Just a few months ago, Haiti appeared to be on a tentative path toward social and economic stability. Gang violence—an ongoing problem in Port-au-Prince—had been relatively quiet since Haitian President René Préval’s election in February. At a recent conference, international donors exceeded Preval’s request of $520 million and pledged $750 million to fund roads, education, health, and sanitation (Reuters). And the country, which has long had the highest rate of AIDS outside Africa, is making such dramatic progress on controlling the epidemic that care for AIDS patients (McClatchy) has far outstripped the care of other patients in the national healthcare system. But a recent surge in gang violence (MSF) and kidnappings (Miami Herald) in Port-au-Prince underscores the difficult road ahead for the impoverished country.
There is widespread agreement that until the security situation in Haiti stabilizes, there is little hope of changing the country’s status as the poorest in the Western Hemisphere. Alain Deletroz, the International Crisis Group’s Latin America Program Director, says Haitians "must see from Préval that a new chapter has indeed opened in their history. Otherwise, Haiti could become the hemisphere's first permanent failed state." In August Préval ordered gang leaders to disarm or face death. But Amaral Duclona, a major gang leader based in the Port-au-Prince slum of Cite Soleil, refuses to disarm until UN peacekeepers stop raiding the slums (AP).
Duclona’s response highlights the complications facing a UN force (MINUSTAH) charged with peacemaking rather than peacekeeping. MINUSTAH, authorized for up to 7,200 troops and 1,951 police officers, has a limited mandate to address domestic law enforcement. A recent report (PDF) by the international development agency ActionAid says the UN force in Haiti doesn’t have enough police officers; there only about 700 in Haiti at present. It also suggests that its post-conflict strategy for disarmament should be replaced with a community-based one. The UN and the Haitian government might be heeding that recommendation: UN special envoy Edmond Mulet announced a new disarmament plan on Monday, applicable only to rank-and-file gang members, not top gang leaders. "This is not a traditional disarmament," he said, "This is more like a one-on-one approach" (AP).
Yet concerns about the longevity of the peacekeeping force remain. In August Secretary-General Kofi Annan called for a one-year renewal, but MINUSTAH’s mandate was only renewed for an additional six months. In an earlier interview with CFR.org, UN Undersecretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Jean-Marie Guehenno says "we have to be very clear that we will really stay the course" in order for Haiti to stabilize. Even if the UN force’s mandate is renewed in February 2007, a UN report covering the period from February to July 2006 says it will take at least five years to achieve 12,000 well-trained and well-equipped police officers, the minimum number necessary to maintain security in Haiti.