Mon, Jan 25, 2010 - Page 7 News List

US troops meet ‘bogeyman’ in Haitian slum

AFP , PORT-AU-PRINCE

A UN soldier threatens to spray a crowd with tear gas if they do not leave the area behind a food aid station in the Cite Soleil slum in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, on Saturday.

PHOTO: EPA

Troops from the US 82nd Airborne met the bogeyman in Port-au-Prince’s notorious Cite Soleil slum on Saturday during a reconnaissance mission to set up an aid distribution point for quake victims.

“He’s a bogeyman and the people here smashed his brains out with rocks because they thought he was stealing children from families sleeping on the street,” says Reggie, the troops’ Creole interpreter.

The slum’s inhabitants stand nonchalantly around the dead man’s bloody body, already teeming with flies and surrounded by the chunks of concrete with which he was killed early on Saturday morning.

But the paratroopers’ task is not to deal with the victims of Haiti’s summary and sometimes superstitious justice.

“We’re looking for a good place to do aid distribution, so we need to speak to local people about how they feel about the government, about the gangs, how to recognize them and what are the threats,” Specialist Byron Middlekauff says. “The people they’re pretty calm, they push each other but they never get aggressive with us, they’re not aggressive, just desperate.”

Middlekauff tells of a man who came to a previous aid distribution.

“I noticed his leg was broken and his tibia was sticking out, we offered him medical attention but he said he just wanted water,” he says. “That kind of blew my mind. His leg is going to fall off.”

“What about my church, over there?” suggests Reggie, who lived in Florida until overstaying his visa by five years and getting thrown out. It’s run by pastor Leon, they say he’s a bad guy, but he never done anything to me.”

“Are there gangs here?” Middlekauff asks a rapidly growing crowd of people at the large church that resembles a warehouse.

Some are curious, all are hungry. A few people have guns, mostly pistols and hand weapons, says Reggie, “but none of the real deal.”

And how do you spot a gang?

“If you see a group of 10-20 people hanging out together, they’re all mean looking and there’s a smell of marijuana in the air,” he said.

The troops ask the crowd what they think of the government.

“There’s no government,” comes the unified answer. “The government can’t give security, the police can’t give security, the UN can’t.”

The US troops try to get contact numbers for local community leaders known as Casecs and Asecs, but no one has them.

“Which one’s higher, a Casec or an Asec?” asks one soldier.

“I don’t know, I wasn’t briefed on that,” another answers.

The troops find a Casec’s assistant, Guilloux Jocelyn, who assures them that they can distribute water and ready-to-eat meals without fear of the chaos that has erupted in some places.

“There are no gangs here but lots of bullies,” he says. “A few of them may have pistols, they don’t use them on people here but maybe they have to go somewhere else to use them on a job.”

Jocelyn says that Cite Soleil’s inhabitants have been ignored by the government since the Jan. 12 quake that killed more than 110,000 people, the deadliest recorded disaster ever to hit the Americas.

“To them the government doesn’t exist,” Jocelyn says.

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