In the midst of its most severe natural disaster in two centuries, the impoverished nation of Haiti is seeing a death toll already in the tens of thousands. A country with a delicate infrastructure, efforts are in full force to aid the country and its people. The quake looks to be a truly devastating disaster, but the long-term prospects of rebuilding Haiti could prove far more difficult than simple bricks and mortar.
If there is anything encouraging to take away from the quake in Haiti, it has been the rush from countless groups and individuals around the globe to contribute to the aid efforts. The United States has sent thousands of troops to the country, while other nations like China and Germany have also contributed aid. Haitian-born musician Wyclef Jean’s Yele charity has already raised over $2 million through text donations and MTV and George Clooney appear poised to present a telethon for Haiti. But for a country whose political infrastructure has been weakened by generations of corruption, establishing a solid state government in the long term could prove difficult, ultimately providing a roadblock in the overall aid effort.
That history of weak government has been exacerbate in recent years by the presence of armed street gangs in the country, a prominent presence that is already posing concerns for aid workers. Time’s Tim Padgett has already cited the handling of these gangs as being imperative to the overall rebuilding of Haiti and Port-au-Prince. With roughly 1,000 convicted criminals reportedly on the loose following the collapse of the Port-au-Prince prison, this could be an important crossroads in Haiti’s internal security in the wake of the worst disaster in its history.
Undoubtedly, the troops dispatched to Haiti will have security among their responsibilities, but the issue of street gangs in Haiti already provoked a considerable security force in the country some time ago. With gangs running many of its streets and UN peacekeepers already dispatched in the country, Haitian president Rene Preval combined the two, using the peacekeepers as an anti-gang tool in 2007 in an effort to take back Port-au-Prince. According to a report from the United States Institute for Peace, the use of UN troops resulted in civilian casualties and property damage but ultimately proved successful in containing the problem of gangs in Port-au-Prince. While street gangs saw their influence dissipate in Haiti, their satellite gangs in Southern Florida even started seeing a noticeable crackdown.
But the recent earthquake may have potentially plunged Haiti into a state of enough disarray that these influential criminals may once again find a way to fill the political vacuum. And it’s a fragile situation that has a number of media analysts wondering exactly how security in Haiti will be stabilized in the coming years. But with even pro hockey players dedicating their goals to the people of Haiti, maybe there is an opportunity for the people of Haiti (including its gangster) to see that they are not alone during these tough times. That kind of international support can help rebuild a troubled nation, but the stakes are certainly very high for the country following these devastating events.