The devastating earthquake only intensified "normal" conditions in that dysfunctional country that one observer has described as a permanent "international crime scene." By day three looters and street gangs were already patrolling rubble-and-corpse-strewn streets armed with machetes and guns. The monster of anarchy looms over Port-au-Prince.
Haiti is consumed by a culture of violence. Gangbangers run rampant. Activities like narcotics trafficking, robbery, kidnapping-for-hire, and murder are their daily fare. Mob violence is common on the streets. Local leaders use mobs as compliant tools. The populace itself is acculturated to expressing their grievances through explosive street activism.
Humanitarian aid organizations are feeling the threat. Many relief workers and officials say they are too frightened for their personal safety to get out into the streets. Food for the Poor officials were terrified when a group threatened them. "We said, ‘Uh-oh.’ You never
know when people are going over the edge," said project manager Liony Batista. He frets that in order to get a container of relief supplies to one of their orphanages – they are en route from neighboring Dominican Republic – they will be forced to bribe their way across increasingly lawless streets. Batista says that he "only hopes we have enough left to feed the children when we get it to them."
Water, food, and medical supplies are the currency of life and gangs will gravitate toward that loot, seeing it as a way of controlling a shattered populace and enriching themselves through black market sales.
The UN, marginally effective in the best of circumstances, has been decapitated by destruction of its facilities. UN peacekeeping forces, primarily Brazilian, are few in number and appear to be conducting only local patrolling intended to protect its base camp. Haitian police are notable by their absence. "They are not visible at all,"
said David Wimhurst, UN spokesman for the Brazilian contingent encamped at the Haitian city.
Dr. Michael VanRooyen, director of the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative, noted that institutional chaos is to be expected after a disaster of this magnitude. "Coordinating the flurry of activity, relief supplies, and need to assess the problem is key in the first few days after a catastrophe," he said. He cites Rwanda, Turkey, and Katrina as examples. Until the relief effort is organized, little effective use can be made of relief supplies already trickling into the country.
We’ve seen this before, many times. Perhaps Somalia was the ultimate example of gangs controlling relief supplies, letting the population suffer in order to establish and maintain fiefdoms. It is imperative that if vast amounts of money and resources are to be saved from these criminals and distributed to the needy, that the gangs be broken up early and not allowed to establish a viable power base.
This means bluntly that NGOs and pacifist organizations like the UN are ineffectual in handling a crisis like this that demands firm, organized leadership capable of dispensing aid with one hand while instituting a law and order environment with another. And that means US military presence. There is, bluntly, no other country in the world capable of doing what is required in the rapid manner necessary to avert utter catastrophe.
The potential leader for this operation is obvious: Retired Army Lieutenant General Russell Honore, nicknamed "The Ragin’ Cajun," the individual who pulled order out of chaos following Katrina and who has disaster relief experience dating back to his days as a troop commander in Korea.
Honore quickly took charge of a chaotic situation in which competing agencies, hysterical press, and political opportunism stifled focused relief efforts. He instantly brought a semblance of order to the crumbling situation, got units and agencies moving in the right direction, and made certain that people did what they were supposed to do.
His military experience will be absolutely essential as Haiti will be an incipient battleground. He is going to be forced to patrol the mean streets of Port-au-Prince as if it were a war zone, imposing security on a helpless, disruptive populations and eliminating
threats. Honore is tough enough to order looters and street gangs shot and arrested and to stand by his orders when the inevitable criticism erupts from the clueless.
As an added bonus, Honore, from southern Louisiana’s Cajun country, is a French speaker.
Whether the general is called back to active duty or given a special presidential appointment is irrelevant. He’s smart enough and sufficiently experienced to be able to cut across bureaucratic lines – including those thrown up by international organizations – to get the job done.
Even better, he is a no-nonsense leader who does not tolerate fools, especially those from the media. "Don’t get stuck on stupid," was his most-quoted comment post-Katrina and Rita. If tapped for this mission, he will have ample opportunity to dust off that comment again.
In a Thursday CNN interview Honore said, ""You need to put the right commander there who’s going to be a battle captain." He could have been speaking about himself.
There are few occasions when the perfect candidate is available for the toughest mission. We are at that point in Haiti. Give General Honore the mission. Then get out of his way.