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Unearthing Aristide’s Convicted Confidant

CARIBBEAN / 17 MAR 2011 BY STEVEN DUDLEY EN

As Jean Bertrand Aristide, Haiti’s exiled former president, prepares to return to his country on the eve of presidential elections to be held Sunday, InSight has dug up the United States’ indictment (pdf) of his most infamous political partner.

Beaudouin Ketant, a.k.a. ‘Jacques’ Ketant, was Aristide’s confidant and supporter, even after Ketant was accused of being an important player in Haiti’s most powerful trafficking group.

That group, which was led by former Haitian Police Chief Joseph Michel Francois, worked closely with the Medellin Cartel, and later the Norte del Valle Cartel, to move hundreds of tons of cocaine from Colombia to the United States.

As the indictment, which was filed in 1997 in the Southern District of Miami, says, Ketant’s networks facilitated the entry and distribution of the cocaine in the United States and the movement of dollars back to the island.

“Ketant…and other co-conspirators known and unknown to the grand jury, organized a broad transportation and distribution network for their cocaine in many areas of the United States,” the indictment states.

While the conspiracy mostly predates Aristide’s presidency, it clearly relates Ketant’s importance and connections in the underworld. But this did not stop Aristide from forming a tight bond with the man many in Haiti called “Jack.”

Ketant was the Godfather to one of Aristide’s daughters and presumably bankrolled his political efforts.

“He really trusted Aristide,” one diplomat told the Boston Globe in 2004*, of Ketant. “They were close. They were collaborators.”

He also took over Francois’ operations after the former police chief fled the country and Aristide took the presidency. The cozy relationship with the national palace included, according to Ketant, permission to keep trafficking drugs north and laundering the proceeds in Haiti.

“He controlled the drug trade in Haiti,” Ketant told a Miami courtroom in February 2004, in reference to Aristide, just before he was sentenced to 27 years in prison. “He turned the country into a narco-country.”

Days later, Aristide was on a U.S.-chartered aircraft, heading into exile.

At the time, several foreign diplomats and observers told the Boston Globe that Ketant’s accusations — which came months after his relationship with Aristide had soured and he’d been arrested and deported to the U.S. on charges of drug trafficking — helped the United States force Aristide to leave his embattled nation, lest the president himself face charges for drug trafficking.

Aristide, a former priest who’d risen from poverty to become president, was facing pockets of armed resistance to his rule, some of which had their own dubious ties to the underworld. He’d mobilized his supporters, some of whom included street gangs in Port au Prince and other parts of the country, and seemed set on fighting the rebel groups who’d already taken over much of the northern part of the country.

But almost just as suddenly, Aristide was gone, whisked away on an American-chartered aircraft to South Africa. Aristide’s lawyer and supporters deny any of Ketant’s accusations or that the U.S. used them to force Aristide into exile. They say what really happened in February 2004 was tantamount to a U.S.-led coup.

Aristide returns to an equally volatile place. The country is still reeling from last year’s devastating earthquake and subsequent cholera outbreak. And Sunday’s runoff between two Aristide critics is under a cloud after the first round of voting faced widespread accusations of fraud.

Aristide, meanwhile, has promised he will refrain from participating in politics. This may be an act of self-preservation since his Lavalas Family political party is greatly debilitated. But one wonders whether this is also connected to the ability of his jailed, former confidant, ‘Jacques,’ to start talking again about his relationship with the former president.

*The author was writing for the Boston Globe from Haiti at the time.

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