in both countries formed links and over the years the trade turned to non-military weapons from the US smuggled into Haiti.

According to the police, one place that is being used by gun-runners in Jamaica is Hellshire Beach in Portmore, across the harbour from Kingston.

Enterprising fishermen

At weekends families flock here from across the islands for the famed fish dishes but detectives say that enterprising fishermen are bringing home a different catch.

They head from Jamaica to Haiti with a cargo of marijuana, which they exchange for guns.


Jamaicans are driving the trade and the media, police and politicians have jumped on the bandwagon because it is so much easier to scapegoat Haiti

Myrtha Desulme, Haitian Jamaican Society

"They sell it and get a whole heap of money, it is a big pay day for them," says Bulky, a fisherman, who knows people that are doing the trip to Haiti.

Smugglers can make tens of thousands of dollars but the journey can be dangerous.

"They can get caught out there, coastguard arrest them (and) they get killed by fellow smugglers for the profits, they just disappear out there," says Bulky.

With the majority of weapons now coming via smaller fishing boats, Jamaica's small Haitian community are being blamed for the trade.

Home-grown

The vast majority of refugees who fled Haiti have now returned but some stayed, their numbers boosted by illegal immigrants coming to the island looking for work.

Jamaican Prime Minister Bruce Golding has in the past said Haitians in Jamaica are key to the deals, providing a link between the two nations.

"It is a major threat to the security of the country," he said. "Ganja goes up and guns come back down."

But Myrtha Desulme, the head of the Haitian Jamaican Society in Kingston, says blaming the Haitian community is wrong and that violence on the street is home-grown.

"Jamaicans are driving the trade and the media, police and politicians have jumped on the bandwagon because it is so much easier to scapegoat Haiti and blame the problem on these vicious Haitians who are coming here to perpetrate crime and bring guns and kill people," she says.

Jamaican authorities say they are working with officials from both the US and Haiti to tackle the trade but they say without sharing intelligence and sea patrols they cannot tackle the gunrunners alone.



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Country profile: Jamaica
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Timeline: Jamaica
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