Group helps combat Haitian gangs

 

A group of Irish peacemakers has helped resolve gang warfare in disaster-hit Haiti.

Members of Glencree Centre for Peace and Reconciliation travelled to the Caribbean nation, parts of which were destroyed in the devastating 2010 earthquake.

Former UVF paramilitary Martin Snodden was among those who encouraged gang lords in one of the country’s poorest and most dangerous slums to decommission their weapons.

Irish charity Concern invited them to work with Haitian peace-building group 3PSM in St Martin, where 70,000 people live in severe poverty and children as young as 11 are initiated into gangs.

They used the Northern Ireland peace process as an example of how conflicting communities can live without violence.

Glencree international programme director Ian White, who first visited Haiti in 2004 and has returned numerous times, said methods for achieving peace are the same the world over.

“For a peace process to work you don’t have to trust each other, you just have to trust in the process,” said Mr White.

“We wanted to open up dialogue between these people who hate each other.” As the annual Haiti Week in Ireland begins tomorrow, when organisations try to raise awareness of the poverty-stricken country, Mr White said people should put themselves in the shoes of those living out there.

He said he understood why members of the community were forced to join gangs.

“I know that if I were in their shoes and couldn’t feed my family there is a fair likelihood that I would behave the same way,” he said.

The Northern Ireland native, who has lived in Dublin for 26 years, said he was proud to use the painful experiences of Ireland’s Troubles to help the disadvantaged people living in the St Martin slums.

“I felt exceptional pride in where I am from in trying to help these people and a great deal of privilege to have met them,” he went on.

Jackson Nozil, a member of Haiti-based 3PSM who lives and works in St Martin, paid tribute to Glencree’s work.

He said the group’s continued efforts were vital, particularly since the earthquake left more people than ever severely impoverished.

“We quickly realised we can’t have peace while there is so much poverty in the area and after the earthquake, more people than ever were living in very poor conditions,” said Mr Nozil.

He explained that this has led to a rise in gang violence despite Glencree’s work to encourage decommission.

“When one leader gives up his weapons it leaves a gap for a younger, angrier and more violent gang member to take his place,” said Mr Nozil.

Mr Nozil described how Haitian politicians in the past have been known to distribute guns to communities to drum up support among gang leaders, who can influence wider communities.

He also referred to an occasion when a 12-year-old boy shot a gang leader in a bid to usurp power, but the dying gangster shot him in turn and killed him.

“There are children as young as 11 running around with guns,” he went on.

“The police force couldn’t even get in to this community to do their job. People are living in very dangerous conditions.” To coincide with Haiti Week, the country’s president Michel Martelly will visit Ireland and meet with President Michael D Higgins.

The former pop star was voted into power last April and has appointed a government he believes will lead Haiti to recovery.