Since the 2004 coup d’etat of Jean-Bertrand Aristide and the 2006 installation of René Préval, Haiti underwent profound chaos and political instability coupled with a dire economic climate which left 86 percent of Port-au-Prince residents living in slum conditions. Then, in January 2010, a 7.0 earthquake left 1.5 million people homeless, 220,000 dead, and 10 million cubic meters of debris. Cholera broke out in October 2010, killing over 7,000 people, and causing panic that the UN peacekeepers released the epidemic through poor sanitary conditions in their own camps. Safe drinking water remains the most urgent public health problem. The epidemic, which has now evolved into two strains, compounds during the spring rainy season and the subsequent summer hurricanes. Haiti is also threatened with yearly set-backs from hurricanes and tropical storms that slam through between June and November.
Crime rates in Haiti are very high. Violent crime, including armed robbery, homicide, rape, and kidnapping, occurs with alarming regularity. Kidnapping, death threats, murders, drug-related shootouts, armed robberies, home break-ins, and carjackings are common. Criminals often target people leaving banks or arriving at the airport, believing they carry large sums of money. Kidnapping for ransom is common and victims have few commonalities other than a perceived wealth or value. These all can and have impacted U.S. citizens. Crime tends to spike during holidays (Carnival and Christmas specifically) and in anticipation of the start of school. Criminals, often working in tandem, will not hesitate to use weapons and/or deadly force. The intentional homicide rate for Haiti in 2011 was 6.9 per 100,000, compared to the US at 4.2 (1).
Policing and Security
The Haitian National Police (HNP) lacks the ability to investigate or respond to crimes, patrol, keep public order or even to communicate internally. The Haitian police force is understaffed, under equipped, and unable to respond to even basic emergency calls. Police themselves have been routinely involved in criminal activities, including corruption, murder, and kidnapping. Police have also been accused of using police vehicles for personal used and providing security for private citizens while on-duty. Political instability is the root cause for a recent rise in insecurity and violence.
MINUSTAH’s security mandate will expire in October. Their mission has been critical in keeping the peace and security. However, local support is waning due to MINUSTAH’s perceived role in the cholera outbreak and for its failure to end violence and sexual violence against civilians. It is largely seen as an occupying force that has immunity from prosecution. Should they, the sole stabilizing force in country, depart, Haiti could witness renewed violence.
MINUSTAH estimated that a mere 8 percent of 5,000 escaped prisoners had been rearrested by 2011.
On Choosing Godson Orelus
Martelly, the President of Haiti, was under pressure from the US, in particular, to re-deputize the Director General of the National Police of Haiti Mario Andresol, who has served in that role since 2006 before his term ended on August 18, 2012
The Haitian underworld, however, prevailed with Godson Orelus’s nomination. Orelus had the backing of the drug traffickers, First Lady Sofia Martelly’s St. Remy clan, and Senator Youri Latorture (“a kidnapping kingpin”) and Special Advisor to the President Joseph Lambert (tied to corruption, bribery, and drug trafficking), both of whom remain close advisors to Martelly. In 2004, Orelus allegedly began paving the way for South American drug trafficking en route to the US until the US DEA intervened to have Orelus removed from the Southern Department and moved to Artibonite Department, home to the Latortures and St. Remys. Furthermore, he was the subject of an investigation in January 2012 of an arbitrary detention of Parliamentary Deputy Arnel Belizaire, who, in October of 2011, accused Martelly of running “a dictatorship of the most ferocious sort,” at the airport.
Conversely, Mario Andresol was the ultra-rich minority and U.S. darling, despite accusations of his own complicity and/or knowledge of police improprieties. He has admitted that up to one-quarter of his police force have been involved in criminal activities and that, in most cases, investigations are not undertaken, arrest warrants are not served, and court cases against police are overturned.
The State Department’s Law Enforcement and Narcotics Affairs Section (NAS) provides $19,420,000 (FY2012) in assistance to establish a visible and legitimate police and security presence with a focus on police reform, corrections, and counternarcotics (2). It also includes a Defense Department stabilization initiative.
A Bleak Future
Thus far, only 47 percent of the pledged money has been disbursed to Haiti. The money that has been disbursed seems to be filtering directly in to pockets of the wealthy and politically aligned. Eradicating cholera may be a 10-20 year process. Safety and security are on the decline, especially with thousands of prisoners at large. With little prospect of economic development or progress, even those who, under other circumstances, would not consider crime have turned to petty theft and worse to feed their families. With no fear of retribution from police, criminals operate openly and at will. The Orelus nomination will exacerbate political instability, thus fostering insecurity.
While NGOs are likely to stay involved in Haiti’s humanitarian rebuilding efforts, the U.S. government’s provisions may sit in the balance because of Orelus’s nomination. Should funding be withdrawn or minimized, Haiti will continue sprinting toward overtaking Somalia as the world’s greatest failure.