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More Special Reports
|Posted August 30, 2007|
|Economist Intelligence Unit Briefing|
|Taking on the gangs|
|Security in Haiti starts to improve|
|By The Economist|
Haiti has been plagued for several years by violent crime and armed gangs, and the problem has persisted even after the inauguration of the current president, René Préval, in May 2006. However, the more rigorous approach adopted late last year by troops of the Mission des Nations Unies pour la Stabilisation en Haiti (Minustah, the UN Stabilisation Mission in Haiti) and the Police Nationale dHaiti (PNH, Haitian National Police) has resulted in improvements in the security situation, in particular in the capital, Port-au-Prince.
After the anxieties created by several years of politically motivated and criminal violence, the population is enjoying a welcome period of relative calm. The incidence of crime, including kidnapping for ransom, have greatly decreased and residents of many parts of the capital, who had for months endured a de facto curfew at dusk because of the fear of violence, have now largely resumed normal social and commercial activities in the early evening. When he marked one year in office on May 13th, Mr Préval, during a press conference on May 13th, expressed satisfaction with the improved security climate, noting that the establishment of security was an indispensable, condition for his governments objective of increasing investment and creating jobs.
More than 500 alleged gang members were arrested by Minustah forces in the first six months of 2007, and hundreds more have been detained by the PNH. During July alone, the PNH announced it had arrested a further 171 people, 108 on charges of criminal conspiracy, 48 for murder, and 15 for involvement in kidnapping. The majority of alleged gang leaders are thought to be among those either arrested or killed while resisting arrest. Earlier in the year, the Minustah and PNH made a concerted effort to break up the larger gangs based in the sprawling Cité Soleil slum to the north of the capital, and the area has remained relatively free of serious crime, confounding expectations that gang activity would resume once the spotlight shifted elsewhere.
|Expanding security operations|
Later the security forces extended operations to other troublesome parts of the capital, and in May large numbers of alleged gang members were arrested in slum areas in the south-west of the city. On May 17th, the PNH announced it had arrested more than 20 members of the notorious Lame Timanchet (Little Machete Army), a gang responsible for many murders in the Martissant/Grand Ravine areas. The same month, the PNH carried out an operation in the nearby area of Carrefour, leading to the arrest of 121 people, including the alleged assassins of two police officers, killed in mid-May.
The Minustah and PNH also took action to counter gang activity in the central city of Gonaïves. Armed gangs had enjoyed near total impunity in the city since the anti-government uprising in early 2004, but an upsurge in violent crime in May, including the murder of Alix Joseph, a local radio journalist who had been reporting on the gangs, prompted a strong response from the security forces. In mid-June, following joint Minustah/PNH operations over several weeks, the Minustahs regional police commander, Jean-Jacques L'Hour, announced that 54 arrests had been made, and the former no-go areas of the city, Raboteau and Jubilee, were now freely accessible. On July 17th police announced the arrest of a Raboteau gang member suspected of participating in the murder of Mr Joseph.
|Institutional failings persit|
The arrest of large numbers of alleged criminals has led to a renewed focus on the failings of the countrys penitential and judicial systems. A report produced by the International Crisis Group in early May warned that the countrys overcrowded, understaffed and insecure prison system is on the brink of collapse, threatening a mass prisoner escape that would undermine recent steps to combat urban gangs and organised crime. The report stated that Haitis 17 prisons hold more than 5,500 inmates, of whom less than 10% have been convicted. The National Prison in Port-au-Prince is filled to eight times capacity with 2,500 prisoners, but has only 25 guards. An earlier report by the US Agency for International Development noted that Haitis courts have the capacity to handle a maximum 320 jury trials a year.
At the end of May, Minustah drew attention to the large number of people imprisoned without trial and the practice of bribing judges to get people released from prison. The Minustahs human rights section announced that at least six people were killed by mobs in a single week in July in different attacks, and that at least 105 people had been lynched since 2005. In his address to the National Assembly in June, the prime minister, Jacques Edouard Alexis, said there would soon be improvements to the prison system, with 400 new prison officers due to complete their training.
Meanwhile, during an official visit to Washington DC to meet US government officials and business representatives, and again in an address to the Haitian people on May 18th, the public holiday celebrating the creation of the Haitian flag, Mr Préval announced a major initiative against corruption. In his Flag Day speech, the president vowed to root out corrupt police, customs agents, judges and legislators, whom he accused of enriching themselves at the expense of the ordinary people. Corruption has been cited as a major impediment to investment by Mr Préval, and his recent refocusing on the issue is a sign that, following successes in improving security, the government feels able to turn its attention to addressing the problem of endemic graft in public institutions.
In a high-profile action soon after these speeches, on June 6th, one of Haitis wealthiest businessmen, Franck Ciné, the chief executive officer of the telephone company, HaiTel, was arrested, together with three other men. The four, who were all major shareholders in the collapsed Société Caribéenne de Banque (Socabank), were charged with expropriating deposits and fraud in connection with the controversial intervention in the banks affairs by the Banque de la Républic d'Haïti (the central bank).
|Drug trafficking targeted|
With Haiti one of the main transshipment points for Colombian cocaine, drug-trafficking is also beginning to receive greater attention in domestic politics and foreign relations. While in Washington in early May, Mr Préval called for help from the US as the main source of demand for the cocaine that passes through Haitian territory from South America, in tackling the problem. Mr Préval cited drug-trafficking as one of the main factors contributing to instability and insecurity in Haiti. A few weeks later, on May 31st, one of the largest drug seizures in Haiti in years in the southern town of Léogane underlined the increased focus on the problem.
On July 16th US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) agents and Haitian police mounted two raids on the homes of alleged drug-traffickers. One of the raids targeted Guy Philippe, the former police officer, and leader of the rebel forces, which led to the ouster of former president, Jean-Bertrand Aristide (2000-04), in 2004. Mr Philippe, who was the presidential candidate for the Front Reconstruction National (FRN) in the February 2006 elections, was not at his home on the outskirts of the southern town of Les Cayes at the time of the raid, and evaded arrest. He later told local radio stations that he had nothing to do with drug-trafficking, and that the raid was politically motivated.
Copyright © The Economist Newspaper Limited 2007. Published Aug. 30th 2007.
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