U.S. Army keeps order at the Petionville Club

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — The U.S. Army definitely has taken over the Petionville Club, a golf course overlooking the ruins of the Haitian capital.

During a visit to the club to talk with some of the 50,000 people who now call the golf course home, CNS photographer Bob Roller, translator Junior Sinsmyr and I could hardly miss the 173rd Airborne Brigade’s presence.

Children walk among tents in a makeshift camp at a golf course in Port-au-Prince Jan. 24. (CNS/Marco Dormino, United Nations)

From the guards at the main gate to the trio of sentries keeping a constant watch from a hillside overlooking tent-covered fairways and putting greens, the soldiers’ presence said one thing: the U.S. is in charge and nothing’s going to get out of hand.

The soldiers were courteous and helpful in pointing us to where we needed to go. Once we entered the main area of the club — where the pool, a couple of bars and what looked like what might have been an equipment room was located — we thought we might as well have been in the recreation area on an Army base. Soldiers were relaxing, reading, playing games and talking over (non-alcoholic) drinks.

Americans were given wide access to the club grounds. And any mention of ties with Catholic Relief Services, which is overseeing services to the thousands of homeless Haitians there, got visitors an even greater respect.

The campers were located in the back of the club grounds far below the posted sentries. To get to and from the tent city, anyone on foot had to navigate one of several marked paths on a steep hill. At the bottom of each path, people had to sidestep through a wooden gate. It seemed like the layout was meant to keep the campers from scurrying up the hill in a disorderly way when aid arrived.

Given the circumstances, it’s understandable that the military would want to keep order, lest violence break out during the distribution of aid. Homeless Haitians greatly outnumbered soldiers and a group of medical workers at the club. In this day of a security-conscious American government,  the only way military planners see as the way to keep order, it seems, is to make it difficult for anyone to upset the normal flow of things.

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