I’ve been trying to read some online news to stay updated with what’s going on in country. Seems kind of silly that I have to rely on outside sources to fill me in on what’s going on here. That is, however, the way it is.
I’ve been thinking about the UN a lot recently after reading some of the articles. Okay, most of them because it seems everyone has their opinion on what the UN is actually doing here, or whether they’re doing anything at all. The only thing I can offer you is my personal experience and a reflection on what I read and how much that seems to line up with what we see and hear while living here.
This is what I know…
There was a lot of talk about whether the UN was going to stick around or extend their mission. It was announced within the last two days that they have extended it for another year, with financing coming from a variety of places. I could have told you that this would happen just based on what I saw last time I was in Port, which was about a week and a half ago. By the airport there is a big UN base of operations. This was where they were based out of during their first occupation about 10 years ago. What was dismantled and sold off has not only been rebuilt, but also added on to with more construction happening constantly. Tip off number one that the UN has no plans to pull out any time soon. You don’t build cargo hangers and bring in more equipment if you have plans to leave within six months. Tip off number two is the new construction on Kanz Oktob. I’m talking big construction covering acres and acres, right across from the UN offices. You don’t start construction if you have plans to leave, especially not with the speed that it takes to build most things here.
There has been an increase of UN soldiers present in Port and other parts of the country, with more scheduled to arrive in the coming month. This is a good sign because people believe that more man power is needed and they are sending them. These soldiers are more present on patrols and are always quite friendly when we see them. Heck, one soldier wanted a picture with Chris in St. Marc which we thought was funny, especially when we realized that Chris was probably the first long haired white guy they had ever seen :) When I first got here it was a bit of an adjustment to see armored vehicles driving around with guns at the ready, but now when I see a vehicle on patrol I relax. I never would have expected that. I also wouldn’t have expected getting used to hearing the UN choppers fly right over our house at night when they’re either doing patrols or moving people around the country (we’re right along the straight line from Port to Gonaives). I really wouldn’t have thought that I would pay attention if they did more than one pass a night.
There is a lot of talk about what’s happening in Cite Soliel. I think it’s important for anyone reading anything about Haiti and what’s going on here to know this: Cite Soliel is one of the biggest slums in the country, and the home of most of the gangs in the country. These gangs rule Cite Soliel which is home for more than 300,000 people. There is no peace there, people are starving and pass their days living in squalor and fear because of the gangs. These are not your local punk kids. These gangs are often led by deportees that have been in prison or just up to no good in Canada and the US. They have access to arms, the kind that kill people. When you hear or read of kidnappings in Haiti the people responsible for them are these gangs. Any time a ransom is paid, it goes towards more arms and keeping the gangs functioning.
The UN has, in the past two months, started raids in Cite Soliel. If you read anything online you’ll see a lot of opinions about about what is happening. Some will say the raids are good. Others will protest them and say that the UN needs to get out of Cite Soliel and leave the people to live peacefully there. This is what I know from living here and having friends, Haitian friends, that live in Port au Prince. For the past two years of occupation many people said the UN wasn’t doing anything other than drive around in their UN marked vehicles. The UN is a peacekeeping organization with a mandate to not fire until fired upon. They wouldn’t go into Cite Soliel before because they were not given the go ahead to do so. I can agree or disagree with that, but it doesn’t change the reasoning behind it. What has changed is that in the past couple of months they were given the green flag to not only go in, but to start raids on those places that were known to house the gangs that have been responsible for so many of the problems. They have now taken control of some of those gang bases and taken them over as UN bases.
Making progress, which is what I personally believe it is, has meant that there have had to be guns fired because the people they are fighting against are using bullets. You will read of innocent people being shot by stray fire. This is true. They will often try to blame the UN. I don’t know who’s bullet they got hit by. I would think it would be hard to tell exactly where it came from in the midst of what is essentially war. I do know that in Haiti truth can be hard to find. I have had a person sit on my front porch, drinking out of my coffee cup, telling me about what it was like to be kidnapped and held for days in Cite Soliel. My husband has been shot at while driving by. Cite Soliel is not a happy place and the people there are not living in peace, no matter what news article might try to paint that picture.
I am noticing a difference in the country. Friends of ours that live in Port au Prince have noticed a difference there. Our staff are noticing differences. For the first time since I arrived in 2005 things are feeling different. I don’t think that violence is the answer for solving problems. I do believe that discipline and order are necessary before any true change can be made here because you can’t build on chaos and expect it to work. Unfortunately the people that need the discipline have the guns and others are at risk because of it. I hate the fact that I heard machine gun fire in Cite Soliel two weeks ago, but I love the fact that the UN is finally able to go after the people that have been making life miserable and unlivable for hundreds of thousands of people. Actually millions if you consider how their actions have changed life for everyone else in the country.
When I read the news about Haiti I always have to turn on really big filters and consider the source. You will see articles by pro-Aristide supporters. You’ll know them by the very graphic images of their own people that have been killed or wounded, and they’ll often say nothing other than the fact that the UN needs to leave. Other articles are very fact based and to the point. Read a lot, learn a lot, process a lot. That’s the only way to figure out what’s going on without being able to be here. And trust me, the truth is in there somewhere.