August 20, 2009
Cité Soleil is a flat, dense slum built out of cardboard and tin on Port-au-Prince's western shore. Children play in the sewage; working-age men and women sit in the shade, escaping the searing midday sun, waiting for something to happen; young boys catch seagulls and pigeons with nets, and bring them home for dinner.
Since the mid-1990s, armed gangs terrorized the local population and even drove the local police out, making the slum an absolute no-go zone for officials and development aid workers. Taming Cité Soleil was vital to stability in the capital. That made it a priority for the country's largest international aid donors—the U.S., Canada, and France—who focused on security to lay the groundwork for development.
Shortly after Jean-Bertrand Aristide was ousted in 2004 (under pressure from the U.S. and Canada due to a sharp rise in organized violence) the United Nations created its Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) under Security Council resolution 1542, with a mandate to restore Haitian civil society and to rebuild government institutions like the Haitian National Police, among other goals. So far its most notable success has been reducing kidnappings in Port-au-Prince and disbanding many of the gangs operating out of Cité Soleil.
“The problem of public security was dealt with solely as a security problem, not as a political problem. We believe in imposing control over criminals, even by force” said Carlos Alberto Dos Santos, who was MINUSTAH's Force Commander until this spring. His troops targeted the gangs from poor slums like Cité Soleil, which had been used and bought off by political rivals over the last decade.