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ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Five years after U.S. troops landed to reinstall Jean-Bertrand Aristide as president, Haiti remains a land of shifting sands, where sometimes things seem better, sometimes not. On the south coast, near the town of Jacmel, a child spends a December afternoon on the beach, bathing in the sparkling Caribbean Sea.
The beach is connected to Jacmel by a new road funded by the United States, part of the $2 billion in military and economic aid for Haiti since 1994. And just down the way is a shop, also U.S.-funded. Artisans here fashion objects that sell in the United States through the Sundance catalogue. It’s a project aimed at promoting development outside of the capital, Port-au-Prince.
At about the same time, in Port-au-Prince, children walk through polluted water onto a pile of refuse in one of the worst slums in the western hemisphere, Cite Soleil. International aid has poured in here, too, but it’s hardly noticeable.
At least 250,000 people live in Cite Soleil on less than one square mile of land, amidst garbage and stinking, open sewers. More than a quarter of the children here are badly malnourished.
Many won’t live beyond age 5. Elie Joseph, who owns a bakery, grew up in Cite Soleil. He was an avid supporter of Jean-Bertrand Aristide, the priest who became a president and was overthrown and then reinstalled by U.S. troops. Joseph was almost killed by soldiers in 1993 during a pro-Aristide demonstration in Cite Soleil.
ELIE JOSEPH: (speaking through interpreter) During the demonstration, my friends were beaten and shot at. I was hit by a soldier wielding an assault rifle. A United Nations human rights team saved me. But my friends and I were badly and repeatedly beaten up.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Afraid for his life, Joseph fled to the Dominican Republic, returned to Haiti when U.S. forces reinstalled President Aristide, got a small government grant, and started the bakery with a friend who had been exiled too. Now Joseph and his partner use some of their earnings from the bakery to fund small projects in their old Cite Soleil neighborhood. On this day, with Joseph’s baby between them, the partners walked a path near where they grew up. They helped get this trash bin installed and are funding a small woodshop, which they hope will provide work for neighborhood friends. Some things have improved in Haiti in the past five years, Joseph says, but some things have not.
ELIE JOSEPH: (speaking through interpreter) The security situation is worse now in some ways. Before we knew who we were dealing with, the Haitian army. Now we’re talking about random crime motivated by frustration, by lack of money. And it is impossible for the new police to do what we want. Too few of them are trying to manage too many people, and that is why many of us say they are a bad police force.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: We heard this and other complaints about the police most everywhere we went in Port-au-Prince, and in smaller towns like Jacmel, too. Aristide had disbanded the repressive army in 1994.
Now a political debate is underway about how well the new police are doing. Colin Granderson heads the joint United Nations/Organization of American States’ mission that has been monitoring human rights here since 1993. He said crime is more visible in Haiti now partly because there’s more freedom to report it.
AMBASSADOR COLIN GRANDERSON, director U.N./OAS mission in Haiti: In the old days, when crimes were committed, nobody spoke about them. And a number of well-known persons have been victims. And, as we say, those are persons who have a voice, and their voice is heard much more easily, obviously, than the ordinary man on the street, who’s always been the victim of crime.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Granderson also said the new police force is fragile, caught between past and present.
AMBASSADOR COLIN GRANDERSON: We have a brand-new institution — I’m speaking of the police, obviously — and we’ve always said that it is extremely important what is done at this particular point in time at the outset to put in place a new code of values, a new ethos, a different approach, a different way of doing things.
It’s a tremendous battle between this effort to instill new values, to instill new approaches, new attitudes, and the old way, the old habits; because in the old days if you were a member of the police or security forces, you were untouchable.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: One of those “new values” is openness to the press. The Jacmel police chief, for example, gave the NewsHour almost unlimited access to his precinct and staff. He said he had 320 police on his staff three years ago and only 236 now. Some hadn’t been able to resist the lure of corruption, especially the money available from Colombian drug dealers, who are shipping more and more cocaine through Haiti en route to the United States.
PAUL SAUVIGNON, Jacmel police chief, Haitian National Police: (speaking through interpreter) The biggest problem we face is the influx of drugs in our region and the lack of resources, in spite of our good intentions, to deal with this problem. There are even times when we have problems getting bullets for our guns.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: In Haiti, a nation of 8 million people, there are only about 5,000 policemen and women in the new force, down from 6,500 a few years ago. Some have been fired because of human rights violations, a constant concern here. Lizbeth Cullity, of the joint U.N./OAS mission here visits police stations regularly with her colleague Anna Couleris to monitor human rights violations.
LIZBETH CULLITY, U.N. human rights monitor: This morning is one of the rare Monday mornings when we didn’t have any reports of any violence or police shootings, so we’re going to go to a police station and do a routine visit.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: On this visit to a jail in a suburb of Port-au-Prince, the monitors found several men who said they’d been beaten when arrested. Cullity and Couleris registered the prisoners’ names and will investigate and review the cases later with the local police chief. We also went upstairs to talk with two police advisors, part of the U.N. peacekeeping mission in Haiti.
Andre Mesidor came here after retiring from the Miami police. Yvon Guillaume is from the West Palm Beach force. Both are Haitian-American. They and other uniformed police advisors in Haiti will leave in March as the U.N. training mission winds down. Officer Mesidor said some of the new, young police are leaving their jobs because of frustration.
ANDRE MESIDOR, U.N. police adviser: The most complaints I heard from them is they say, “We arrest somebody and the justice system fails to do their job.” That’s the biggest complaint around here.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: When the justice system fails to do its job, people arrested for crimes are sometimes simply let go, but there is a bigger problem, which is evident at the national penitentiary. Most of these prisoners say they’ve never seen a lawyer or a judge; 90 percent are in pretrial detention.
LIZBETH CULLITY: These two young men were arrested in 1997 and have not been judged yet. It just means they probably have been forgotten in the system. They’ve been here for two years. They’ve not been tried. We’ve been working especially on the prisoners who have been here since 1995, and we’re bringing the lists of those prisoners to the judges that are responsible for them, to make decisions on those cases. 1997 unfortunately we have not really had the resources to work on the 1997 dossier because there have been more than 200 from the 1995 and 1996 that remain in prison without trials.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: U.N. monitoring has led to some improvements, including a registry, which never existed before, listing all prisoners and how long they’ve been incarcerated. But I asked Cullity why, after five years of reform effort by the United States and United Nations, more hadn’t been done, why so many prisoners are still in pre-trial detention.
LIZBETH CULLITY: There are too few judges in Haiti. They’re underpaid, and there’s a lot of corruption. We can say that we feel as though we’ve acted as a deterrent and made some headway with the police, but with justice, things have not gotten any better.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Camille LeBlanc became Haiti’s minister of justice in March last year. He is under a heavy guard because a police advisor who worked closely with him was recently shot to death by unknown assailants. He said he is trying to attract more and better judges by raising salaries, which should also limit corruption.
CAMILLE LeBLANC, minister of Justice: (speaking through interpreter) Judges used to earn less than the equivalent of 60 U.S. dollars a month. We are now paying them ten times more. In the past, judges were underpaid deliberately because they knew they couldn’t live on such low salaries and were forced to accept bribes.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: U.S. Ambassador Timothy Carney, who served for two years in Haiti and left in December, said the U.S. has contributed about $25 million to the judicial reform effort.
TIMOTHY CARNEY, former U.S. ambassador to Haiti: Sometimes we don’t go about it the right way, but it is a genuine priority. The prime minister said to me the other day, “There isn’t a greater priority in Haiti than to arrive at a system of justice which is seen by the Haitian people actually to function.”
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: The ambassador also regards the police reform effort, to which the U.S. has given $75 million, as far from finished.
TIMOTHY CARNEY: What we’ve seen over a period of months has been an attack by political militants on the senior police leadership. All of this came together in October with the resignation of the secretary of state for public security, followed two days later by the assassination of this police advisor, Mr. Lamie. And it’s compounded morale in the police, which has seen a failure of the parliamentary system to produce the kind of laws, notably in justice reform, that the nation needs.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: The concern over security, the police and politics has become more important because of legislative elections scheduled for March and a presidential vote in December. Graffiti is already ubiquitous, including these which laud former President Aristide, who is likely to run again for president, and which attack police leaders. Pierre Denize is chief of the national police. He said he’s resisting attempts by all parties to politicize his force.
PIERRE DENIZE, chief, Haitian National Police: We don’t want this force to be politicized.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Do all the parties ask you to?
PIERRE DENIZE: All parties have at one point or another had the old reflex. We often joke about it here in terms of all parties want a neutral police, but it should be their neutral police.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Denize said people criticize the police because they’re a convenient target in a time of great anguish.
PIERRE DENIZE: I think there is a very marked collective anguish here. This is a time of change for our country and people. Change is never easy and change is always painful.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Is it possible a window opened for change that is now closing?
AMBASSADOR COLIN GRANDERSON: Yes, it is a window of opportunity. I think that certain chances have been seized. Others, I’m afraid, have slipped through their fingers. It’s a country that is trying to rebuild itself; it’s trying to rebuild institutions. It’s a long, slow and difficult process, and I think we need to give them time. It can’t happen overnight.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Last month, just before we left Haiti, a concert drew big crowds in a downtown park recently rebuilt by the current government. It may not seem like much of an accomplishment, but people here said they hadn’t ventured out at night in this part of town for many years. There was nowhere to go before, they said, and it would have been too dangerous anyway. So at least here, on this night, something seemed different. And people were grateful.