Haitian Police Sow More Fear than Stability as Country Gears Up For Elections

Michelle Faul, AP, Mar. 1

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti—Outgunned, undermanned and blamed for some of the country’s violence, Haitian police are under pressure to mend decades of mistrust before elections next fall that many people fear are destined for bloodshed.

The United States and United Nations have repeatedly tried and failed to build an evenhanded police force over the years, and offered help again last year after rebels ousted President Jean-Bertrand Aristide during a three-week revolt.

But Haitians, who have seen a string of governments use the police as brutal enforcers, say officers still operate above the law, targeting opponents and using trigger-happy tactics. Violence has come in waves since September, with some 400 civilians and 25 police slain, according to the National Coalition for Haitian Rights and an Associated Press count.

On Monday, five officers trying to block unarmed protesters escorted by U.N. peacekeepers fired tear gas, then bullets, into a crowd of hundreds. When the shooting ended, two men lay dead in the street. “Police could have hit us by shooting that way,” a Brazilian peacekeeper complained.

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In one incident, 10 young people were killed Oct. 26 in what witnesses said was a police raid in Fort National, a district neighboring Bel Air.

Luc Francois, the 65-year-old father of one of the dead, said no authorities had questioned about the incident. Witnesses to the raid also said they had never been contacted.

“We’re scared to complain. If you complain, your house gets burned down and you have to flee,” Francois said.

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