Let's Offer Hope to Cité Soleil
Let's Offer Hope to Cité Soleil
Op-Ed / Latin America & Caribbean 3 minutes

Let's Offer Hope to Cité Soleil

The largest slum neighborhood of Haiti's capital has the charming name of Sun City in French - 'Cité Soleil' - and thanks to the U.N. peacekeeping force, it is no longer under the control of urban gangs. But for how long?

The answer to that question may be found as much in Washington, Ottawa and Paris as in Port-au-Prince, because those capitals have promised rapid community violence-reduction programs as soon as security permitted. At least for the next several weeks, there is no excuse for development teams not to set up shop in Cité Soleil, hire local workers, use community decision-making to pick priority needs and begin finding ways to build schools, clinics and potable-water systems.

`Gangs are keeping quiet'

That needs to be followed immediately - not after several months - and with the Haitian government's blessing, by money funneled in and civilian boots on the ground to show the people, even those closest to the gangs, that getting rid of the violence also means getting jobs and services to improve their lives.

As a local Cité Soleil community leader told us in Port-au-Prince a few weeks ago, ``If nothing good happens for the people now that the gangs are keeping quiet, they will be back and the people will not trust the government or the international community.'

With the full support of President René Préval, the Mission of the United Nations in Haiti, known by the French acronym, MINUSTAH, has opened a second window of opportunity in Haiti's overcrowded urban capital. Its series of military movements behind armored personnel carriers into Cité Soleil have brought peace, at least for a while, to the neighborhoods. The first window of opportunity was Préval's election, his efforts to bridge the political divide over the past nine months with an ideological and class-based opposition and the bipartisan support offered in Washington and elsewhere.

Agencies must act fast

But insecurity - from those urban gangs, from political spoilers and from drug traffickers - had stalled any real chance for major investments in the impoverished communities that lace through the capital. Too many kidnappings, too many assaults and too many drive-by shootings had turned the capital into a no-go zone for all but the most adventurous development agencies.

The pledges had been made by donors, and now security is there as well - at least for a while. But development agencies are going to have to act fast, even to take more risks perhaps than they would like. They also need to find ways to give the lead to a Haitian governmental apparatus with extremely limited absorptive capacity on moving longer-term projects forward.

Rebuild police stations

One way to speed action, particularly by the United States, is to take advantage of grantees already working in Haiti, but outside the city. Many humanitarian and development NGOs already have been working outside the city. The U.S. government and other donors should permit them to operate immediately inside Cité Soleil with existing funds, while nearly $20 million in stabilization and reconstruction monies that the U.S. Department of Defense has given the State Department to spend in Cité Soleil are being programmed, grantees selected and funding mechanisms chosen.

The United States also will finance rebuilding and equipping three Haitian National Police stations in Cité Soleil, and that would be a good thing, after making sure the police who staff them are clean of any links to the crooks. They might also take a page from the book of some Latin American projects and make those police stations one-stop centers for government services (known as Casas de Justicia - justice houses). There are many pilot projects that various groups have authored in other countries in post-conflict settings and even in Haiti. Those experiences should be 'airlifted' into Cité Soleil on an emergency basis - perhaps funded directly through the United Nations and the Haitian government.

Community infrastructure

Now that the urban gangs have been put on the defensive, community infrastructure investment is needed. If the donors are unable to meet that challenge, this window of hope will close, the gangs will return and it will be even harder to stir trust and hope in the people of Port-au-Prince in the future. If it all works, then the same tactics should be transported to Gonaives and a few other cities where gangs still make life miserable for Haitians.


Former Senior Adviser
Former Project Director, Caucasus

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