The day before the quake, there were something on the order of 9,000 policemen in country. The day after, it was down to 4,500. The greater metropolitan Port-au-Prince area had something like 4,500; the day after the quake, those numbers were down to 2,800.
In the weeks following the quake, it took a substantial effort to get those police back on the street. Some had family members who died; some died themselves; some vehicles were disabled. Before the quake, somet 65 percent of police vehicles were in disrepair, and the 35 percent on the road looked like the bottom of a zookeeper’s tennis shoes.
What went on in the National Penitentiary? Do you know?
To the best of my knowledge, with the beginning of the earthquake, the prison keepers, if you will, were fearful of what might happen, so they let the prisoners out so that they wouldn’t die in the place, and this seemed to have been replicated across the country. The word spread very fast, and thus we had something on the order of 5,000 prisoners who were released.
Were there any allegations that prison officers had taken money to open the gates?
I have no direct knowledge that that actually occurred, but certainly I’ve heard those allegations.
And what’s been the impact of the escapees?
Of the 5,000 escapees, many were in pretrial detention. There are some prisoners that had not seen a judge for something like four years. And the hard-core criminal element, probably somewhere in the neighborhood of 500 real bad guys, they got out and quickly made their way back to their gang territory. They tried to reintegrate within the gangs; they tried to re-establish control. In some neighborhoods, this was resisted; we have cases where the people themselves took matters into their own hands and killed some of the hard-core criminals, chopped them up, threw them into the ravine.
In other cases, they were welcomed with open arms. So it’s a mixed bag. And now we’re seeing that with the advent of these 500 or so prisoners, gangs are reconstituting, reorganizing, rearming, and this is very problematic in terms of maintaining stability within the country.
How have these 500 affected the crime rate since the quake?
Not substantially, really. There is some indication that some of the midlevel leadership have still maintained their power base. Now we’re seeing the beginnings of intergang rivalry, shootings between the gang members, particularly in Cité Soleil. This could be emblematic of that gang leadership rivalry, particularly before the elections, because certainly there has been in the past the politicalization [sic] of gangs. Political leaders have turned to gang members to bring out the vote, to try to influence people how they should vote, and it’s said that in the history of Haiti that no one has ever won a presidential election without bringing in the vote from Cité Soleil and Martissant.
Cité Soleil and Martissant, why are they so strategically important?
It’s a very condensed population center. The gang leaders hold sway over the people, and they become sort of Robin Hoods. The people look to them for leadership; they look to them for medical facilities, feeding centers. And if you want to do business there, you have to do business with the gangs.
So they are very powerful, and the politicians realize this power influence can lead to votes for them, so they curry the favor of these gang leaders by giving out money, and they give out projects, this sort of thing. So the gang influence is quite substantial.
I wouldn’t go as far to say that. We have not had the rise of a gang leader yet to come up through the political ranks and be elected. Now, with people like Wyclef Jean, [the Haitian musician who declared his candidacy for president but was deemed ineligible to run because of residency rules,] who represents a certain cult figure, if you will, you have many of the gang leaders who see him as one of them, and they aspire to be like him. So they’re thinking to themselves, well, if he rose from the ranks of where we came from, maybe we can do the same thing. So I think that’s what you’re looking at now.
This question of the mutual back-scratching between politicians and gangsters, how close might gangs be to particular politicians? It’s hard to get evidence. …
It is. But in the case of Amaral Duclona, for example, we had direct knowledge that he received direct money from several of the leading political figures. I’ve seen the actual receipts. He was able to live a life of leisure in the Dominican Republic while politicians within Haiti forwarded him money at a near-weekly basis, and these politicians were expecting he would turn out the vote for them in Cité Soleil and/or influence other issues.
So I have that direct knowledge that these money transfers went to him from several of the political leaders — some new senators that were elected, some existing deputies and relatives of senior leadership within the palace.
Tell me about Amaral Duclona.
Amaral Duclona had several names. He had an alias that he was operating under within the Dominican Republic. He lived there with another gangster by the name of General Tutu. They would spend their day going to a bar, visiting prostitutes in the evening and return home and go to sleep, and repeat that process day after day, while maintaining contact back in Cité Soleil.
Was Amaral violent?
He doesn’t come across as violent, but certainly he has a lot of street smarts, He reportedly killed the French honorary consul [Paul-Henri Mourral] and may have been involved in the killing of two or three U.N. forces at the time when the war with the gangs was quite heavy and intense. But I have no direct knowledge that that actually occurred.
After he was captured, he did a newspaper interview, and he said that he had been hired by Jude Célestin, who was, as you know, a presidential candidate, and that he was hired to kill Robert Marcello, who was in charge of the government contracting. Whether that occurred or not — but that’s certainly what he said in the newspaper interview.
In 2008 we had triangular reports that Préval invited gang leaders to the palace to ostensibly get them to maintain peace and quiet during this Christmas season, and at that meeting, according to reports we have, he gave money through the TPTC, the public works agency, to various gang members to take back to their chieftains and pass the money around — in essence, to try to maintain a certain level of quiet during the upcoming holiday period.
There are other reports that from time to time he would bring in gang leaders to try to influence them to, for the most part, be calm and quiet. We don’t have any reports that he exhorted them to do anything nefarious, but, on the other hand, we do have reports that he was trying to get them to maintain a certain level of decorum, if you will.
The realities of Haitian politics probably don’t allow many politicians to remain completely aloof from the gangs. In one sense, if Préval is knocking heads together or buying them off, then the result is peace. Just looking at the picture rationally, there’s a bunch of guys out there, and if any of your cops can’t get hold of them, you can’t smash them.
Well, certainly the cumulative effect of reports to that effect points to that.
Having said that, we know that President Préval has ensured that his number one police chief in Cité Soleil, Rosemond Aristide, has remained in place despite the international community and others asking him to remove this police chief, because he has the loyalty of this police chief, and this police chief is known to carry out his wishes.
So how would you describe this? There’s a strange kind of unholy alliance between people very high up in political power and guys who live in corrugated iron sheds. Why has it turned out that way?
You have an embryonic, fledgling police force, the PNH [Police Nationale d’Haiti], who don’t have the capacity to do the policing that is needed. And therefore there has to be executive intervention, to wit, President Préval and others within the palace, who have to intervene at the grassroots level with the criminal element to try to restore law and order and to bring about a certain level of civility. And so that’s what happens.
Is that a sign of corruption?
Well, the corruption is a bit different. You have certain police elements which are corrupt, complicit and participate within the criminal activities, particularly in the narco trafficking. We have direct reports that fully identified PNH work hand in hand with gangsters. We have direct reports that some PNH turn their monthly paycheck over to their supervisors and tell their supervisors, “You take care of me on the time sheet; I’m going to be elsewhere,” and they’re dealing with drug activities. That we know for a fact.
Tell me about the drug trade here in Haiti. How significant is it, and what’s the impact on the rule of law?
The drug trade is quite significant. It comes up naturally from the south. We’ve had eyewitness accounts, photographs, usually Venezuelan aircraft piloted many times by Colombian pilots.
What happens is that the cocaine from Colombia is backpacked into Venezuela. It’s put on aircraft and flown northward, along the south coast mainly. But we’ve also had reports and incidents where aircraft have landed in the middle of the country, especially up in the Artibonite, Massif, Savane Diane. There are several clandestine airstrips in the north.
Because the highways up there are really nice, the planes sometimes actually landed on the highways, and in a few instances in the process of landing, the airplane wings have clipped a signpost ; they couldn’t fly back out. They’ve burned the plane in place. We have photographs .
So the difficulty is that the PNH does not have the capacity to respond in the middle of the night to an aircraft landing several hundred kilometers north. So most of these planes, according to eyewitness accounts, arrive; two or three 4×4 vehicles would come up, offload the drugs; off they go to some clandestine site; the plane takes off again.
So Haiti is more of a transshipment point. The drugs make their way out of Haiti to Turks and Caicos, Bahamas, elsewhere, heading north either to the United States or Canada. There is some internal consumption within Haiti; that consumption is going up. We have direct reports that particularly some of the younger bourgeois families, children, are using marijuana, sometimes laced with cocaine, but not to a great extent, but certainly for recreational use.
But the vast majority of drugs are coming in to be transshipped.
So what proportion of the U.S. cocaine trade —
Of the U.S. cocaine trade, reports vary from 10 percent to 15 percent to 28 percent of the drugs coming into the U.S. [are] coming out of Haiti.
What impact does that have on political life here?
Well, not only does the drug trade destabilize the security posture of the country, but the criminal element takes advantage of this to carry out other criminal activities. We’re beginning to see human trafficking in and out of Haiti. Certainly contraband comes in. Also in the south we have the guns for ganja drug activity that goes on. This is where weapons are traded for ganja or marijuana coming out of Jamaica. So that continues to undermine the regular economy, this black economy. And the activities that go along with that are quite prevalent and persistent, and those who deal in that operate with impunity.
Who is involved in the drug trade here?
Some of the Haitian police are involved — not all — in the drug trafficking. They use their status as police to navigate through roadblocks, checkpoints. To get to their destination, they use their badges, their uniforms, to allow these drugs to pass. And private businessmen who have an entrepreneurial spirit are availing of this opportunity to bring drugs in and ship them northward.
Do you have any idea what kind of sums are involved in drug trading?
I do not have direct knowledge, but certainly if you look at the number of aircraft that come in — anywhere from two to three aircraft per month, carrying, according to reports, 500 kilos, up to 1,000 kilos — we could extrapolate that out and say that the drug trade is quite substantial.
How effective do you think the Haitian police are?
I do not think that the Haitian police are effective at all. It’s a very embryonic, fledgling police force. They have a long ways to go before they would be effective. I think that if MINUSTAH [United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti] suddenly pulled out, the whole policing effort would be crippled and become even less effective, if there is a twinge of effectiveness.
How important is the U.N. mission to the security of Haiti?
I think that MINUSTAH, the U.N. peacekeepers, are the last bastion of civility in the country. If they should leave, the police force within Haiti would be crippled, because their effectiveness is almost nil.
What we’ve observed is, for instance, at the micro level of operations, the police will go out there with MINUSTAH and pull over youths who don’t have ID cards, who have been identified by informers, but it seems very hard to establish who’s who, whether anyone really is a criminal, because there seems to be a lack of information. Can you tell me about the role that bad data management or the lack of data plays?
In Haiti, there are no national archives to establish the bone fides of someone’s birth. The name given at birth may not necessarily follow that individual throughout his life. That individual can choose their own name. Many individuals choose several names as they go through life, and usually within the gang elements, they choose a nom de guerre, a war name.
When an arrest warrant is effected to go get Diloux, for example, it may not be Diloux. There are several Dilouxes, and the one that they picked up may not be the one that carried out that particular crime, or he may not be identified according to the identity card that he has in his wallet as Diloux. Thus, when they show up in front the judges, they may be released because of lack of positive identification.
It’s very difficult in Haiti to positively identify somebody. There’s no fingerprint registration, so it may be just word of mouth that he did that crime, and the witnesses’ testimony is not always allowed, so it’s very difficult in terms of enforcing or carrying out rule of law to bring to prosecution, to bring to trial even someone who has committed a crime.
And that has huge implications for justice. …
It has tremendous implications for justice, because without this positive identification, the case falls apart. Even if they go to trial, the judges can be bought. Many of the judges are corrupt.
At the macro level, what effect does that have?
During the time that I’ve been here, we have in some instances arrested gang leaders three times, and they’ve gotten out three times because of some idiosyncratic piece of paperwork or something that didn’t add up in their identity, or a witness said that that wasn’t the person that carried out the crime, and/or they bought off the judge, so it’s very difficult to make the charges stick.
That adds up to impunity.
Impunity, absolutely. The fact that you have a lack of an identification system and warrants — for example, if I were to capture someone and bring him up, I would have to find out where is the arrest warrant. It may not be at the police station that we bring this person to. There is no database which we can quickly search that this person is wanted across town for another crime that he committed.
So you have to physically take the person over to the other commissariat or police station to see if he’s wanted over there, and generally, once you get there, it may be face recognition by one of the police at the station that says, “Oh, yes, I remember; he’s wanted for this particular crime.”
So that’s what happens. So what happens in terms of impunity, there is a rare prosecution. Most of the times they’re let go, and they continue to do what they’re doing because they know that they can get away with it.
Everyone’s looking at Haiti after the earthquake and all this goodwill and people saying it would be nice to make it right. How can you rebuild a society when there’s no rule of law?
You can’t rebuild a society where there’s no rule of law. You can build all the buildings, but unless within those buildings you have a judicial system that enforces the laws that are on the books, all those buildings that are going to be built are for nothing.
There is not many remaining institutions in Haiti — very few, in fact — and the lack of rule of law is the most pressing issue that this country needs at this particular time, particularly as we go into this new era of building, in order to get it built right. And to sustain the infrastructure that we put in place, there must be the implementation of rule of law.
I would say it’s a long ways. There is efforts being made to improve the judicial system, but until we rectify this lack of national archives, lack of birth registrations, a systemic system where everyone is treated the same and everyone has the same rights when they come before the judge, so that we don’t have people living in prisons for four years without even seeing a judge — until we get rid of that, I think we’re a long ways from having a good system or anything near a having a rule of law.
What about all the people who sort of have stolen a can of Coke or a chicken? There are a lot of them, [and] the prisons are full. …
Prisons are full of people for minuscule, minor crimes. Haiti does not have the “three strikes and you’re out” law, like we have in many Western countries. Even for stealing a chicken, because they don’t have any money to afford legal representation, they are brought before the judge who may have had a bad day that particular day, and you could go off to prison and you may never be brought to trial ever, because there’s nobody there to push your case. Your only justice is however much you can afford.
I’ve seen all these young men being pulled up in sweeps. And you think, just how many of these guys are actually — ?
The catching of criminals is very haphazard. Certainly many of those who are caught are not guilty. Some of those who are caught may be suspected of being guilty, and to err on the side [of caution], they’re taken into custody. Maybe they go to a holding jail for a short period of time and then off to prison until their case can be heard, and then they’re forgotten about.
And they have no one to defend them. There is no free judicial, at least not in the normal public domain. Certainly human rights agencies are trying to defend those who need defending, but if you don’t have a voice — there is very few people who have a voice within the judicial system here.
How clean do you think the upper echelons of the Haitian police are?
Although on the surface they appear to be clean, they are certainly knowledgeable of those below them who are not. They’re in a difficult position, because if they move against these individuals, then they themselves are at risk.
So there’s a very tenuous balancing act. The police force is very fractured with different elements, different allegiances, and it’s almost sort of a tribal influence, if you will, among the different elements within the police force. They know who these different cliques are, and they walk a very fine line in dealing with each other.
And does that fine line get crossed sometimes?
Sometimes that line gets crossed. We have instances where mysterious disappearances and killings, murders, assassinations take place, because perhaps, as the French would say, a rendering of justice, settling of the account takes place.
How difficult is it to gather accurate intelligence about crime in Haiti?
It’s not that difficult. The Haitians know what’s going on; the Haitian police know what’s going on; the leadership know what’s going on; the bourgeois know what’s going on. Everybody knows who the players are.
We are able to find people who are willing to talk and to cooperate, and much of this information is passed on directly to the PNH authorities. And the information has been shared at the executive level.
The problem is a lack of political will to act and bring to justice these people, because if they move against these criminal elements, they themselves are at risk — the politicians, the leadership within the country, government figures, the police leadership, etc.
That’s quite sinister, isn’t it, if the people leading the country and whose job it is to enforce the rule of law are so vulnerable to gangsters?
Not only are they vulnerable to gangsters, but they’re vulnerable to rogue police who would take matters into their own hands, police that have been vetted out of the police force who are now into criminal activity.
The pervasiveness of criminal activity is so wide and reaches so many levels that it is difficult for many not to be touched by this criminal activity. And therefore in a country that is the poorest country within the Western Hemisphere, the temptation is so great that most cannot resist, and so therefore the rottenness of the organization is replete. The tentacles go beyond just the core of the police force. It’s pervasive.
What about the crime statistics? I’ve had people say to me there isn’t that much crime in Haiti, and yet when you’re with people, whether it’s the bourgeois or people down in the slums, people are very wary and scared, not all the time, not everywhere, but you don’t go strolling anywhere at night.
The problem with crime in Haiti is that when there is a crime, it reverberates; it touches nearly everybody. Haiti is one of the most noisy islands I’ve ever been on. You can hear everybody, and the word travels very fast. On a per capita basis, not that many people have television, but most people have radios, and so the word spreads very fast.
But we can say that since the earthquake, the number of kidnappings and rapes have gone up, homicides have gone up, so crime is on the uptick. Has it reached a point of levels that it was in 2004, 2005? No, but certainly it’s beginning to [eke] upward in those contexts.
What role has the tent camps played in the crime picture?
Some of these camps have 30,000 to 40,000 people. It’s a very concentrated area. People have been brought together that didn’t live together before. There is lots of opportunity for criminal activity — very closed, tight confinements; lack of bathing facilities like they had before; lack of sanitary facilities and exposure. You’ve got just a cloth tent between you and the other person.
So the opportunity is quite high that somebody will come in and take advantage of that. MINUSTAH is taking great measures to thwart these activities by putting security forces in place to patrol these areas and work with the camp leadership to [tamp] down those criminal elements.
But despite that, gang leaders have been able to penetrate the perimeters of these camps. The question is, will it become a petri dish for the emergence of a new opportunity to proselytise and exhort people to vote for certain candidates? That remains to be seen.
I think there has been progress, yes, but not to the extent that we need. Five years into the mandate, there is still very much that remains to be done. Many of the MINUSTAH forces do not speak French; neither do they speak Creole, and this has been problematic. Haitians are a very proud people, and in some respect, they resent others trying to teach them how to police when they themselves come from countries that have less than adequate police forces and have the same criminal problems that we have here in Haiti. So it’s a very mixed picture.
The picture we get from going on joint operations is … all the muscle is coming from the U.N. mission. Is that right?
Yes, all of the muscle does come from the U.N. mission, the firepower, if you will, because, again, we don’t have the numbers. There is only 9,000 police countrywide at the moment. Those numbers hopefully will increase, but MINUSTAH’s mandate requires that we operate with our Haitian counterparts. And their effectiveness is reduced because they’re not able to mobilize; they’re not able to have the command-control type of system that will allow them to operate independently, so they’re dependent upon the MINUSTAH operational control and communications.
Is the Haitian police getting the resources it needs?
They have gotten some resources, but they have so far to go. There is a complete gap in the resources that they need — the lack of offices; many of the commissariats were decimated, destroyed during the earthquake, but even before the earthquake, they didn’t have the proper facilities that were necessary to carry out a proper police function.
They need computers, data link systems, forensics, proper policing techniques, criminal investigative techniques. And again, they need the political will of somebody from the top that’s supporting this effort to help them carry out the policing mandate.
Politicians dealing directly with gangsters — this isn’t something that’s emerged yesterday. Where does the unholy alliance between Haitian politicians and Haitian criminals begin?
The unholy alliance between Haitian politicians and criminals begins at a very early stage. They grow up together. One decides he’s going to be a gangster; another decides he’s going to be a politician. But they started out as friends. There is not a natural divide as they grow up and go their separate ways because they don’t go their separate ways.
The interdependency within the society is very important, so there is not a natural divide between politics and gangsterism. They know that in order to succeed, they must depend on each other. The politician knows that he needs that gangster to survive, that he needs that gangster to get elected, to stay elected, and to carry out his or her mandate.
And how can that interdependency ever be challenged?
Because there is a lack of rule of law. There is no institution that provides this natural divide. Many of the people see it as one and the same: The criminal is sometimes held in high esteem just as much as the politician is held in high esteem. The criminal becomes that cult personality, and so in a society where there is so much desperation, there is so much need, there is so much hunger, anyone who can provide that hope becomes that leader. So whether it be a gangster or a politician, whoever provides the leadership is who the people are going to look to.
And Haitians seem to need a strong hand of government.
Yes, Haitians need a strong hand because they haven’t had a strong government. They’ve had a total lack of political will, a total lack of political leadership, particularly in the last few years, a very passive government that has not stepped in and taken the necessary measures to bring this country up by its heels from the roots of desperation. So the people have reached a point of desperation where they’ll reach out to anyone that perhaps provides that hope.