Guns & Haiti

When your country is bristling with weapons, peace and democracy begin to look like targets, not dreams

Toussaint corroborates that assertion. "The president took gang members and promoted them," he says. "He put in every police station one of his confidence guys to protect the gangs."

One of the tasks facing the multinational force is reconstituting the police force, which will require much more training and equipment. Until then the foreign troops do the heavy lifting -- patrolling streets, confronting armed bands, and struggling with their other major task: disarmament. "We're here for the security of Haiti, we're not taking sides," Maj. Richard Crusan, the U.S. Marines spokesman, told me. "The military doesn't get involved in politics. If we're going to disarm, we're going to disarm both sides."

Progress has been slow. Two weeks after Aristide's departure, Chilean troops had confiscated just three guns; the Americans had grabbed only four and raided a suspected arms cache that turned out to be empty.

Carlos Villalon
U.S. Marines escort anti-Aristide marchers on 
February 7
Tristram Korten
U.S. Marines escort anti-Aristide marchers on February 7

On March 17 and 27 authorities persuaded gangs in Cité Soleil and La Saline to turn over several guns, still considered a trickle. Toussaint says negotiations continue: "I tell them it's over, they need to give up the guns and get a job. Nobody ever talks to them and tells them they could be better men. I make them dream. I also tell them Aristide kept them in their position because it helped him." More than twenty guns were collected, most old or inoperable, though two T-65s and one Uzi were among them. In return came appeals for jobs and schools.

It's unlikely more guns will be voluntarily surrendered anytime soon. After all, they are power in the hands of the powerless. Both sides know this, which makes the multinational force's disarmament plan difficult, if not impossible.

In the absence of functioning civil institutions, weapons fill the power vacuum. And in the end, people prefer order to chaos, even if it flows from the barrel of a gun.

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