From the Economist Intelligence Unit ViewsWire
http://www.economist.com/daily/news/dis ... id=8723152
Love and Haiti
Feb 16th 2007
From The Economist Intelligence Unit ViewsWire
Haitians love their president, but hate the crime rate
The main challenge facing the government of René Préval in recent months has been an increase in violent crime, from already-high levels. In a society still deeply divided politically by the instability of the last several years, and with a state still lacking the capacity to maintain the rule of law, the issue has been bitterly debated and has led to public protest.
Although the government still enjoys a high level of public support, the crime problem has stirred political antagonisms and suspicions, with exchanges of accusations and rumours of political motivations behind the violence. Some politicians have blamed the government, which has only been in office since May 2006. Its policy, which includes seeking dialogue with gang leaders, has come under fierce criticism, and there have been demands for more aggressive suppression of slum-based gangs and for the return of the disbanded Haitian army. The violence has not only highlighted the weakness of the Police Nationale d'Haiti (PNH, the police force), but has also drawn attention to some instances of links between individuals in the force and the criminal gangs.
The government has stepped up its efforts to stem the tide of crime, working with the UN Mission des Nations Unies pour la Stabilisation en Haiti (Minustah, the UN Stabilisation Mission in Haiti). By doing so, it appears to have gained some ground against the criminals, but the high number of civilian casualties has led to accusations of excessive use of force. Efforts to clean up the police force have brought results in terms of the dismissal and prosecution of a significant number of officers, but this has not been sufficient to restore confidence in the system of law enforcement. The problem of violent crime has added urgency to the government's efforts to win more international support, both for direct assistance in security issues and for the acceleration of programmes for employment creation and economic development.
Armed gangs and kidnappings
The crime wave reached a peak in November and December, when armed men in the capital, Port-au-Prince, committed increasingly brazen crimes including robbery, kidnappings and murders. Large numbers of innocent people were killed in the crossfire in confrontations between gangs, and between gang members and officers of the PNH and Minustah soldiers.
The total number of victims of the violence is difficult to confirm. The Commission Episcopale Nationale Justice et Paix (a Haitian Catholic churches' human rights organisation) reported in January that 157 bodies were found in the streets of Port-au-Prince in the final three months of 2006. The majority were residents of the impoverished neighbourhoods of Martissant/Grande Ravine and Bolosse in the south of the city, and Cité Soleil in the north. This figure is consistent with the findings of a newly formed platform of 14 non-governmental organisations, the Campagne pour la Réduction de la Violence en Haiti (Campaign for the Reduction of Violence in Haiti), which reported that 41 violent deaths had been recorded in the greater Port-au-Prince area in just 19 days in December. Both figures are likely to be below the real total, as not all such deaths are either discovered by or reported to the authorities.
November and early December also saw an increase in exchanges of fire between armed men and PNH and Minustah forces, one of which, on November 10th, left two Jordanian soldiers dead.
The crimes that caused most public alarm were a wave of kidnappings for ransom, many of them involving children. Most of these incidents took place in Port-au-Prince and the surrounding area, but news and anecdotal reports from the provinces suggest that the criminal gangs have spread the scope of their activities. The number of kidnaps is unclear, as victims' families often prefer not to notify the authorities and to negotiate directly with the kidnappers, but one kidnap-victims' support group estimated that there were more than 100 cases in the Port-au-Prince area during November alone. The victims are from all social groups. In some cases (including one involving a six-year-old child in the second city, Cap-Haitien) they were murdered even though their families had paid the ransom.
The targeting of children for kidnap took on a new intensity in mid-December with two mini-buses carrying children home from school in the La Plaine suburb of Port-au-Prince held up by armed men and the occupants abducted. Local media also reported instances of gunmen entering schools to seize children in the city. In response, many parents started to keep their children at home, and the majority of the capital's schools closed early for the Christmas holidays as a precautionary measure.
Seeking more international help
Minustah's current mandate is due to expire in mid-February and the issue of renewal is under consideration at the UN Security Council. The latest report by outgoing UN secretary-general, Kofi Annan, published in December, recommended that the mission continue. Before handing over to his successor, Ban Ki-Moon. Mr Annan recommended that the mission remain in Haiti for at least a year. The US has supported the extension of the UN mandate and other members of the Security Council are likely to concur, with the exception of China, which has once again stated that Haiti's recognition of Taiwan constitutes a problem that must be resolved before it can agree.
The Haitian government is known to favour a prolongation of the Minustah mandate on the grounds that the PNH is unable to guarantee a stable environment without foreign assistance. Its relations with the Minustah command appear to be good, with Carlos Alberto dos Santos Cruz, a Brazilian general named as the new military commander of Minustah on January 9th, hailing the assistance provided in the raids by the Haitian government and police force during joint operations.
On the issue of renewal of the mandate, the government faces some opposition, mainly from student demonstrators. The students' criticisms come from both ends of the political spectrum: leftist groups have depicted the presence of foreign troops as an occupation in support of a neo-liberal economic agenda, while rightist student groups have denounced the foreign troops for their leniency when dealing with shanty-town gangs and their supporters. Among the wider population, there is concern that the Minustah force (which now has 6,684 troops and 1,692 police and more than 1,000 civilian personnel) has been unable to establish security in the capital during the nearly two years of its deployment.
Meanwhile, Mr Préval has also sought to increase co-operation with neighbouring countries in the battle against drug-trafficking. During his official trip to Jamaica in January, the illegal trade in guns and drugs between the two countries was high on the agenda, and Haiti plans to participate in a regional summit on drug-trafficking, security and co-operation that the Dominican Republic has announced will take place in March. In late January, the Dominican foreign minister, Franklin Almeyda Rancier, said that the presidents of Colombia and Venezuela, as well as representatives from the UN, the OAS, the EU and the Caribbean Community (Caricom) would join Mr Préval and the Dominican president, Leonel Fernández, for the summit in the Dominican capital, Santo Domingo.
Copyright © 2007 The Economist Newspaper and The Economist Group. All rights reserved.
1 post • Page 1 of 1