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Curtailing the violence in Haiti

A Times Editorial
Published January 14, 2006

Security in Haiti already was in free-fall before the United Nations' top peacekeeper there apparently took his own life last week. His death may force the interim government to carry through with elections - now, on the fourth try, scheduled for Feb. 7. But what Haiti needs more than a mirage of democracy is a police force that can protect 8-million people and inspire confidence in a central government. The United Nations must step up to the job.

Police are investigating the death of Gen. Urano Teixeira da Matta Bacellar of Brazil, the commander of the 7,400 U.N. peacekeeping troops who was found at his hotel Saturday with a reportedly self-inflicted gunshot wound. The peacekeepers justly have been criticized for failing to take on the armed gangs that terrorize the country with impunity. Beyond a handful of smash-and-grab raids to generate headlines, U.N. troops have done little to disarm the bandits who effectively control many towns, slums and roads, making it impossible for the government and aid groups to function. Haiti's business leaders fired back Monday, calling a general strike in hopes of pressuring U.N. forces to halt a wave of kidnappings.

Elections at the earliest date are important to both name a permanent successor to the ousted President Jean-Bertrand Aristide and give the new government a sense of legitimacy as it begins the process of national reconciliation. But how can the U.N. and inter-American states hope to organize a credible election if violence keeps poll workers and ballots from entire areas of the country? U.N. forces need a more aggressive mandate to round up and disarm the gangs. More money needs to be spent training a national police force. International organizations also need to follow through with a host of domestic reforms, from professionalizing the armed forces and creating an independent judiciary to instilling respect for human rights.

No government, elected or not, could hope to reverse Haiti's poverty or crime rate with the nation's corrupted political system. Foreign donors will refuse to gamble much on Haiti until security improves. That's why holding to a February election means little unless the United Nations is prepared to change conditions on the ground. The United States should offer more aid and logistical support to make the peacekeepers' presence felt. Only by removing more guns from the streets can Haiti hope to create opportunities to break a stifling culture of crime and violence.

[Last modified January 14, 2006, 01:47:02]

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