By Tom Leonard in Cité Soleil Published: 6:00AM GMT 21 Jan 2010
Anna Zizi receives a drink of water after being pulled alive from the rubble of Haiti’s devastating earthquake, one week after the city was reduced to ruins Photo: PA
The wretchedly poor inhabitants of Cité Soleil, Haiti’s biggest and most notorious slum, had desperate problems even before last week’s earthquake destroyed many of its breezeblock and corrugated iron shacks. Now they have to contend with food, medical and water aid that is arriving even more slowly than in the rest of the city, but also with the return of three thousand hardened criminals who fled the national prison when it was damaged in the quake.
Rubens Cariès, 26, a local man and member of Fondation Roussan Camille, a Haitian charity which helps young people stay out of the gangs, said some had tried to return only to be driven out by vigilante action. Cité Soleil’s maze of alleys makes it perfect for hiding from police and UN troops, 10 of whom died when the quake destroyed the local UN post.
While acknowledging that the threat had not been resolved, Mr Cariès said local people – evidently aware that the slum’s reputation could be hindering aid – had acted as one in running them out as soon as they appeared.
“They formed a security team so that when they see any of them, they chase them and tell them they don’t want any trouble,” he said. At least one, a notorious killer nicknamed Blade, had been killed with machetes.
“He gave us too many problems. The people here had enough trouble with the catastrophe last week,” he said. Where had the others gone? They ran away into the countryside, he said.
With or without the gang leaders, local people believe Cité Soleil’s position at the bottom of Haiti’s social pile has worked against them once again.
“We’re all victims in Port-au-Prince but here, we’re considered second-class citizens,” said Louis Jean Janis, 29, as he led the way to the slum’s destroyed concrete water tower. “The people are not seeing the aid.”
Mr Cariès insisted that the aid was not being held up by violence or security issues but by corruption. However, some relief is clearly getting through. A lone lorry – its tank decorated with the words “Wait For God” in giant letters – was giving drinking water to a crowd of women who nearly came to blows.
One emerged from the scrum to show off a left arm charred black up to the shoulder. Biennine Duly, 44, had been cooking when the earthquake struck.
She found a doctor but he had no medical supplies and could do nothing for her, she said. Even before the earthquake, the Cité’s inhabitants have eaten clay pies at the worst times to fill up their empty stomachs. The pies were on display again at stalls yesterday.
Fedora Camille Chevry, founder of Fondation Roussan Camille, said the situation was “worse than misery, it’s catastrophe”.
“Haiti has received many millions of dollars to help and every time I go to the ghettos I don’t see that help,” she said.