Haiti Stabilization Initiative Creates Momentum for Change in Cité Soleil

Posted by Merrie Archer
April 17, 2009
Youth With Bicyle in Port-au-Prince's Cite Soleil

About the Author: Merrie Archer serves as a Senior Planning Officer in the State Department's Office of the Coordinator for Reconstruction and Stabilization.

At the recent Haiti Donors Conference, Secretary Clinton said: “… [T]he Secretary General referred to Cité Soleil. It was a no-man’s land. Now there is a new sense of security and freedom in its streets.”

Two years after its inauguration, the $20 million Haiti Stabilization Initiative's (HSI) integrated approach to civilian-led stabilization and reconstruction has brought real, palpable change to Cité Soleil. The initiative has done what it said it would do: create enough momentum of both security and development in Cité Soleil to enable this vital hub to stabilize enough for real development to begin.

Progress, as in the rest of Haiti, is fragile, uneven and by no means assured. The Haiti Stabilization Initiative, however, has opened the door to Cité Soleil, building momentum that, with continued support from the Government of Haiti, the private sector and the donor community will ensure that the positive developments continue. HSI marks two-years with the bulk of its projects completed or near completion, funding obligated and essentially spent, with one remaining major component scheduled for completion in early September. HSI is now focused on its team’s efforts to identify synergistic opportunities and leverage projects with other donors and the private sector.

HSI is a pilot project designed to test and demonstrate a whole-of- government, civilian-led approach to stabilization, and led by a cross-cutting team of USG experts. HSI was designed by the Office of the Coordinator for Reconstruction and Stabilization (S/CRS) in concert with elements of the Department of Defense, the U.S. Agency for International Development, the State Department’s Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs and Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs, with broad input from the U.S. Mission to Haiti. Support comes from Section 1207 of the 2006 National Defense Authorization Act which transfers funds to civilian agencies for stabilization and reconstruction. Oversight is provided by S/CRS. HSI was designed with a specific implementation unit for ensuring flexibility and speed in implementation.

The project focuses on Cité Soleil, a volatile enclave of 300,000, located in metropolitan Port-au-Prince and completely lost to Haitian government control until the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) reclaimed it through military operations at the beginning of 2007.

HSI focuses on building community, opportunity and security, and is made up of quick-impact activities in job-creating infrastructure, strengthened judicial procedures and community policing. These build on existing USAID and Embassy programs. Initial activities were operational within weeks of the official launch of HSI in April 2007, providing credibility with Cité Soleil residents and the Haitian Government.

WHY HSI WORKS MINUSTAH efforts to retake control of Cité Soleil were critical to long term success and a necessary precursor to the U.S. Government program, especially in light of the absence of any viable Haitian National Police presence. Military action alone, however, would not have been enough. Building on S/CRS’ core principles guiding conflict transformation, HSI sought to fill the gap between the establishment of security and the inevitable wait for a government of Haiti donor-supported presence to establish itself. Facilitating the return of the Haitian National Police to the area for the first time in over a decade through construction of police stations, training and the introduction of community policing has been vital to this momentum.

HSI's goal was to quickly stabilize the bitter and violent Cité Soleil gang-led environment so that regular U.S. Government programs, other donors and the GOH could begin to work normally. The key to HSI's success in facilitating the relatively rapid transformation of this distressed community has been its unflagging focus on multi-sectoral integration in a specific geographic zone. No activities were undertaken in isolation or without linkages to as many other relevant elements as possible. HSI was mandated to use its projects as leverage for buy-in from other programs and actors, or as a catalyst to generate other activities. There is nothing unique about the type or scope of the projects themselves; the difference lies in the original conception of the initiative as a whole and in dedicating staff specifically focused on its implementation.

Speed also played an important role, differentiating HSI from most programs that take two years from budgeting to first expenditures. Conceptualized as the “pointy end of the carrot,” HSI bypassed business as usual – leaving many in the private sector and in NGOs amazed at its positive and concrete response to their ideas. This gave the program enormous credibility in a community inured to broken promises by the donors and the government of Haiti. HSI proved to be different, and leveraged that difference into a new attitude on the part of nascent or reborn community grassroots organizations. As much as this was a stabilization program or a development program, it was an anti-gang program.

CONFLICT TRANSFORMATION Cité Soleil today is a changed environment. It is less a hair trigger population ready to react on command or in reaction to any number of catalytic events -- man-made or natural -- and more of a community increasingly trying to work together. This represents a depoliticizing of conflict and a more pragmatic focus on grassroots self-interest. The stage has been set for regular aid, training, health, education, and microenterprise programs to begin operating, and they are. Elements of Haiti's private sector are coming around to the idea that there is value in promoting and supporting training and education opportunities and are beginning to consider reinvesting in the larger neighborhood. We can say that in two years, despite difficulties both internal and external, HSI did what it said it would do, in one of the most difficult places in the Western Hemisphere.

Read more in Deployment Stories: Supporting Stabilization Efforts in Haiti.



New Jersey, USA
April 17, 2009

Rosemary in New Jersey writes:

Cité “oliel is not the kind of place where human beings should be living. The dwellings themselves are dangerous. Aluminum roofs fly and decapitate people in hurricanes. This "neighborhood" really should be leveled. New neighborhoods need to be built with housing these people can afford.

The mood may be calmer at the moment, but people should not have to live in conditions like these. It is very sad.

District Of Columbia, USA
April 21, 2009

Eva in Washington, DC writes:

It's great to see that "civilian-led" change is taking shape in Haiti. I've been a firm believer in bottom-up change, and am currently working on a program in a very different socio-economic context... Saudi Arabia (us-saudiwomensforum.blogspot). But the common thread I see in both is the power that local people have to improve their communities -- and often far more so than any amount of foreign or MNC involvment.

I would love to see more about the impact of the HSI! Thanks for keeping us updated.


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