Ambassador And Emboffs Visit Cite Soleil: Life At Ground Level

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Classified By: Ambassador Janet A. Sanderson, reason 1.5(b).

¶1. (C) Summary. Ambassador and emboffs visited the
impoverished Port au Prince neighborhood of Cite Soleil on
October 10 at the invitation of MINUSTAH Force Commander
General Elito. Based on our observations, signs of life
appear to be returing to what some in the past have called
the most dangerous place in Haiti. The streets are busy and
people are out and about. Schools have reopened. MINUSTAH
troops have made significant progress in bringing security,
infrastructure, and social services. Despite MINUSTAH’s
efforts, however, key to success in Cite Soleil will be the
return of the government. The gangs retain the capacity of
upsetting the slum’s fragile peace and Elito told Ambassador
that his ability to deal with the security problem will
depend on President Preval’s negotiations with gang leaders.
Our brief visit went a long way in dispelling many
mispeceptions about what has become, for many, the test case
of Haiti’s return to democracy. End Summary.

¶2. (SBU) At the invitation of MINUSTAH General Force
Commander General Elito, the Ambassador, DAO, poloff, conoff
and A/RSOs made a windshield tour of Cite Soleil, the first
full visit to the Port-au-Prince slum by Embassy personnel in
two years. Escorted by two Brazilian amoured personnel
carriers and a bevy of well-armed Embassy security officials,
our convoy began at MINUSTAH Checkpoint Two just south of
Cite Soleil along Route National 1, followed the slum’s
perimeter along Soleil 9, crossed into the city center,
stopping at MINUSTAH’s checkpoint 16, and ended at the wharf
before returing to the Embassy via Route National 1 and La
Saline, another “hot zone.” In little more than 2 hours, we
traversed most of the 2 square miles of what is, in most
people’s estimations, Haiti’s worst slum. The low-key visit
attracted little excitement among the residents and no press
attention, but offered us a brief window on a world which has
been off-limits for more than two years.

¶3. (SBU) In the heart of Cite Soleil, adjacent to the central
market and across from a sign which reads “welcome to the
square of proud Cite Soleil” sits MINUSTAH’s Checkpoint 16.
An old factory, the site houses troops from Brazil, Uruguay,
and Chile who patrol the neighborhood. This concrete
building turned bunker is camouflaged in green, surrounded by
barbed wire and piled high with sandbags. Strategically
centered, soldiers are able to look out over the entire
neighborhood to the sea and back towards Route 1. Inside this
2-story building, MINUSTAH has placed large drums of water
for bathing and cooking, a generator provides electricity to
the operation, a doctor is present, and bunk beds line the
second floor wall so that there is 24-hour presence. To
support their operations, they have computers and detailed
area maps, as well as weaponry.

¶4. (SBU) On the right side of the building housing Checkpoint
16, residents have abandoned their one-room, bullet-riddled
concrete homes, presumably moving elsewhere to escape the
violence. On the left side, the checkpoint oversees the main
Cite Soleil market, which has grown to engulf (and virtually
destroy) one of the intersection’s primary ateries. MINUSTAH
is working with the GOH to move part of the market across the
road and repair the main road. Elito noted that his troops
are also clearing garbage – they have already collected 5000
cubic tons – from Route National 9, a major perimeter road
on the slum’s east side which heads north, in three stages.
They will pave Route 9 and hope to have the road completed in
60 days. (Note: Route National 9 was originally built by the
USG in the 80,s and is often referred to as the American
Road. End Note.) These roads will give access to the
neighborhood but also serve as a way to separate the gangs.

¶5. (SBU) Checkpoint 16 was, in earlier days, the site of gun
battles between MINUSTAH’s Jordanian troops and slum gang
lords. However, with the Brazilians’ recent move into the
slum and continued pressure on the gangs, Elito reports that
there has been no incoming fire since mid-August. Checkpoint
16 will be the center of joint HNP/MINUSTAH patrol
operations; following our arrival at the installation, a
Haitian National Police Intervention and Order Maintenance

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Corps (CIMO) showed up to begin patrols. Groups of children
surround the building to play and took candy from the
Brazilian troops. As the vehicles drove through from
checkpoint, the children showed enthusiastic support for the
troops, giving &thumbs up8 to both Elito and the
Ambassador.

¶6. (SBU) Its reputation for violence notwithstanding, Cite
Soleil was busy with traffic on the day we visited. Three
schools have now reopened – two elementary schools and one
high school. Across from checkpoint 16, MINUSTAH had
refurbished the community square, where they plan to install
a generator to show movies and provide a community gathering
point. Street commerce is present. Women sit in a makeshift
market selling fruits and vegetables or second hand clothes.
Men with wheel barrels clean the street and fisherman busy
themselves with boat and net repairs. Cite Soleil is crossed
by a surprising number of small secondary roads, many funded
by the USG (and marked by signs with the USAID joined-hands
logo) which wind back into the slum. These roads are, for
the most part clean and appeared well maintained although we
did not leave the main roads to examine them further.
Interestingly enough, some houses appear to have their own
generators.

¶7. (SBU) Despite the busy market, foot traffic and
“tap-taps,” we saw very little evidence of any real
commercial activity such as one finds in the rest of
Port-au-Prince — no cafes, car repair chops, stationary
stores or beauty parlors. The gas stations are closed.
Gutted lotto booths and shells of former businesses line the
streets. The area’s canals, which were built during the first
Preval adminstration, appear to be in relatively good repair
although many are clogged by trash. Notably, one large
industrial metal factory (Acierie d,Haiti) remains in
operation along Route National 1.

¶8. (SBU) What is truly missing in Cite Soleil is any evidence
whatsover of a government presence. The local commissariat
(police station) has been destroyed, as has a police
substation. There is no mayor. No deputy has yet been
elected from the area to the 46th legislature. Municipal
services, such as they are elsewhere, do not exist in Cite
Soleil; canal cleaning and garbage disposal services, for
instance, are being handled by MINUSTAH and USG-funded IOM
projects respectively. Youths hang out around markets,
unemployed and unschooled. Clearly, the main challenge for
the GOH will be winning back the hearts and minds of a
population in an area so long neglected.

¶9. (C) Security remains the critical issue. Elito told us
that he is beginning to bottle the gangs up and limit their
maneuverability. He knows where the leaders are: as we drove
by small streets and alleys, he would point out “Evans lives
down that street another block….Admaral’s house is 200
meters over there.” He stressed that the gangs are feeling
the presssure and know that MINUSTAH watches them all the
time. However, he stressed that he has no idea what
President Preval is saying to the gangs when they talk; how
the President manages these negotiations will impact directly
on Elito’s efforts to rid Cite Soleil of the gangs.

¶10. (SBU) From our very limited perspective behind the
windshield of amoured vehicles, it was hard to assess the
attitude of the residents. However, we saw no overt signs of
hostility to MINUSTAH or to us. The convoy drove by markets,
schools and groups of people with little effect, apart from
children seeking candy. Nonetheless, Elito showed us a
building in the wharf area that his troops used to monitor
activity which had been badly damaged by residents while the
troops were out on patrol. Elito has no illusions, noting
some of the citizery want his forces there, some don’t, and
most — who are scraping together a living — don’t really
care.

¶11. (C) Comment. We are relucant to draw too many
conclusions about Cite Soleil from this brief visit. Yet
certain things stand out. The slum has taken on mythic
proportions in the minds of many, both here and abroad. Yet

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it is a small, surprisingly containable area. Parts of it
are open space. Many of its roads are paved. It was
relatively quiet – or so it was during our visit. Women and
children walk the mostly un-littered main streets. Men sit
playing chess and cards. Make no mistake, however. Life in
Cite Soleil is miserable and poor for many. Gangs remain
armed and control large swaths of territory. Criminality is
high. At this point, they still retain the capacity to
disrupt the area’s fragile peace. MINUSTAH is beginning to
build community confidence and restoring some sense of public
order. It is reaching out. Now it is time for the government
to follow suit.

¶12. (C) Comment continued. Regretfully, this trip cannot yet
make up part of our routine Embassy outreach. The security
situation in the area, although improving under MINUSTAH’s
eye, still demands close monitoring and appropriate
precautions. Our movements were carefully coordinated and
planned in conjunction with MINUSTAH; scarce MINUSTAH and
Embassy security resources were heavily deployed in support
of the visit. Nonetheless, this oportunity to see life in
Cite Soleil at ground level has been invaluable for our
understanding of the enormous challenges which confront
Haiti.
SANDERSON