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Security in Haiti: an impossible dialogue?
Caroline BROUDIC, September 2012

The latest studies carried out in Haiti show that there has been a major increase in crime in the last year. The number of murders in the metropolitan region of Port-au-Prince has increased from 15.2‰ (Number of murders per 100 000 inhabitants in Port-au-Prince in November 2011) to 76.6‰ in July 2012 (source: IGARAPE). Though murder rates remain lower than those of most large cities in the region, this is nevertheless the highest recorded rise since 2004. Between 2006 and 2009, there was a certain political stability in Haiti and the crime rate remained relatively low compared to other countries in the region. Since the earthquake, the situation has nevertheless deteriorated but the violence does not concern the whole population in a homogenous way. Taking into account the different forms of violence and the people who are the most exposed to these risks is not a way of denying that insecurity exists in Haiti but rather of not getting things out of proportion. Violence needs to be analysed in its complexity so that it is not used to advance particular agendas and it cannot be limited to an appraisal of facts and figures. The first part of this article deals with the relations between social cohesion and crime based on the results of recent studies. In the light of this analysis, we will then look at the security approaches implemented by numerous large international organizations.

The breakdown of social fabric as a vector of violence

The results of the study by LAPOP [1] reveal that the rate of criminal victimization [2] can be considered to be average in Haiti compared to other countries in Latin America and the Caribbean. 19% of the population stated that they had been victims of a criminal act compared to almost a third in Peru or Ecuador. The LAPOP report also reveals that crime and violence have increased since 2010 in areas affected by the earthquake. Between 2008 and 2010, the rate of victimization rose from 15% to 26%, double the rate of areas which were not affected by the earthquake (12.1%). The increase in crime is therefore not homogenous at the national level, nor is it in the regions affected by the earthquake. It varies significantly depending on people’s living conditions. Numerous studies have revealed that women living in IDP camps were proportionately more exposed to sexual assault and other types of criminal acts, particularly in the initial months following the disaster. This increased vulnerability can be explained in part by crowded living conditions and by the breaking up of family and social networks due to displacement. This dispersal of the population may have weakened inter-personal trust and consequently social cohesion.

However, this lack of inter-personal trust in Haiti is not the consequence of the earthquake, but is more or less systemic. “Haiti has the weakest rate of interpersonal trust among the countries for which data is available”; according to the results of the study, 78% of those interviewed feel that the people in their neighbourhoods are either “not really trustworthy” or “not at all trustworthy”. And yet, this interpersonal trust is the cement of social relations, solidarity and also stability.

Several studies have also dealt with this issue of trust between people and in institutions from a historical and sociological perspective: “The confidence in others and in institutions which structure the social relations in which individuals become involved is generally seen as one of the most important cultural variables in terms of forming social ties beyond the limited circle of the family [3]”. The results of the study carried out by Alain Gilles in the departments of the South [4] corroborate those of the LAPOP survey in that almost half the people interviewed said that they had no confidence in society and more than a third said that they did not trust the inhabitants of their own neighbourhood.

 

Tableau1

 

According to the author, social relations are not deteriorating because of accelerated urbanisation but because of the growth of slums in every city in the country regardless of their size. It is therefore the result of demographic factors (rural exodus) and social factors (extreme inequality and pauperisation of the middle class). Though in general there is no obvious correlation between the size of city populations and the number of murders, levels of inequality (Gini coefficient) and levels of crime are more closely related. Indeed, Haiti is considered to be the country with the highest level of financial inequality in the region and among the countries where confidence in institutions is weakest. The combination of these different characteristics may result in a form of regulation on two levels: resorting to violence more quickly to resolve conflicts between neighbours and greater receptiveness to political protest through participation in demonstrations [5]. According to Charlier, “statistics exist which prove the opposite of what is commonly said about Haiti - there is not more violence or crime in this country than elsewhere, particularly not more than in other Caribbean countries or on the American continent. The difference is in how these issues are addressed and the structures put in place to manage them”.

Of course, there are other forms of violence in Haiti, which are political or linked to illegal trafficking or the protection of private interests (land, trade, leadership). It is essential that a clear distinction is made between the different types of crime which take place and the people most exposed to them. A clearer analysis of these issues would make it possible to fundamentally reappraise humanitarian organisations’ approach to security. Crime in a context like Haiti is rarely random and understanding its roots and the issues involved makes it possible to reject theories of “a historical and cultural determinism which leads [Haiti] inexorably to violence and chaos” [Charlier, 2012].


[1] LAPOP : Latin Public Opinion Project (Vanderbilt University) ; The LAPOP carries out opinion polls every two years in 26 countries of the American sub-continent and the Caribbean (including Haiti) / http://www.vanderbilt.edu/lapop/hai...

[2] Surveys of victimisation are more appropriate than crime rates in countries where under-reporting is high. The question related to criminal victimization was the following: “Have you been the victim of theft, burglary, assault, fraud, blackmail, extorsion, the threat of violence or any other type of criminal act in the last 12 months?

[3] « Regards sur la violence : Résultats d’enquête », Rachelle Charlier Doucet / Alain Gilles, 2012

[4] « The Social Bond, Conflict and Violence in Haiti », Alain Gilles, PRIO, 2012

[5] Political instrumentalisation of protest