Haiti: Vigilantes Rule


August 4, 2007: Peace has come to the capital after a six month campaign by 9,000 UN peacekeepers. Some 750 gang leaders were captured and disarmed. This dramatically reduced the crime rate, and number of people killed weekly, in the slums of the capital. Kidnappings, that peaked at twenty a week last Summer, have declined to one or two a week now.

Efforts to get guns off the streets have been unsuccessful. It's estimated that over 100,000 pistols and rifles are out there. A few thousand have been turned in, or captured from criminals, by UN peacekeepers. With 70 percent unemployment, there's plenty of motivation to use those weapons. The threat of retaliation by peacekeepers, cops or angry citizens is keeping crime down. The threat of UN peacekeeper action has killed off the gangs, for the moment. This makes individual criminals vulnerable to vigilantes. As long as the vigilante violence remains spontaneous, there is no vigilante organization for the police or peacekeepers to go after. The courts are corrupt, enabling anyone with money to buy their way out. The vigilantes frequently kill the wrong person, but generally provides more certain justice than do the police and courts.

The UN estimates that the country needs a police force of some 22,000, to keep the peace among eight million Haitians. But currently there are only 6,000. Worse, only 500 new ones are being recruited and trained every six months. But at the same time, at least 500 dirty cops are being dismissed every six months. The UN is trying to find honest recruits, and then train them to stay honest. That's difficult to do, given the low pay, and tradition of corruption. Outside the capital, vigilante justice still prevails. Over the last two years, four or five people a month are killed by mob justice. There are few police in many rural areas, so crime fighting is improvised.

The UN says it will keep the peacekeepers around for as long as they are needed. But after only three years, UN donors are getting tired of paying for reconstruction and peacekeeping in Haiti. Over the last two centuries, there have been several efforts to solve the crime and poverty problems. American marines occupied the country from 1915 to 1934. That was one of the few periods when Haiti had honest government and prosperity. But once the marines left, the civil strife and dictatorship soon returned. Anyone planning on peacekeeping had better be ready for a long stay, and an uncertain outcome.


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