Haiti: UN peacekeepers turn former gang chief’s headquarters into health clinic

15 February 2007

Just days after launching a large-scale security operation to clean up one of Haiti’s most notorious hotbeds of criminal gangs, the United Nations peacekeeping mission has transformed the former crime boss’s headquarters into a free medical clinic, with clowns to cheer up sick children.

“We are here to help the Haitian people,” the commander of the UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) Brazilian contingent Claudio Barroso Magno Filho said. “And this aid cannot be achieved if there is not first security and peace. That is why our security operations are immediately followed by our humanitarian assistance.”

Until last Friday, when the UN launched a 700-troop-strong operation in the Boston area of Cité Soleil, one of Haiti’s most crime-ridden neighbourhoods in Port-au-Prince, the capital, Jamaica Base was the headquarters of the gang chief named Evans, who used it to coordinate his activities in a country that has seen a surge in extortion, kidnappings and the recruitment of children into gangs.

Now, doctors and dentists from MINUSTAH’s Brazilian contingent tend to local residents at what is today a new community centre. At its inauguration yesterday, Raymond Jean-Baptiste turned up with his seven-month-old daughter, happy for the free consultation. Clowns came too, dancing with the children, and the Brazilian peacekeepers handed out free footballs.

They also brought soup and clean drinking water for Boston’s residents. “It’s above all the lack of drinking water,” Brazilian doctor Mario Cesar Furtado Joris said. “Most of the patients have allergies, skin disease or intestinal infections. They are suffering from diarrhoea and malnutrition. All these illnesses are due to a lack of food and drinking water. Moreover the garbage causes allergies.”

A woman, about 40 years old, holding some cans joined the line for water. “The situation is already much better, but small time thieves are still here,” she said. “At night there are still security problems.”

The Boston operation follows a similar strategy that the Brazilians used when they cleaned up another notorious neighbourhood, Bel Air. “The security operations were designed to restore calm and peace in order to allow the return of social activities,” Major Barroso said. “At present the Boston area is completely under MINUSTAH’s control.”

MINUSTAH, set up in 2004 to help re-establish peace in the impoverished Caribbean country after an insurgency forced President Jean-Bertrand Aristide to go into exile, has reported that armed criminal gangs are forcing children to take part in their operations, often under threat of killing them, and using them as human shields in confrontations with the police.

 

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