As iconic personalities Oprah Winfrey and Robert Deniro travelled to Haiti on parallel humanitarian and business missions, growing insecurity stole the headlines, threatening to crush the spine of Martelly’s administration, the spirit of Christmas with it.
Merely 15 days into December, two officers of the Haitian National Police (PNH) succumbed to assassins’ murderous bullets on separate incidents, one of who incinerated. Criminals also kidnapped prominent Banker Edouard Baussan and a nutritionist, held them in captivity for three days, then released them, though not before collecting an undisclosed large sum of money. Equally alarming, a contributor to Radio Kiskeya narrowly escaped her kidnappers when a police unit intervened, according to the station’s report. The sharp increase in criminal activities around the country came as PNH announced a joint venture with the UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH French acronym) to increase security ahead of the Holidays.
During a phone interview, PNH’s spokesperson Gary Desrosiers said officer Moise Saint-Pierre, a member of the Motorized Intervention Brigade (BIM French acronym), left his house early morning on December 10, after receiving a phone call that led him to Santo 17, a northern neighborhood of the capital. There, explained Desrosiers, unidentified assailants ambushed the officer, shot him repeatedly, set him on fire before fleeing with his weapon and motorcycle. Although the police opened an investigation into the gruesome murder, the nature of the crime alarmed leaders who urged the government to take appropriate measures to protect the vulnerable and struggling population. Saint-Pierre’s murder brought this year’s law enforcement’s death toll to 30 officers, admitted Desrosiers.
Many lawmakers, namely Deputies Rony Celestin, Martial Despas and Eloune Doreus, decried government’s actions as a passive-reactive approach; fearing pervasive crimes would ruin the holiday experience. Talking to Radio Kiskeya, Celestin said although it visibly manifested around Port-au-Prince, the phenomenon was not an idiosyncratic behavior and it in fact spilled into the Centre Department where criminal constantly preyed on his constituents. For his part, Despas told Kiskeya the sharp increase in crimes was a by-product of rapid economic decline and growing uncertainties about the future. He also enumerated members of his constituency in the West Department regularly victimized by gangsters. Moreover, Doreus who represent the Northwest Department perceived the problem as the enemy of foreign investments, a pillar of President Michel Martelly’s long-term development strategies. Since taken office on May 14, 2011, the president pledged to sell a different image of Haiti and attract investors seeking opportunities, a call Foreign Minister Laurent Lamothe said Robert Deniro answered. The actor travelled to Haiti early last week and met with Haitian officials to discuss his plan to build a five-star Hotel in the country. Absent comprehensive efforts to reduce the crime rate, Deputy Doreus said the negative affects would repel potential investors such as Deniro.
Haiti’s 10,500-member police force, entrusted the elephantine task of protecting its population of nearly 10 million people, was far from being passive, argued spokesperson Desrosiers. Although nursing a 1-to-1000 officer-to-citizen ratio, PNH recently authored several raids that netted many gang leaders, dangerous criminals and fugitives, he told reporters. Through Operation Dragon, a plan Secretary of State for Public Safety Reginald Delva introduced last week, the government would actively pursue gangsters and common criminals, and dismantle their nests, explained officials to Haiti’s century-old daily newspaper Le Nouvelliste. In addition, officials added 300 officers to the capital’s patrolling unit, bringing the total to 1,300.
Beyond PNH’s muscular reinforcement throughout the country’s crime-infested streets, the government also adopted a technical approach it hoped would ensure a joyous holiday season for the population. Announcing his remedial strategies, Prime Minister Garry Conille said, “We will undertake rigorous measures to neutralize criminals and prevent their harassing the population.” Starting January 2012, PNH would recruit 2,000 new officers, he announced to the press. The Prime Minister also introduced “Christmas Solidarity,” a $10 million [400 million Haitian Gourdes (HTG)] social program he said would provide temporary employment for Haitians throughout all nine Departments. The new program would help create 30,000 jobs in industries such as tourism; agriculture and social affairs, declared Conille who emphasized the Christmas and New Year program topped his government’s agenda.
In addition, MINUSTAH offered a human rights workshop to seven instructors of the National Police Academy to expose leaders to different scenarios they might face and teach them appropriate courses of action. “These are useful and necessary exchanges that will help agents of the National Police of Haiti overcome numerous challenges and fill relative void pertinent to reinforcing the rule of law,” said Jean Miguelite Maxime, director of the police academy who felt the workshop would strengthen republican institutions he called the great guarantors of human rights.
Meanwhile, lawmakers labeled the government’s plan an appeasement method that did not address the immediate threats the population faced. Advocating for a sustainable approach to crime solvency, some senators called on government officials to find more pragmatic solutions to halt the cyclical recrudescence of the phenomenon around the holidays.
From a parallel universe however, Columnist Cyrus Silbert of online news website Haiti Nation offered a distinct perspective in his article: “Insecurity – Traditional weapon of the Bourgeoisie.”His analysis established a linear relationship between the deteriorating security climate and an élite class determined to preserve the status quo. While the State Secretary for Public Safety conceded insecurity could ruin the Holidays, he assured reporters the government took appropriate measures to confront the plaguing problem. “We have taken various measures to guaranty public safety during the holiday season,” he said.
Nevertheless, Silbert exhorted vigilance against a class he said perceived pervasive investment and development rhetoric in Haiti as a growing threat to their long-standing monopoly. “If the Ministries of Interior and Justice don’t get proactive, that is, anticipate issues through constant monitoring,” wrote Silbert, “If the managers of these departments focus solely on their administrative duties, the work of the presidency as well as the Ministry of Foreign affairs will be a complete waste.”