The first time John went with the mobile clinic to Cité Soleil, they drove to the neighborhood called Boston. They parked the medical truck in a neat concrete plaza surrounded by walls with colorful murals of the Virgin Mary and Che Guevara. A couple of guys were batting around a ball as other people stood around the periphery.
Father Rick got out of the vehicle to talk with the leader of this territory, a man who goes by Evans. Evans was an overweight man who looked much older than a person in his twenties, which he is. He was wearing a jersey with a number on it. His long white teeth made up the gist of the crazy and diabolical smile of one who knows that he is lord and ruler of all he sees through force and fear.
Evans shook Father’s hand and said of the other people waiting in the truck, “I have not met everyone.” An American woman got out and was introduced to Evans. John asked a burly, streetwise Haitian man, who is one of Father’s assistants, “Aren’t you going to get out?” The man gave a quick shake of his head; no he was not. Father sat and talked with Evans for about 40 minutes. Father and other people who want to work in Soleil must pay homage to chiefs like Evans if they want to work safely in the slums.
Friday, February 9, at 3 am, the UN launched a massive assault on Cité Soleil that lasted six hours. Their purposes were twofold: they wanted to occupy territory held by the gangs and they wanted to capture a gang leader, who is the gang leader of all gang leaders: Evans. Seven hundred UN soldiers—blue helmets, they are called—largely from Brazil rolled through the slum in 40 tanks. They were largely successful in their first mission. The UN now occupies the plaza described above, known as Jamaica Base. They also captured a water tower, where gang snipers used to fire away and also a house used to hold kidnapping victims. According to UN reports, one gang member was killed. However, Evans is still at large.
Evans is reported to be a vicious gangster. He and his gangs extort money from people and use people as human shields. He is also reported to be superstitious of cats. He ordered all of the cats in the area rounded up and killed. When one woman wouldn’t turn over her cat, he shot her. While John didn’t know all of these details about Evans when he saw him a few months ago, he definitely got the impression that he was a bad guy. “He had the eyes of a killer,” John said.
No one is really sure where the gangs get their firepower. Some gang members have said they want to lay down their weapons but they are afraid of the UN. “They call us gangsters, but everyone in this world is a gangster. When you’re hungry, you’re mad,” said a gang member to an AP reporter.
Since late December, the UN has conducted increasingly aggressive forays into Cité Soleil. Several months ago, President Preval called for all gang members to turn in their weapons. “Give us peace, or you will rest in peace,” was the refrain of his administration. A few token weapons were turned in. But in December, there was a surge in kidnappings, including kidnappings of children. So Preval gave the UN permission to take off the handcuffs. There were raids into Soleil in December and January. In the December 22 attack, the UN reported that six people were killed. However, Soleil residents said that 10 people were killed, and none of them were gang members.
Therein lies the rub. Almost all people of good will would like the gang members to be arrested or to at least lay down their arms. And I am not opposed in principle to the UN being in charge of this effort. But the UN’s tactics have made the cure worse than the disease. I believe they have killed an untold number of innocent people—collateral damage, this is called: can we please have a consensus to ban this Orwellian term?—with their indiscriminate shooting. These deaths have received very little coverage—unlike when a UN soldier is killed or if an American is kidnapped—and the UN have not been sanctioned at all. It makes it seem as if these lives don’t matter at all. “The people didn’t ask to be born here. We didn’t ask to live like this,” said a woman principal to a NT Times reporter.
If you talk with residents of Cité Soleil, they will tell you they fear the UN more than the gangs. Part of it may be the devil you don’t know being scarier than the devil you grew up with. Or part of it could be the UN’s superior firepower which has made itself felt. It is frightening even for us to see the white UN tanks roll through the streets with their automatic weapons manned, pointed, and at-the-ready. In Cite Soleil, it seems as if the majority of the buildings are riddled with bullet marks from these weapons. Another Catholic priest we know, Father Tom, who runs schools and feeding programs in Cité Soleil, says that the black boards in one of his school are covered with bullet holes. I’ve recounted some of the other misdeeds of the UN in other posts.
The general displeasure by many of Haiti’s poorest citizens with the UN’s presence was on display a few days ago. On February 7, two days before the UN’s incursion into Soleil and the 16th anniversary of Aristide’s first inauguration as president of Haiti, thousands of people marched in front of the UN headquarters on John Brown Avenue. They were calling for the departure of the UN, justice for the victims in Cité Soleil, the release of political prisoners, and the return of those forced into exile, especially Aristide. And then two days later, the UN attack occurs. It’s kind of a schizophrenic world here in Haiti.
Now the UN has a least some of what they want: more control of neighborhoods in Cite Soleil as well as control of the major entrances into the huge seaside slum. They have driven Evans and other gang leaders into at least temporary hiding. But here are the unintended consequences:
The Daughters of Charity who run the clinic and other programs left Cité Soleil on Saturday morning. They walked out, carrying suitcases, as the UN was letting very few vehicles into the slum. With the Sisters gone for an unknown length of time, 1,200 children won’t receive a hot, substantial meal each day, 600 children won’t be in school, and 45 babies won’t receive two meals a day through their malnutrition program. The clinic isn’t open to treat sick children either. I am sure that most similar programs in Cité Soleil are not currently operating.
We talked to the director of an orphanage. On Saturday, several moms from Cité Soleil showed up at her place begging her to take their babies and place them for adoption. They told her they have no way to feed their children. Sadly, her orphanage is full and she couldn’t accept the children. What will become of them and their mothers?
The world is a mean place in big and small ways for so many people I’ll close with a vignette reported by the Washington Post. After the UN raid, A 45-year-old man, Miken, had spent much of the day waiting to be able to return to his home in Cité Soleil. He wants the gangs gone but he wants back to his home too. A few days ago, he was walking down the street, his pocket holding $3, a good day’s wage for a hard day’s work selling scrap metal. “A gang member he knew greeted him by leveling a revolver at his head. The man with the gun didn’t have to say a word. Miken handed over the money and walked away.”