Haiti’s New Leadership Already Under Pressure To Find Some Way To Stop The Violence.

Photo by Claudia Altamimi on Unsplash A country road in the Ouest province of Haiti.
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The Transitional Presidential council was finally installed in yesterday in Haiti, after a month of inexplicable delays, and they are confronted right away with a shopping-list of the immediate urgent needs of Haitians, not-so-trivial items like security, food, and jobs.

After a long gestation the nine members of the council (two of whom are “nonvoting”) , have the seemingly impossible job of  bringing political stability to Haiti, and they need to get going fast, before things get even worse.

Safety is the number one priority, considering that more than 2,500 people were killed or injured from January to March alone, and more than 90,000 have fled the capital of Port-au-Prince so far this year amid relentless gang violence.

Part of the problem is that the gangs are more heavily armed than the police, having obtained large numbers of weapons smuggled into Haiti, and apparently orginating from arms dealers in the United States.

The United States has said that it is now working on ways of preventing the illegal export of arms to Haiti, but how effective this will be remains to be seen, and in any case may be too little, too late.

Gangs have already burned police stations, opened fire on the Toussaint L’Ouverture  airport in Port au Prince that has been closed since early March, and broken open the country’s two biggest prisons, releasing more than 4,000 inmates.

Heavily armed gangs now control 80% of  the streets of Port-au-Prince, as well as nearby municipalities and though it is believed that they have long depended on powerful politicians and the country’s economic elite to protect them, they are increasingly becoming self-sufficient and may not easily succumb to efforts to control their power.

One gang leader known as ‘Barbecue’ has already indicated that gangs expect to have a share of power under a new regime.

In any case, it will be very difficult for the Transitional Council to come up with a solution, especially if they do not want to involve foreign troops.

The nine-member council acknowledged the challenges it faces after it was sworn in early Thursday at the National Palace at a building outside of Port-au-Prince.

Gunfire was heard outside during the ceremony, as some officials looked around the room. Hours later, the new interim prime minister, Michel Boisvert, addressed the council and an audience that included the US ambassador to Haiti.

“The task ahead is daunting,” Boisvert said. “I would like to draw your attention to the fact that the population expects a lot from you … everything becomes a priority alongside security.”

How exactly the council plans to tackle the daunting tasks is unclear. Its members (who have not been publicly named) have met behind closed doors with top government officials as they prepare to choose a new prime minister, a Cabinet and a provisional electoral commission. They will also establish a national security council.

However, no strategy to quell gang violence has been publicly announced.

Kim Ives, a journalist at the Haiti Liberte newspaper, said that despite the announcement, the political crisis is still a long way from being resolved.

“The only thing they’ve done so far is publish it in a journal of record. It doesn’t actually install them,” he told Al Jazeera.

“The whole thing is completely dysfunctional because all the different corners of the very fractured political class are represented.”

Others also see the formation of the council as a solution “concocted” in Washington, DC, and those taking part in it “are seen as traitors”, Ives added.

Haiti’s National Police remains largely overwhelmed by gangs that are better armed and have more resources. More than 15 officers have been killed by gangs so far this year.

Lionel Lazarre, general coordinator for the SYNAPOHA police union, told The Associated Press over the phone Friday that the council must prioritize security “above everything.”

Police need so much, he said, including combat helicopters, armed vehicles, drones, high-caliber weapons and infrared thermal imaging for nighttime operations.

“It is important to us that the council meet with us urgently,” Lazarre said. “I believe if there is political will, we have hope things can change.”

There is hope because for the past three weeks, police have managed to prevent gangs from taking over the National Palace and multiple police stations, he said.

What is for sure is that Haiti’s new government has a very short period of time to get their act together and get results and that leisurely weekends will be a thing of the past for its members.

Sources: VOA, AP, CNN, BBC, Al Jazeera.
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