Battle for Haiti (2011)

Rating: FR.Battle for HaitiBattle for Haiti is the first episode of the 29th season of the PBS documentary series Frontline, and it details the disintegration of Haitian society in the year since the Caribbean nation was hit by a massive earthquake on the 10th of January, 2010.

Only a few years before this event, Haiti underwent a revolution following decades of dictatorship. The political situation was entirely tenuous since then, and the earthquake undermined an already fragile, fledgling government. In short, the country has experienced a nearly complete breakdown of law and order.

The documentary is focused on events within the capitol city Port-au-Prince, in which much of the the infrastructure was destroyed outright. This forced the majority of its residents into to relocate, not to the countryside, but to improvised tent camps around the city itself.

battle_for_haiti_02The national penitentiary housed something in the neighborhood of 4500 criminals at the time of the quake, the majority of whom simply wandered back out into the street once the compound was structurally compromised. Many of these criminals were gangsters who were somewhat quicker in establishing a social order within the tent camps than were the police. These gangsters proceeded to rape women, beat or kill men, and generally exploit the comparatively peaceful inhabitants of the camps as a matter of course.

What remains of the Haitian police force makes occasional forays into the camps to retrieve what they perceive to be the very worst of the gangsters. They are mostly ineffectual, however, and more often than not are only distinguishable from the gangsters by their bedraggled and mismatched uniforms.

battle_for_haiti_03Local officials have collectively shrugged their shoulders in the face of corruption, poor organization, and a lack of resources, and seem to be entirely reliant to the blue-helmeted United Nations peacekeepers to maintain any substantial sense of order.

It might be easy for people sitting in the United States to dismiss the state of affairs in Haiti as symptomatic of the third world backwardness of the country. Under the right circumstances, in a crisis of sufficient magnitude, law and order can be suspended pretty much anywhere. Documentaries like After Armageddon have tried to construct an imagined post-apocalyptic world in the United States. Battle for Haiti is a thoughtfully presented examination of what actually does happen in the absence of the rule of law, and should be instructive to anyone preparing for a potential disaster.