Originally: Qui pêche en eaux troubles
Undeniable progress has been achieved in the fight against criminal gangs. The Haitian police and the U.N. force, MINUSTAH, rightly take credit for lowering the level of insecurity during the past few months. Of course, they cannot claim victory yet. The kidnapping of Dr. Kelly Bastien, as well as the incidents reported last week around the airport, remind us that several more battles must be won before winning the war. During the arrests made by the police, it must be acknowledged that “collateral damage” occurred in the very complex operations inside the popular neighborhoods where it is difficult to enter. Moreover, about twenty cases of lynching and other forms of “popular justice” were reported in Bel-Air just for the weekend of August 5-7. On that matter, eloquent testimonies were heard following the killing of gang leader “Chaba” (his nickname) near Saint-Martin Street. A local resident vividly described on the radio how relieved she felt, with detailed information about the abuses committed by the bandits. Incidents of popular vendetta occur while the police and MINUSTAH are cracking down. At the end of it all, those numerous operations, whether warranted or questionable, seem to indicate that fear is changing sides.
No doubt that the moment is delicate. Although different in scope and number this time, incidents of “dechoukay” (uprooting) seem to be occurring again in those neighborhoods where the gangs were formerly in control, extorting, killing, and looting in broad daylight. We should, however, avoid the trap of vengeance, which has no glory or future, where nothing is solved beyond the immediate moment, but where the stage may be set for more violence and the making of new killers. Human-rights organizations, including RNDDH and CEDH, have precisely addressed that question. Jean-Claude Bajeux spoke specifically against “using the justified anger of a population that has had enough?” to get rid of the bandits. Mr. Bajeux emphasized that “the authorities must take appropriate action to make it possible to enforce the law according to the norms?” This is a particularly important call, not only for the long-term developments in our country, but, in light of the current political situation, for the immediate process of solving the crisis through elections. Some have used the current situation to spread alarmist interpretations, in order to minimize or even completely ignore the recent progress made at such a high price.
Those negative signals from several sectors concern different aspects of the process. The police were the first to be accused during the past few weeks. Beside the verbal excesses of Amnesty International, the foreign press has published all kinds of allegations and constructs, where the undeniable (including the abuses due to popular vengeance) is mixed with the approximate, and then spiced with false accusations. Such is the case of an article published by the New York Times on August 10, claiming that “police officers, sometimes wearing a mask, shot at random” in Bel Air, and later “stood by during attacks on civilians” where Aristide’s supporters were targeted. “At least five persons were killed, including a pregnant woman and a teenager.” There was also that report broadcast by the NGO “Médecins sans frontiPres” on TV5, RFO, and RDI, which mixed general information about violence in Haiti with a rehash of widely-published numbers about a thousand persons killed in thirteen months, images of victims’ injuries (focusing on the bullet wounds), scenes of lynching, and news about the kidnapping of Kelly Bastien. A strange report indeed, with the smell of propaganda. Let us also mention the International Crisis Group, forecasting that elections will not be possible in Haiti because of violence and impunity?this in spite of the statements from groups working precisely to establish a climate of security and participation to facilitate the elections. Does it all suggest an attempt to sap the enthusiasm of potential voters for the registration process? Once again, who is afraid of elections?
The release of Louis Jodel Chamblain, which shocked not only Amb. James B. Foley but international opinion as well, brings back into focus the case of Yvon Neptune. Then, last but not least, a bandit with a known reputation as a criminal, accused by his own accomplices in the murder of Jacques Roche, joins the disarmament-demobilization-reintegration (DDR) program of the U.N. mission! This might be considered a gross caricature and provocation, but, in my opinion, it is the result of the United Nations? erroneous appraisal of the situation in Haiti. The DDR program assumes the existence of two armed sides, opposing each other politically and ideologically. By considering the bandits armed by Aristide as guerrilla fighters, as it did at first, and then considering the former soldiers, who joined the opposition to Aristide toward the end of February, as a regular army, the international community encouraged an interpretation of the conflicts whose error was illustrated by the provocation of “General Toutou.”
The rights of all parties are thus confused, and all criteria falsified, by failing to ask the right questions. There is currently a prevailing confusion about, on the one hand, the appropriate measures to help the country get through the electoral process: security, registration, relief for the poorest? and, on the other hand, the necessary social reconstruction which requires the reinforcement and professionalization of the police force, judicial reforms, the establishment of an inclusive social policy… in fact, the building of a democratic society. Those two issues go hand in hand. However, the extremist points of view or simplistic statements can only discourage, denigrate, or, at least, interfere with the current trend of small steps in the right direction, on which the whole country pins its hopes.