Tuesday, November 13, 2012
Cité Soleil is a densely populated shanty town located in the Port-au-Prince metropolitan area of Haiti. It has been estimated that 200,000 to 300,000 people live in Cité Soleil. The commune is one of the biggest slums in the Northern Hemisphere. It is also one of the most dangerous places in the world. Cité Soleil has no sewers, no stores, and little to no police presence or electricity. After the 1991 coup d’état removed President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, the commune was thrust into extreme poverty and persistent unemployment, with high rates of illiteracy. In recent decades, Cité Soleil has been terrorized by armed gangs. In 1999, a fire greatly damaged the town. In 2004, UN peacekeepers stormed Cité Soleil in an attempt to gain control of the area. However, it made only a small impact on the violence. The UN has described the human rights situation in the commune as “catastrophic.”
On January 12, 2010 a giant earthquake struck 16 miles west of Port-au-Prince. The earthquake has affected an estimated 3 million people, 230,000 people have died, and over 1 million Haitian residents were left homeless. After the earthquake, it took nearly two weeks for relief aid to arrive in Cité-Soleil. The commune was totally devastated and crime rates exploded. Today, armed gangs roam the town’s streets. Murders, rape, kidnapping, looting, and shootings are common. The city blocks are controlled by armed factions and the area is full of rampant crime and armed violence.
Most of the people living in Cité Soleil are children and young adults. Few residents survive past the age of 50 and most die from disease, including AIDS, or violence. A large majority of people who live in Cité Soleil remain loyal to President Jean-Bertrand Aristide and his Fanmi Lavalas movement. The area has a large kidnapping problem and foreign travelers are common targets. Haitian police are unable to enter the commune and discover the hidden networks of human trafficking. During the 2010 earthquake, many gang members escaped from Haiti’s damaged prison. The criminals turned to Cité Soleil for protection and hiding. Crime in the commune is rising, and police have urged citizens to take matters into their own hands.