Originally: Despite poverty, violence, Haiti limping back
Despite poverty, violence, Haiti limping back
PORT-AU-PRINCE – Six months after the ouster of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, schools and businesses are open, some electricity is back, streets are cleaner, and millions in foreign aid is starting to trickle in.
Yet persistent political tensions, armed gangs, kidnappings, violent crime and sporadic pro-Aristide protests threaten to hurl this impoverished country back into chaos.
The carnage and destruction of the armed revolt that forced Aristide into exile on Feb. 29 laid low what was already the hemisphere’s poorest nation. About 300 people were killed, and damage was estimated at up to $300 million.
Today, there are signs of a resurgence.
Electricity, which was seldom a full-time service in Haiti and was out for weeks during and after the revolt, is now available for up to 14 hours a day. Foreign peacekeepers have helped clean up the once-filthy streets, and businesses and schools are open again.
Even the vibrant nightlife has returned.
In the Port-au-Prince suburb of Petionville, well-to-do Haitians sip beer and fancy cocktails at upscale restaurants and bars that could have been plucked right out of South Beach. Over the blasts of techno, reggae, hip-hop, salsa, and DJ dance blends, the young, beautiful and monied enjoy themselves, their thoughts not on the recent bloodshed but on the joy of the moment — and those cleaner streets, the hot topic of small talk.
STREETS CLEAN, MEAN
For months, mounds of festering garbage encroached on streets. Today those towering mounds are gone.
But those newly scrubbed streets still have their share of violence, both criminal and political. Kidnappings, violent crimes and protests flare up. And on dark streets just outside those fancy bars, beggars keep an eye on patrons’ cars in exchange for the equivalent of a few pennies.
Haitians say they are struggling economically even more following the revolt that decimated their livelihoods.
’’Things are worse now because there’s no money for the people to take care of themselves,’’ said Mirline Casimir, 28, a Port-au-Prince hair stylist. “Even with no protests and no violence, things are worse.’’
The street crime that strikes day and night has become a part of life in Haiti. And many of the armed gangs that fought for or against Aristide still have their weapons. Some of the anti-Aristide rebels indeed still control several small towns and parts of cities around the country.
The Brazilian-led U.N. peacekeeping force here is supposed to disarm all factions, but so far has made no serious effort to do that. The force, which is supposed to have 6,500 members, today has about 2,700 troops.
WEAPONS IN CAPITAL
Despite poverty, violence, Haiti limping back
Haiti shows some improvements six months after President Jean-Bertrand Aristide was ousted, but political tensions and sporadic violence continue in the Western Hemisphere’s poorest country.
In Port-au-Prince neighborhoods such as Cité Soleil and Bel Aire — both Aristide strongholds — weapons abound. At times brandishing weapons, Aristide loyalists have recently launched demonstrations from there, demanding his return. Aristide, exiled in South Africa, has fed their hopes with a defiant stance that he is still president and plans to return.
Anti-Aristide rebels also marched recently through the streets of Port-au-Prince with guns and rifles in a brazen show of defiance. The peacekeepers did nothing.
An angry interim Prime Minister Gerard Latortue told The Herald that he called the peacekeepers’ commander to protest the inaction, and was reassured that it would not happen again.
Latortue has ordered all factions to disarm by Sept. 15. But he admits that the Haitian police force, which all but disappeared during the revolt, remains weak and unable to disarm the gangs.
’’I hope for Haiti we will not have to go to other means,’’ Latortue said in an interview in his Port-au-Prince office. “There’s been too much bloodshed in Haiti. We don’t need more of that.’’
Six months ago, Haiti was a war zone with no rules. Young men roamed the streets, commandeered vehicles, and beat, stabbed and shot men and women, young and old indiscriminately, as Haitians took up arms against one another.
By the time about 3,000 U.S., Canadian, French and Chilean peacekeepers arrived, hundreds of businesses had been torched or damaged, and decaying bodies lay on debris-blocked streets. Foreign development and relief organizations that had been working here pulled out amid the chaos. Many of Haiti’s eight million people were left without food or medical supplies.
Latortue and his Cabinet have come up with a rebuilding plan. The plan calls for $1.3 billion to be spent over the next two years to train police, improve roads and create jobs, among other pressing needs.
’’We are making arrangements . . . to make sure that by mid-September, most of the work we’re supposed to finance will start, particularly in the renovation of the streets in urban areas and also the rehabilitation and construction of some major roads into the country,’’ he said.
Latortue said the international community is also planning to meet in Haiti on Sept. 22. ’’We would like by Sept. 22 to have identified the priorities to be financed immediately,’’ he said.
Latortue also said the process is on track for elections next year for municipal and legislative slots and a new president to replace interim President Boniface Alexandre, a Supreme Court justice sworn in as president after Aristide left.
A nine-member provisional electoral council has been formed to register voters and oversee the balloting, but Aristide’s Lavalas Family party has refused to participate without a signed pledge by Latortue to stop his alleged persecution of Lavalas supporters and disarm the rebels.
’’The elections must take place during 2005,’’ the prime minister said. “There’s no negotiation on that because the interim government is committed to pass the power to a new elected government at the latest on Feb. 7, 2006.’’
Latortue also insisted that Haiti today is freer than under Aristide, accused of siccing his armed loyalists on opposition figures during his rule.
’’When you talk to the average Haitian, they say they cannot [compare] Haiti today with what Haiti was just six months ago,’’ he said. “There’s a kind of relief from the population internally.’’
MICHAEL A.W. OTTEY