March 27, 2001

Haitian capital suffers grind of violent crime

                  PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (Reuters) -- One day before Haiti's Carnival festivities,
                  businessman Karl Batroni went to a cock fight arena in a suburb of the capital to
                  do some gambling.

                  Instead, he got a painful reminder that, even if political violence is no longer as
                  prevalent as it has been at times in the past, the impoverished Caribbean nation is
                  still afflicted by criminal violence, particularly in Port-au-Prince.

                  Batroni ended up with four bullet wounds after thugs sprayed the arena in the
                  Petionville suburb with gunfire. And he was one of the lucky ones. Four people
                  died including one of the attackers, who was shot in the neck as he tried to flee.

                  "A guy named Junior went into the ring to cash in on his wins and then he was
                  shot," said a security guard, pointing to the ring and the bullet holes dotting the
                  arena where the action is meant to be confined to aggressive fowl.

                  "The insecurity situation shocks. It handicaps people because they can't go out
                  to enjoy themselves," said the guard, adding the stadium has closed temporarily
                  to tighten security and raise the surrounding walls. "It makes everybody worried.
                  People are scared. They don't know what will happen to them."

                  The assailants shot and killed another security guard and hit Batroni in his knee,
                  calf, and both sides of his stomach. A stray bullet also hit another bystander,
                  killing him.

                  The incident appeared to be a settling of scores in which others got hurt or
                  killed. Other violent crime in the capital, a crumbling and overcrowded city of
                  1.5 million, is the work of roaming thugs -- called "zenglendoes" in the native
                  Creole -- who mug and kill for money, keeping the city on edge.

                  Many people stay at home after dark, but even during the day it is not safe, and
                  there is a perception that things are getting worse.

                  Last month a well-known businessman was gunned down on a thoroughfare in
                  one of the city's "safer" neighborhoods. It was midday when three cars blocked
                  his car in traffic and a gunman shot him five times.

                  In addition to street crime, political violence, which stalked Haiti in the past as
                  the country endured successive dictatorships, has become a concern again in the
                  past year or so amid political tensions between President Jean-Bertrand Aristide's
                  ruling Lavalas Party and the opposition.

                  Most notable was the still unexplained April 2000 assassination of prominent
                  broadcaster Jean Domnique.

                  'Unstable security' throughout Haiti

                  Just before Aristide took office in February, returning to power after an eventful
                  first term that included three years in exile and ended in 1996, the U.S. State
                  Department issued an advisory warning U.S. citizens against going to Haiti
                  because of the "unstable security situation throughout the country."

                  Four pipe bombs exploded in the capital in January, wounding two people.
                  Then-Prime Minister Jacques Eduard Alexis blamed the opposition for the
                  attacks, saying they were trying to destabilize the country before Aristide's

                  The U.S. advisory noted the rise in political violence that accompanied the
                  presidential election last November and legislative elections in May. Lavalas won
                  the legislative elections in a process marred by allegations the results were
                  miscalculated in the party's favor.

                  "The Haitian government has failed to contain certain violent and dangerous
                  incidents, including bombings in public areas, politically motivated killings,
                  indiscriminate gunfire directed at pedestrians in Port-au-Prince and incidents
                  directed at diplomatic facilities and vehicles," it said.

                  A month later, two Molotov cocktail devices were thrown at a U.S. Embassy
                  official's residence. One soda bottle exploded in the front yard but caused no
                  injuries or property damage.

                  Painting a bleak picture of a country with no "safe" areas, the report also said
                  violent crime was on the rise:

                  "The state of law and order is of increasing concern, with reports of armed
                  robberies and break-ins, murders and car hijackings becoming more frequent.
                  The limited response and enforcement capabilities of the Haitian National Police
                  and the judiciary mean there is little relief for victims of crime."

                  New justice chief faces major obstacles

                  Haiti's newly appointed Justice Minister Gary Lissade is well aware of the many
                  obstacles he faces in trying to impose a bit of law and order. Criminals often
                  operate with near impunity. The legal system is inefficient and plagued with
                  corruption. The police force is understaffed, with some 3,000 officers in a
                  country of nearly 8 million people.

                  "There are laws but they need to be enforced," Lissade, who previously worked
                  as an attorney for Aristide, told Reuters. "There will be change. We need it. We
                  have to. Otherwise, the country won't go anywhere."

                  Haiti, the Western Hemisphere's poorest country, has a minimum wage of less
                  than $2 a day and 62 percent of the population are malnourished.

                  Rampant crime delivers another blow to the economy.

                  "Lately, there have been those murders and people are taking fewer risks to
                  invest," said Hans Tippenhauer, a senior analyst for a local consulting firm. "If
                  you solve the security problem, you are likely to bring back investors."

                  Apart from discouraging investors, crime and the need for protection against it is
                  an extra expense small entrepreneurs can ill afford. Many shops and homes in
                  the capital have bars on all the windows and businesses also often feel obliged to
                  hire security guards whose wages -- while very low by U.S. standards -- add
                  another $100 a month per guard to costs.

                  Ruth Goldman, owner of the Guess Who restaurant and bar in the relatively
                  affluent suburb of Petionville, has witnessed firsthand the impact of crime on
                  people and their businesses.

                  "It's been for about a year now that people have been thinking twice before going
                  out to a nightclub. The insecurity is killing the nightlife," said Goldman, whose
                  fiance was killed almost three years ago, shot in the head by a gang member as
                  the couple returned home from work one night.

                  "As soon as somebody of this class gets attacked or shot, it's a ghost town
                  here," she said, speaking on an evening when Guess Who was deserted save for
                  a few lone barflies and a bored bartender playing with a calculator.

                     Copyright 2001 Reuters.