Sinners and saints in the city of sun

As Haiti's government retreats from its ever-expanding tent cities and slums, an enterprising gang of teenagers fills the void with a unique blend of violence and community aid

Sinners and Saints
(Image credit: (<a href="">Jonathan Alpeyrie/Narratively</a>))

Port-au-Prince, Haiti — A shantytown that grew to a city-within-a-city of several hundred thousand, Cité Soleil is one of the largest slums in the Northern Hemisphere, by some accounts as dangerous as the infamous favelas of Rio. The streets here are controlled by various gangs, some more violent than others. The most hardcore control their turf using intimidation and violence, with guns smuggled in via the U.S. or South America.

For years, Haitian gangs have been active in Port-au-Prince, controlling various slums throughout the capital. The LP street gang is one of many fighting for control and survival.

Basha, the leader of LP, is a gangster, yes, but also a community organizer. His gang has the particularity to help locals from the same neighborhood by providing protection against other gangs, and also against the government.

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As the Haitian government has largely failed its people following the catastrophic 2010 earthquake, Basha and his sixteen-man group of soldiers have taken it upon themselves to help the people living within his zone of influence.

Basha is known to be quite the diplomat, which enables his group to operate virtually everywhere in Cite du Soleil, an ongoing battleground between gangs who settle scores and UN troops who often try to pacify the area.

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Sam, the second in command of the LP Street gang talks to locals in the gang's controlled quarter of Port-au-Prince, making sure no trouble is looming. The LP leaders often deal with politicians in order to help with such things as removing the tent camps, or providing basis necessities like electricity, running water, and food.

Basha's right-hand man, Sam, who grew up in Florida, helps with everything from acquiring weapons and drugs to taking cuts on the profit from the local whorehouse. But the pair also lead other LP members around the tent camps, breaking up fights, easing tensions, and trying to have bathrooms built and electricity installed. Basha meets with ministers and officials, hoping to open their eyes to the plight of the people here.

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In 2010, right after the earthquake, UN troops battled their way inside the area to flush out gang soldiers, killing dozens in the process. But the gangs have regained control, and today Cité Soleil is also a meeting ground for gangs when discussions are needed. The LP have, over time, established strong connections with the toughest gangs controlling the area. Deals are made, information is passed along, and everyone gets a cut of the action.

Despite the violence, the LPs are hopeful that Haiti's future will be bright. But as tensions rise once more within the tiny nation, the gangs are ready at all times to make their mark with the use of weapons and extortions. The LPs are no exception.

Read the rest of this story at Narratively.

Narratively is an online magazine devoted to original, in-depth and untold stories. Each week, Narratively explores a different theme and publishes just one story a day. It was one of TIME's 50 Best Websites of 2013.

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