Saturday, January 16, 2010
haiti and organized crime
Seeing as this blog is meant to address organized crime on a global scale, I figure it's about time I post something about a country other than Mexico; seeing as the world's attention is on Haiti, I might as well start there.
Reports are emerging about concerns over criminal gangs seizing on the earthquake to instill terror or take over. This is a bit belated.
Organized crime has already taken over Haiti. Colombian drug traffickers have long used the island as a transit point for cocaine heading to the United States. The government has long been complicit, if only by turning a blind eye to the armed groups who work with the Colombians.
The people of Haiti can't stop organized crime's influence, regardless of an earthquake. Neither can Haiti's UN-trained, 9,000-member police force. The UN peacekeepers themselves don't even patrol areas of Port-au-Prince known for their organized crime activity.
A few years ago I met with Haiti's most-wanted man in a slum in Port-au-Prince. It was election time, and he had pledged that there would be no kidnappings or murders of foreigners during the period. He offered me an interview; I took it.
He presented himself as a do-gooder (as gangsters so often do) and admitted that he controlled delivery of aid and rations to the hundreds of thousands of people who live in his slum, Cite Soleil. He said that he controlled the government, not the other way around. The people, he said, regard him highly and do as he "asks." Either through fear or bribery, he ran the show.
I believed him, given that neither the Haitian government nor the UN peacekeepers have control of Cite Soleil. (At the time the well-armed UN wouldn't even go in there.) When the people of Cite Soleil riot (acting on the gangsters' orders) the rest of the city trembles in fear.
These are the people who run Port-au-Prince; in the north of the island, it's a similar situation, with former rebels and bands of former government thugs running the show.
They are all allegedly linked with the Colombians, who bring in their cocaine unimpeded.
The one silver lining to Haiti's organized crime problem is that it isn't all that organized, and every few months, a new "most-wanted man" takes over the reign of terror. The smaller gangs don't bother rising up, they simply fall under the new umbrella. Governments come and go quite quickly too. Hardly a real silver lining, but the truth.
So what's the solution? The future? Not sure, really. The UN mandate has been extended until next year. If I were in charge of the peacekeeping mission, I would suggest more troops, more reconstruction teams (duh, in the wake of this earthquake) and a stronger military mandate in slums like Cite Soleil and the more lawless parts of the island (the north). Keep building those institutions, medical facilities, education, focusing on the economy, improving the country's capacity to police itself – Haiti has made formidable progress in recent years, proving that it is capable – if given a hand.
And of course, I'd opt for less UN peacekeepers who tarnish the good name of their mission by raping and having sex with underage Haitian girls. Hardly the best way to earn the trust of a people who have been buggered by foreigners for what seems like an eternity.
(I took the above photo in 2006; I hear this part of Port-au-Prince has completely collapsed.)