HaitiThe reflection of sunlight off the white houses is what gives Cité Soleil its name. But the daily reality of people living in this slum area in Port-au-Prince, Haiti’s capital, is one of deprivation and violence.
Since the ousted of the former president Aristide in February 2004, the poorest country of the Western hemisphere has been living a time of violence and insecurity. Although elections which took place last February gave the hope of a new era for the Haitians, one year after results are disarming.
Port-au-Prince remains an insecure and violent capital city, with large parts of it controlled by armed groups criminally and politically motivated. The UN Mission for the Stabilization in Haiti (MINUSTAH) is made by more than 8,500 soldiers. The mission is led by Brazil and it is the first time that a Latin American country has guided a UN peacekeeping force. In February 15th 2007 the UN Security Council extended for six months its mandate but stabilization is a word far from being real in Haiti.
After February elections a precarious calm was registered in Port-au-Prince as the new government tried to deal with gang’s leader to implement the DDR plan (demobilisation, disarmament and reintegration) of the soldiers. But negotiations failed and new waves of violence has plagued the city before the end of the year. A record number of kidnappings was registered between October and December.
René Preval, often described as a champion of the poor, won presidential elections in February 2006 with 51% of the vote. Last December, Mr. Preval decided it was time to put the word “end” on the problem of Cité Soleil and Martissant, the two most violent slums of Port-au-Prince.
UN has been scaling up the level of military operation since last December, trying to expand its presence in the slum of Cité Soleil. Heavy fighting erupts regularly between UN troops and the local armed groups. Cité Soleil is a slum where more than 200,000 people live trapped in a wave of poverty, violence and insecurity. Civilians face a real war-like situation, both belligerent use heavy weapons in an overpopulated area and the tinplate houses can not protect their inhabitants. “Collateral damages” are the words used to justify the civilian toll. Humanitarian organizations have described the situation as “catastrophic”.
Cité Soleil was built in the seventies as a dormitory neighbourhood for factory workers. “Papa Doc”, the brutal dictator conceived it. The original name was Cité Simone, in honour of Duvalier’s wife. In the last decade, Cité Soleil has become a no-law area, its 32 neighbourhoods are controlled by different armed groups, all of them well armed. MINUSTAH started the operations in spring 2005, killing the former leader of the slum, Dred Wilmé, but since that time the situation has just been worsening months after months On the other side of the city another slum has become the symbol of violence and death for its inhabitants.
Welcome to Martissant, a big slum on the hills in front of the Caribbean sea. It could be a tourist paradise but nobody is enough insane to come here for holidays. Since August 2005 when a death squad enter in a soccer stadium to massacre at least 50 people by machete, the situation became worse and worse. Since that summer, in Martissant fighting among the different armed groups aiming to control the area, are a daily reality. Many people fled the neighbourhood because of insecurity.
Haiti n’existe pas, Haiti does not exist, says the title of Christophe Wargny essay on the hopeless part of the Caribbean island of Hispaniola. Haiti does not exists, nor its inhabitants, nor the stories of those living every day in violence and fear.
text by Alessandra Oglino.