The Spectacular Rise of Insecurity in Haiti

By Evens Pierre-Louis, published in Haiti Liberte, March 14, 2012,

As political unrest grows and ex-soldiers openly remobilize with the tacit complicity of President Joseph Michel Martelly, insecurity is skyrocketing in recent days around Haiti, particularly in the capital. A political activist, a former Central Bank official, a media director, a bus-driver, and a policemen are among the citizens who have lost their lives to the bullets of murderous thugs.

On Monday, March 5, gunmen shot to death Eliphète Nelson, the director of Radio Boukman, and several other victims. Radio Boukman is the community radio of Cité Soleil, the country's largest slum, in Port-au-Prince. Nelson was shot after a gang stopped his car near the "Hands Together" school in the Bois Neuf neighborhood of Cité Soleil.

The next day, Tuesday, Mar 6, bandits riding on a motorcycle killed two other people: Venel Joseph, 80, the former Governor of the Bank of the Republic of Haiti (BRH) under Jean-Bertrand Aristide (2001-2004), and Wilner Cazeau. Joseph was shot in Musseau, a residential area located in the heights of the capital's Bourdon neighborhood. Cazeau was gunned down on Rue Christophe, in downtown Port-au-Prince. Both men were entering their homes.

On Friday, Mar 9, Jean-Baptiste Jean Philippe, alias Samba Boukman, was shot to death behind the wheel of his car in capital's Delmas 95 neighborhood. Samba Boukman was a former spokesman for the resistance movement in Bel-Air after the coup-kidnapping of February 29, 2004, and later a member of the National Commission for Disarmament, Dismantlement and Reintegration (CNDDR). Gunmen on a motorcycle attacked him as he was waiting in his car to pick up his child from school. Hit by seven bullets in the face, Samba Boukman died at the scene.

Samba Boukman's assassination came a day after two senators said on the radio that there will be upheavals in the country. The statements created a panic in the capital last Thursday, Mar 8 in the afternoon.

On the morning of Monday, Mar 12, nine gunmen on three motorcycles attacked police officers in their post located at the bus station for Port-de-Paix near the entrance to the Jérémie Wharf, near the border of the capital's La Saline neighborhood. They killed one policeman named Serge Casséus. The gunmen also killed the driver of a Port-au-Prince-to-Port-de-Paix bus, who died at the wheel of the vehicle after being shot several times at close range.

Several other murders have been reported in the past week in metropolitan Port-au-Prince, particularly in the capital's center.

In the midst of this crime wave, the National Network for the Defense of Human Rights (RNDDH) released a report on Mar 8. The report states that in 2012, 103 people have been killed, mostly by guns. From January to February 2012, 84 people were killed, and 19 others were killed at the beginning of March, said RNDDH director Pierre Esperance.

Meanwhile, researchers Athena Kolbe and Robert Muggah, with the support of Canadian and Brazilian organizations, issued a report that said "the number of crimes committed in major cities of Haiti has increased dramatically over the last six months."

But the Haitian government and the U.N. Mission to Stabilize Haiti (MINUSTAH) downplay talk of a rise in crime. "There is nothing alarming, there is nothing at the level that might suggest there is a crisis," said Michael Martin, the new spokesman for the UN police in Haiti (UNPOL). "We want to reassure the public there is no crisis currently underway at the level of the criminality."

Some lawmakers are very worried about the escalating insecurity. Senator of the West Department, Steven Benoit, identified several sources contributing to the upsurge, including turf wars and the settling of scores related to drug trafficking, armed men in military fatigues training in many parts of the country, diversionary tactics to draw attention from urgent problems, and general banditry.

"One need only see the streets emptied after dark at night to get a sense of the insecurity and fear that reigns over the city," said Sen. Benoit.

Garry Desrosiers, the deputy spokesman for the Haitian National Police (PNH) said the force was working to combat insecurity in Port-au-Prince and surrounding areas. He announced new measures as part of the second phase of the PNH's Operation Dragon.

Meanwhile, MINUSTAH's civilian chief Mariano Fernandez Amunategue was defensive, saying "no one can speak of increased insecurity without having first carried out an annual comparative assessment of the cases reported."

But the assurances of Haitian and MINUSTAH authorities provide little comfort to Haitians who are deeply fearful about the clear rise of murder, robbery and other crimes around Haiti and its capital.