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Must learnedly read, too; in part, of intellectual rigor
|Posted Friday, August 3, 2007|
|A small success for the UN|
|By The Economist|
|Security is improving in what was a Caribbean failed state. Poverty and policing are harder to tackle.|
PORT-AU-PRINCE - A PAIR of boats are anchored just past the edge of a dock that juts out from Cité Soleil, a vast slum in Haiti's capital. Their masts are tree trunks winding crookedly towards the sky. On a late July day, the air stagnant with the smell of garbage, there is no wind to fill their sails. On the dock men sit, some idle, some mending nets, while naked boys swim around them in the dirty water. It is a scene of desperate poverty, but also of uncertain peace.
The United Nations has been charged with keeping the peace in Haiti since the ousting of Jean-Bertrand Aristide in February 2004. But, until recently, there was very little peace to be kept, particularly in the capital. Gang violence and kidnapping ravaged Port-au-Prince; Cité Soleil, in the hands of local gangs, was its focal point.
Last December, under a new Brazilian general, the UN force moved into Cité Soleil, setting up bases and shooting it out with the gangs. As the UN took charge, local residents turned against the criminals, nearly all of whose leaders have now been killed or captured. In February, UN troops would enter Cité Soleil only in armoured vehicles. Now they patrol on foot.
Some streets in Cité Soleil have been paved with stones and cement; some rubbish is being picked up. Street markets are back, though there is little to sell, and few buyers78% of Haitians live on less than $2 a day, according to the World Bank. Ask almost any resident of Cité Soleil whether life has changed in the past six months and he will tell you, yesbefore he used to be poor and shot at, and now he is just poor.
Nevertheless, a start has been made. Foreign leaders are dropping in to see it. Last month Canada's prime minister, Stephen Harper, whose government has given much aid to Haiti, visited Cité Soleilsomething that would have been unthinkable only months ago.
This week the UN secretary-general, Ban Ki-moon, was in Port-au-Prince. Though there are some complaints of misconduct by troops, most Haitians want the UN to stay. Canada apart, most of the money for the mission comes from the United States and France, and most of the troops from Latin America. Mr Ban said he will recommend that the mission's mandate be extended for at least another year when it expires in October.
The UN can declare victory only if it leaves behind an effective police force. That is still a long way off. Edmond Mulet, the mission's head, reckons that at least 22,000 police are needed, but a new force has just 8,000 members. Some 500 new recruits are being added every six monthsthough recent vetting saw a similar number fired.
In Cité Soleil, the police only patrol in tandem with UN forces. Police stations have not been rebuilt. Their crumbling walls carry the ubiquitous pockmarks of bullets and are surrounded by garbage. But Haiti's police are a model of efficiency compared with the courts and the overcrowded prisons. Three attempts to reform the judiciary have stalled in parliament.
This weak law-enforcement machinery faces a powerful drug-trafficking industry. Haiti is a busy transhipment point for Colombian cocaine bound for the United States. Drug money has long since infiltrated politics. Last month American helicopters from Guantánamo Bay narrowly missed capturing Guy Philippe, who led a rebel band which helped to topple Mr Aristide and whom the United States regards as a drug kingpin. Having evaded the helicopters, he went on the radio to proclaim his innocence. Under an agreement dating from 1997, the United States captures drug suspects in Haiti without formal extradition proceedings.
René Préval, who was elected as Haiti's president last year, is widely seen as competent, as are some of his senior officials. Though the country lacks a civil service, there are a few faint signs of economic revival. It helps that kidnappings are down, from a peak of 80 in August 2006 to just six in June, according to the UN. In the biggest single foreign investment of recent times Digicel, a Bermudan mobile-phone operator, has spent $260m since entering the country in May 2006. It already claims 1.4m customers, or one Haitian in six. Ghada Gebara of Digicel says she has managed to find qualified local staff, though with difficulty.
Hopes of creating more jobs turn mainly on a revival of the export clothing industry, which was substantial until Haiti's descent into chaos in the 1990s. The United States has granted sweeping tariff-free access to Haitian apparel exports, giving the country an edge over the preferences enjoyed by the neighbouring Dominican Republic and by Central America. But to take advantage of this, roads, ports and airports all need upgrading.
Debate is starting over whether to privatise not just the ports and airports but the state-owned electricity and telecoms companies as well. Most of those Haitians who have electricity obtain it from their own generators or from batteries, since blackouts are the norm. In recent months the telecoms company, which operates landlines, has halved its workforce.
In a rare press conference during Mr Harper's visit, Mr Préval likened his country to a small sailboat which is likely to be damaged by a wind that is not too strong. Like the fishing vessels at Cité Soleil, Haiti's economy and administration remain underpowered and rudimentary. But the country is starting to move again, however hesitantly.
Copyright © The Economist Newspaper Limited 2007. Reprinted from The Economist print edition, The America, of August 2nd, 2007.
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