Glimmers of Hope in Cite Soleil
Cite Soleil has long been a poster child for the poorest of the poor. It is a slum of Haiti, one of the poorest countries in Western Hemisphere. But in the last few years, it has been changing its image. This slum on the edge of Port-au-Prince is also becoming one of the most dangerous poor places in the Western Hemisphere.
In the last few months kidnappings, shootings and robbery have led people to refer to it as a cross between Baghdad and Mogadishu. Every few blocks is controlled by different gang leaders; the number of gangs is said to exceed 32. Stuck in the middle of the slum are United Nations forces, Jordanians who would rather be in places like Ethiopia. When two Jordanian soldiers were killed last week, their mothers in Jordan began to ask: Why are our sons in Haiti?
The answer is simple. Haiti is in desperate need of help -- help from an international community that has deserted the country's citizens time and time again.
As you walk through a section of Cite Soleil under the watchful eye of local gang leader Tin Blanc (Little White Man), he attempts to show how he and his colleagues are forced to fight in order to improve their living conditions.
Stepping over garbage -- through a type of mud that perhaps began as clean water but now seems to be a type of sewage cement -- it's obvious that the infrastructure here has seen better days.
One of the more amazing sights is the children in their school uniforms. In a place where there is more dirt than pavement, the school uniforms remain immaculate. Pressed and cleaned, the children make their way through daily obstacles to school.
It's said that the slum's population has begun to leave due to the violence. And it seems true that streets once packed from side to side and top to bottom now have more breathing room. But as you look down an alley and pass through grated metal, your shoulders scraping the wall, you find yourself in someone's courtyard with very little room to breathe, let alone live.
Stepping over roaming pigs and glimpsing into one-room homes, it becomes evident that life here is a struggle. Tin Blanc speaks of fighting as a pacifist for change. He has hope that his candidate and the candidate of the people, René Préval, will turn things around for the better. These words have been spoken before of populist priest Jean-Bertrande Aristide, who was overthrown two years ago amid a loss of support from his base and a strengthening of his enemies. Cite Soleil was one of his strongholds -- when he left, some of its inhabitants' dreams and hopes left with him.
The people here constantly sing songs that reflect both eternal optimism and an ever-present idea of defeat. They have little to look forward to. But the streets of Cite Soleil became a little brighter as people demonstrated for their man, René Préval. As marchers passed the bunkered and sandbagged Jordanian base, the energy rose ever higher. First one, then a few others dared to approach the tank-like APCs of the U.N. soldiers. The people vented their anger toward the U.N. for everything they thought was wrong.
As hundreds danced in the streets singing songs for Préval and waving flags, there was one person missing -- the candidate. He was represented on flags and T-shirts, but had no intention of coming into the city. In fact, he has not campaigned here at all. People speculate that either he knows he has all their votes, or that it is simply too dangerous to venture there, even to meet his supporters.
Award-winning photojournalist Ron Haviv is on the ground in Port-au-Prince documenting the run-up to Haiti's presidential and legislative elections. >>About This Blog
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