Oct 25, 2004
The battle between armed gangs in Haiti took a new turn at the end of September when the supporters of former president Bertrand Aristide took to the streets to mark the anniversary of his overthrow and exile by a military coup. As they demanded Aristide's return to Haiti, his supporters launched an operation they called "Baghdad," a reference to the armed chaos in the streets of the capital of Iraq. Barricades were thrown up in a number of working class and poor neighborhoods, like Bel-Air, La Saline and Cite Soleil. In the following week, confrontations between armed supporters of Aristide and armed policemen left at least a dozen dead.
Daily life in the capital city of Haiti has come to a halt. Schools are seldom open; most shops are closed. Armed gangs run the streets, terrifying the population. The situation is the worst in poor neighborhoods where workers, "jobbers" or street merchants and small shop owners are caught in the crossfire. Houses have been ransacked, women have been raped; mutilated bodies are found in the streets. Those who can flee seek shelter among friends and co-workers in other neighborhoods.
U.N. forces in Haiti are supposed to maintain order. In reality, these 3000 soldiers protect the presidential palace, the airport and the industrial zone.
One day in October, 200 U.N. soldiers and 150 Haitian police entered the Bel-Air neighborhood to disarm some of the gangs. But the thugs in the neighborhood had advanced warning and moved their cache of weapons out of the area before the search could begin. However, a few hours after the police and U.N. soldiers left the area, the armed supporters of Aristide took back to the streets, again throwing up barricades and occupying the center of the city. They looted stores, burned vehicles and carried out a number of murders.
Another armed gang – made up of former army members who had carried out the military coup against Aristide – showed up to occupy some public buildings. They said, since the government could not maintain order, they would – by disarming others.
The government of Latortue, put in place by American and French troops in 2004, seems unable to organize even the minimum services necessary for the country to function. This government has almost no control over the country, not even the capital city of Port-au-Prince. Haiti remains splintered, under the rule of the various armed gangs, each one fighting for its own interests: the armed supporters of Aristide; the official and corrupted police; the former army men; and even others.
Meanwhile, the poor can barely find enough to eat. And they are the ones who pay the highest price for all the chaos and violence of the armed gangs – none of which represents any interest for the workers and poor.