National Public Radio
All Things Considered

January 10, 2006


This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I’m Robert Siegel.


And I’m Michele Norris.

Haiti has set a new date for national elections, the first since the ouster of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide two years ago. The vote is now scheduled to take place February 7th. It has been postponed four times due to violence and inadequate preparation. Over the weekend, the country suffered a new blow with the death of the top UN commander in the country. And as Amelia Shaw reports, Haiti is also being crippled by an explosion in kidnapping.

AMELIA SHAW reporting:

On Christmas Eve, Ruben George(ph) and his family were on their way to attend a family gathering in Tabar(ph), a middle-class suburb of Port-au-Prince. As they neared his brother’s house, four armed men jumped out of a truck, shot their guns in the air and ordered the family out of the car.

Mr. RUBEN GEORGE: (Through Translator) It was atrocious. They put their guns to our heads, and when my six-year-old didn’t lower his head, they beat him with the gun.

SHAW: The family was taken to a windowless one-room shack in the heart of a slum. For two nights, they waited for their relatives and friends to be called and for a ransom to be paid.

Mr. GEORGE: (Through Translator) They hit me in the face with a gun and said, `That’s what you get for chasing out Aristide.’ Then they made us call people and they would say, `Make sure you tell them where you are. You’re in Cite Soleil. No one can come here to find you.’

SHAW: In the end, nearly $20,000 changed hands, a hefty sum for a struggling working-class family. The Georges are among the latest victims of a multimillion-dollar business flourishing in Port-au-Prince’s biggest slum, Cite Soleil. Armed gangs loyal to former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide control the violence-ridden slum, making it the ideal place to hide kidnapping victims. The United Nations says that as many as 10 people are being kidnapped a day, and the targets are everyone from the city’s wealthiest residents to the vegetable vendors on the street.

Prominent businessman Reginald Boulos says that 400 people were kidnapped in December alone. He wonders how this can happen in front of nearly 8,000 UN troops.

Mr. REGINALD BOULOS (Businessman): We hear that today there are massive distribution of weapons over the last two weeks in Cite Soleil. And because of the fact that they are completely under a not-controlled area, they’re able to get up, come in the city, pick up people, kill people and go back inside, and nobody can go after them.

SHAW: The UN began its peacekeeping mission in June of 2004, three months after then-President Jean-Bertrand Aristide was forced into exile following a violent uprising. Since then, the troops have struggled to quell the waves of violence that strike the city, many of which emanate from Cite Soleil. The UN, known locally as MINUSTAH, has taken a lead in preparing Haiti’s national elections, but last week officials postponed elections for the fourth time and many Haitians, like Boulos, have grown frustrated.

Mr. BOULOS: Please understand that we appreciate the work that MINUSTAH is doing so far, but it’s not enough. And if it’s not enough, we’re going to fail. And if we fail, we’re all going to fail. The UN will fail, the international community will fail, the government will fail, but most importantly, Haiti will fail. And again, the rest of the world will say, `Oh, once more again, Haiti failed.’

SHAW: Boulos adds with the current violence, there is no way the country can hold elections. As chairman of the board of commerce, Boulos has called for a general strike this week to protest the kidnappings and urge UN troops to track down on gangs in Cite Soleil, but UN spokesman Damian Cardona says that conducting military operations in the winding alleyways of Cite Soleil is not that simple.

Mr. DAMIAN CARDONA (Spokesman, United Nations): We have to be careful. The context of Cite Soleil, being Islam-created almost 50 years ago with the smaller streets, a lot of local population sometimes are being used in the past as human shields–women, children–to protect the gangs that are going there. So we have to measure also the collateral damage we are going to do there if we do–with our operation.

SHAW: The unexpected death of military commander General Urano Bacellar has added another twist to the UN’s mission. The loss of the UN’s top military commander is another tremor in Haiti’s increasingly unstable political landscape. While the UN struggles to regroup, Ruben George and his family are also struggling to put back their broken lives.

Mr. GEORGE: (Foreign language spoken)

SHAW: Ruben says the kidnappers keep calling his family demanding more money, and his kids are terrified of the dark. He’s looking into ways to leave the country. With so much violence, he says, it just doesn’t make sense to stay. For NPR News, I’m Amelia Shaw in Port-au-Prince.

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Record Number: 200601102105