Haiti’s Police Struggle to Control Ravaged Capital

Jonathan M. Katz, Google News, April 11, 2010

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Fears of such insecurity have prompted the U.S. government to invest millions in stabilization and security to protect its post-quake development programs. More than $422 million of U.S. aid has come from the Defense Department.

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Now with some $35 million in funding, the Haiti Stabilization Initiative was established to rebuild communities where extreme poverty and desperation, both exacerbated by the Jan. 12 disaster, provide fertile ground for gangs. Its first phase in Martissant involves a flood-control project employing nearly 700 residents, paying them $4.60 a day for six days a week of work.

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The United Nations’ Community Violence Reduction program–a broader-based outgrowth of its effort to disarm gangs following the 2004 rebellion and ouster of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide–is also focused on Martissant.

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People in the slums say they are grateful for efforts to combat the violence, including stepped-up patrols by Haiti’s expanding National Police Force. On Friday, a team of 14 heavily armed officers charged over rubble piles and cracked pavement through a warren in Martissant’s Saint-Bernadette section looking for illegal weapons and the targets of outstanding warrants.

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Residents complain that gang shootouts are on the increase since the earthquake, and local media have reported a steady uptick in gunshot wounds in Martissant. Aid workers say armed gang members have shown up at their meetings.

As crime spills over to touch the wealthy and elite–at least three foreigners have been kidnapped in recent weeks–security is taking on an even more central role in the rebuilding effort.

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It’s too soon to say how much will be spent on security now. The United Nations is still crunching numbers from the conference, which raised a preliminary $9.9 billion for Haiti. The State Department has not released a breakdown of the $1.15 billion pledged by President Barack Obama’s administration but not yet approved by Congress.

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Essentially out of the picture are U.S. troops, who numbered as many as 20,000 in the weeks after the earthquake but have reduced their presence to a rump logistical force and are now rarely seen around the capital.

Even as local police work to improve their public image by stepping up patrols and community recruiting, suspicion of corruption and collusion abounds. An investigation is under way into how 4,300 prisoners–some hardened criminals–escaped the overcrowded and dangerous national penitentiary during the quake.

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