New Gang Battle Lines Scar Haiti as Political Deadlock Persists
New Gang Battle Lines Scar Haiti as Political Deadlock Persists

Consolidating Stability in Haiti

Haiti’s security and stability remain fragile. President René Préval has endorsed national policies for security, police, justice and prison reform, but a weak state and decades, if not centuries, of institutional abandonment, make implementation slow, difficult and uneven.

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Executive Summary

Haiti’s security and stability remain fragile. President René Préval has endorsed national policies for security, police, justice and prison reform, but a weak state and decades, if not centuries, of institutional abandonment, make implementation slow, difficult and uneven. His first real success has been the dismantling of the toughest gangs in Port-au-Prince, but for this to be sustainable a community-friendly Haitian National Police (HNP) needs to be built under the security umbrella provided by the UN peacekeepers (MINUSTAH), infrastructure and economic opportunity must appear in the capital’s poor neighbourhoods, and comparable recovery and reconstruction have to be extended across the country.

Post-conflict and transitional assistance is only starting to trickle into the capital, whose communes have still not perceived the start of a new era. Likewise, donor and government coordination is not yet efficient: in Cité Soleil, one of the main areas wrested from the gangs, vital time has been wasted in prolonged negotiations about where and when the HNP would establish its permanent presence. The majority of the most-wanted gang members have been killed or arrested but some have already paid their way out of prison or been replaced by younger, no less violent lieutenants, and others are in hiding. More than a dozen private incidents of revenge, including lynchings, have occurred in Cité Soleil since January 2007. Disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration (DDR) and other community violence reduction programs have been too slow. Peacebuilding initiatives are required that bring income, community services and hope to these communities quickly.

To embed stability Haiti must also halt political manipulation of the justice sector, end impunity and assure both accountability and due process of law. Short-term actions include establishing a special criminal court chamber to handle certain serious crimes, as well as non-partisan investigation, prosecution and trial of suspects in the most sensitive political assassinations and killings of the last decade – steps that require strong support from the president and Prime Minister Jacques Edouard Alexis. Parliament’s early passage of the judiciary reform package is also essential. Longer-term improvements require donor-government agreement on benchmarked changes in justice practices, with the extent of future funding linked over time to progress in implementation.

State structures are still extremely weak, especially at the various local levels, the number and complexity of which add to the inefficiency of governance. Decentralisation is important and should be pursued but so should a national consensus on changes, including constitutional amendments if necessary, to rationalise the local governance system and turn it into one that Haiti can afford without massive donor subsidies.

Revenue collection, state reserves and economic growth are rising, and inflation and exchange rates are under control, but the average citizen has not felt an improvement in living conditions. Customs revenue is far less than its potential because of corruption and smuggling. Similarly, the lack of administrative capacity limits the ability of the 140 municipalities to impose and collect local fees and taxes and so to meet local needs, and is even more apparent in the near abandonment of rural communities where some 60 per cent of the population lives.

Ministries and public institutions must accelerate public spending and investment and speed up massive infrastructure renovation. Numerous job creation and investment projects have been planned but not implemented; the most successful ones, with potential to spark cultural change and new local governance practices, have been single-shot efforts, yet to be extended for national impact. President Préval recently spoke of rooting out corruption at all levels of government as a priority but, as with so much else that is needed to ensure the country does not slide back into all too familiar chaos when international attention inevitably wanes, little has yet been done.

Port-au-Prince/Brussels, 18 July 2007

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