Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Guns in Sun City

Guns in Sun City

At night in Port-au-Prince, my wife and I watch the sunset over the ocean. It is beautiful from where we are sitting, but we know all is not well below us in the slum. Cite Soleil (Sun City) is a slum built on a garbage dump on the Bay of Port-au-Prince. We often hear gunshots from automatic weapons coming from that direction. The sounds are very scary to hear and we are two miles away.

Who is shooting? We never know, but we do know the guns are powerful. It could be coming from the gangs in Cite Soleil or from MINUSTAH, the acronym for the United Nations forces in Haiti. The UN forces are at about 8,000. Haiti’s national police do not have the weapons or the training to take on the gangs in the slum and won’t go near them. Almost, no one, except people that live in Soleil can come and go, and they do so only with trepidation.

Two weeks ago President Preval asked the gang leaders to turn in their weapons in an attempt to restore order in this country of constant chaos plagued with armed robbery, car jackings, and kidnappings in the middle of the day. President Preval made it clear that blood would be shed if the guns were not turned over. The gang leaders responded that they would turn in their guns yesterday, but then changed their minds. The gangs blame MINUSTAH for continuing their violent assaults in the streets of Cite Soleil and their leaders state that MINUSTAH doesn’t really want “peace and disarmament because they want a justification for their presence here (Haiti).”

Several months ago, my wife and I “toured” Cite Soleil with the protection of two gang leaders. Soleil looks and smells horrible as usual, but the pock marked bullet ridden buildings are very scary and sad to look at. This dump is the home for hundreds of thousands of people. The gang leaders insisted that all they want are jobs which can provide them with enough money to feed their families.

Each morning in clinic, I see babies carried by their mom or dad who have walked out of Cite Soleil that morning, sometimes dodging bullets, to get rudimentary medical care for their child. They are risking their sick baby’s life and their lives to venture out of the slum. The parents act like parents in the states. They want the best for their children and will do anything they can to provide it including going through gunfire to get it. I often ask myself what that parent would be doing in the United States. Would they be using a computer, would they be working in a bank, or would they be a mechanical engineer? These parents have no real jobs even though they work all the time to put a little food on their children’s plates at night. But their hopes for their children are the same as ours.

When people with big guns fight, the little people are always caught in the middle. The kids that cannot go to school, get a good meal, or obtain basic medical care, suffer the consequences. A simple medical problem can and does become life threatening as the guns keep firing in Sun City.

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