Failing Grade: The Disintegration of Haiti

Article excerpt

Gang warfare and violence have plagued Haiti since the US-approved exile of former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, and the new interim government seems to be powerless to stop it. Aristide was ousted in February 2004 due to a Haitian rebellion and pressure from the United States. The temporary government under President Boniface Alexandre and Prime Minister Gerard Latortue was instituted that March in an effort to bring peace to the country. However, the ongoing political rivalry between Aristide's Lavalas Family Party and the civil society group composed of elite, rich members known as Group 184 has spilled over into a violent conflict currently played out on the streets of the capital of Port-au-Prince.

The bloodshed has escalated since the end of October 2004, when gang leaders launched a campaign of violence that they have named "Operation Without-Drawing-Breath." The gangs, according to some estimates, may consist of only about 200 to 300 armed fighters, but they are supported by the poor and are effective enough to pose a serious threat. They can disrupt the everyday life of Port-au-Prince residents with a single gunshot. As Jean Claude Bajeaux, a leading human rights activist, declares, "It's a carefully calculated plan to create panic and disrupt commerce and schools." The gangs have also created burning barricades around their strongholds in the slums to prevent the police from entry, and it is estimated that they have killed over 100 people in the last year of fighting. Their brutality has also been documented by several reports of decapitated police bodies found on the streets around Port-au-Prince.

All of this violence has provoked several different responses. The residents of the slums believe that the rich and their organization Group 184 have hired a gang of former Aristide loyalists and supplied them with weapons to murder his supporters. Those who remain opposed to Aristide, a former priest who became the first democratically-elected president of Haiti ever in 1990, and the Lavalas Family Party have theorized that he, though in exile in South Africa, is the instigator. Prime Minister Latortue has accused Aristide of sending money and guns to the gangs in an effort to throw the country into chaos and undermine the power of the government. Indeed, supporters of Aristide have also begun protesting more to demand his return to power. Adding to all of the tension is the situation of the remains of the army. These armed forces ousted Aristide first in 1991 and instituted a military regime that lasted until 1994, when Aristide reclaimed power and disbanded the army. …