Peacekeeping: Gangbusters In Haiti


February27, 2007: Frustrated at the growing gang violence in Haiti, UN peacekeepers decided to try the gangbusters approach. So for the last two months, the peacekeeping troops have gone after the gangs, in particular the gang leaders. The gangsters responded by finding new hideouts. But the most damaging response by the criminals was to find journalists, and tell the reporters what they wanted to hear. Since the gangsters operate out of the densely populated slums of the capital, peacekeeper visits are accompanied by a great deal of gunfire, and dead civilians. The gangsters told the reporters that the UN was deliberately aiming at civilians, in an attempt to terrorize the civilians who supported the criminals (who, in their own eyes, were legitimate freedom fighters against the foreign occupiers.) The gangs thoughtfully produced some dead women and children for the reporters to examine. One question reporters were reluctant to get answers for was, who actually killed the civilians? Rumors were already in the air that the dead civilians were conveniently shot by gangsters, to provide the media with some compelling images for the evening news back home.

Over the last three years. the criminal gangs of Haiti have become less political, and more just criminal and mercenary. Former president Arsitide, forced out of office three years ago, because of his use of gangs as political enforcers, went into exile, and a $100 million is missing from the government treasury. The gangs make economic growth impossible, and play a major role in keeping everyone poor. It's believed that at least 20,000 police are needed to regain control of the streets from the gangs, but only 7,000 cops are available. The UN also has 1,750 foreign police available, who are limited by their limited language and cultural skills. The 7,300 UN peacekeepers really can't police, and are instead used for general security and raids on major gang operations. It would take 3-4 years to recruit and train 20,000 police. Even then, given Haiti's two century history, there's no assurance that this large police force would not be as corrupt as in the past. The biggest problem in Haiti is that no one has any new ideas that seem likely to break the cycle of corruption, poor government and poverty that has cursed the country since its founding.

The street growing violence is largely a result of the government strategy of initially trying to negotiate with the gangs. Warlords and private armies are an old Haitian tradition. Your armed followers were the core of your political, and economic strength. Many Haitians feel comfortable aligning themselves with a gang, and dying in defense of their crew. The government doesn't want to take on the gangs with force, if only because the gangs have more firepower. Even with the UN peacekeepers, the gangs, as a whole, still have an edge. Although the gangs are divided by politics, business interests, and personal animosities, they will form a loose coalition to oppose any government attempt to put all gangs out of business. But the UN is determined to give it a try, go after the gangs, and break their power. The UN is trying to beat two centuries of Haitian history and tradition. Can the gangs really be reduced to impotence? The UN has given the peacekeeping force another eight months to work at it. But the gangs can go underground for eight months. The UN is mostly concerned about the more blatant crimes, like the 2,000 or so kidnappings in the last year, and the groups of young me roaming the city looking for people-of-means to mug. The real money for the gangs comes from drugs. Some fifteen percent of the cocaine for North American goes through Haiti. Of course, much of the profits from that ends up with corrupt government officials. But the gangs know they cannot survive a firefight with the better armed and trained peacekeepers, but they can wait them out. Eventually the UN will get tired of it all, leave, and the gangs will still be there.




Help Keep Us From Drying Up

We need your help! Our subscription base has slowly been dwindling.

Each month we count on your contributions. You can support us in the following ways:

  1. Make sure you spread the word about us. Two ways to do that are to like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.
  2. Subscribe to our daily newsletter. We’ll send the news to your email box, and you don’t have to come to the site unless you want to read columns or see photos.
  3. You can contribute to the health of StrategyPage.
Subscribe   Contribute   Close