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Haiti Liberte: Hebdomadaire Haitien / Haitian weekly news

Edition Electronique

Vol. 8, No. 28
Du  Jan  21  au  Jan 27. 2015

Electronic Edition

Kòrdinasyon Desalin: Conférence de presse


Also Read:
How the U.S. is Preparing a "Cuban Spring" with “Roots of Hope”

Reflections Following a Delegation:
How MINUSTAH Hurts Haiti

by Becca Polk


During the first week in October, I took part in a human rights delegation to Haiti led by the U.S. grassroots organization School of the Americas (SOA) Watch. The delegation of 17 activists from around the U.S. wanted to gain firsthand knowledge about the UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH), a military occupation force of 13,000 troops and police. We also saw numerous initiatives being organized by Haitians to promote their nation’s dignity and sovereignty.

SOA Watch monitors and protests the activities of the U.S. Army’s School of the Americas (SOA), based at Ft. Benning, Georgia, where the officers of repressive Latin American military and police forces, including Haiti’s, are trained. (In January 2001, the school was renamed the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation.) I work in the Washington, DC office of SOA Watch, which carries out its work through vigils and fasts, demonstrations and nonviolent protest, as well as media and legislative work.

The conversations and encounters that I had on this delegation to Haiti have inspired me and touched my heart, changing my perspective on the world. While I do not represent the whole delegation or even SOA Watch, I would like to share some reflections about the numerous meetings we had and things we witnessed.

We observed MINUSTAH armored vehicles, soldiers and police patrolling every corner of Port-au-Prince, where Haitians eke out basic survival amidst earthquake rubble.

The UN Security Council deployed MINUSTAH in June 2004 to replace the U.S., French and Canadian troops which occupied Haiti following the coup d’état (supported by those same nations) against former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide.

According to its mandate, MINUSTAH should focus on training and strengthening the Haitian National Police. But, in reality, we observed that MINUSTAH is primarily a military mission which provides security, not for Haiti’s people, but rather for foreign companies (including most of the large NGOs) and Haiti’s business elite.

It's an occupation force that doesn't help the people,” a representative from the “Grassroots Coalition against MINUSTAH” told us. “They terrorize the people in the poor neighborhoods, they say they are here to help the people of Haiti who are in misery, and their sole objective is to support the multinationals and the bourgeoisie in Haiti.

Our delegation learned how militarization is often justified as providing security for humanitarian assistance. For example, 22,000 U.S. troops and an additional 4,000 UN troops were deployed to Haiti following the Jan. 12, 2010 earthquake. But other than a few token efforts, those troops did not generally help to save lives, remove rubble, or rebuild homes. They primarily patrolled streets and guarded businesses, supposedly to prevent “looting.

The UN troops, we were told, have often conducted deadly raids in Haitian shantytowns and against anti-coup demonstrations. In short, MINUSTAH represses the very people it pretends to protect.

Although some people feared that security might degenerate if MINUSTAH leaves, the vast majority of Haitian grassroots groups agreed that MINUSTAH is causing more harm than good.

The UN spends $2 million a day to deploy MINUSTAH in Haiti, while hundreds of thousands of Haitian earthquake victims remain homeless and destitute.

We heard about cases where Haitians had been sexually abused by MINUSTAH troops and how others had contracted cholera, a now epidemic disease which Nepalese UN soldiers brought to Haiti one year ago. Cholera has now killed over 6,500 Haitians and sickened over 420,000.

The police and MINUSTAH don’t come out at night,” said one woman out of several who had been victim of sexual violence in the tent camps. Her statement was quickly affirmed by many nodding heads in the meeting we held with several women’s organizations. It became clear to me through many conversations like these that MINUSTAH troops do not protect women from rape or stop other crimes. On the contrary, we heard testimony of how UN soldiers had committed rape and other sexual violence.

We also heard testimony that MINUSTAH troops have aided in the illegal evictions of tent city residents, violently repressed demonstrations, and attacked some of Haiti’s poorest communities. Far from a neutral party, the UN took the side of the coup-produced government from 2004 to 2006, aiding in the repression of the Lavalas Family, Haiti’s largest political party, and in maintaining that party’s leader, Aristide, in exile. This constitutes repression of Haitian sovereignty, not democracy promotion.

Even the legality of MINUSTAH’s mandate is questionable, we learned from Haitian lawyers. Haiti has no civil war and is no threat to international peace and security. Furthermore, under an agreement signed by Haiti’s illegal coup government and the UN, MINUSTAH troops cannot be tried in Haitian courts for violations of human rights.

However, UN troops have routinely violated Haitian’s human rights. We visited Cité Soleil and were shown the thousands of bullet holes that still pockmark buildings following massacres carried out by MINUSTAH troops from 2005 until 2007.

We were told the story of a young man in Cap Haïtien who was found hanging from a tree after the alleged mistress of a MINUSTAH commander falsely accused him of stealing money; the day after his death, she found her misplaced purse. When a Haitian judge tried to look into the case, the UN brass blocked the investigation.

MINUSTAH’s “presence helps perpetuate their staying,” one woman told us. “They should leave because they are wasting resources and not fixing anything. MINUSTAH money should instead train more police and security forces, and go to creating more jobs.” The overwhelming message we received: MINUSTAH is in Haiti to maintain the status quo, which features a huge chasm between between rich and poor.

SOA Watch helped initiate a recent letter to Latin American goverments, signed by a number of prominent Latin American intellectuals, academics and human rights defenders, demanding MINUSTAH’s immediate withdrawal.

Also, our delegation released the following statement: “Members of U.S.-based human rights, legal, faith-based, and policy organizations call for an end to foreign intervention in Haiti today, including the withdrawal of the UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti, MINUSTAH.

Many Haitians we spoke to were also concerned that the current President Michel Martelly wants to bring back the Haitian army, which Aristide dismantled in 1995. The former Haitian army, which was set up by the U.S. Marines following their 1915-1934 military occupation, was a corrupt and brutal force, responsible for many coups and massacres. It never protected Haiti against foreign states; it only repressed and terrorized the Haitian people.

The new force that Martelly proposes would cost $95 million annually to start. This is money Haiti cannot afford, for a force the Haitan people do not want or need, people told us.

Haitians we spoke with also denounced NGOs that purport to “help the people” but which are, in their view, corrupt and parasitical. The NGOs spend more on overhead and living expense than they do on providing aid. Many of these same NGOs participated in the coup against President Aristide by financing the opposition and writing reports filled with disinformation that contributed to a pro-coup media campaign. Many of these NGOs also support the neoliberal agenda which is destabilizing democracy in Haiti.

Haitians provided great inspiration for continuing our social justice work and organizing here in the U.S.. Their history is inspirational: the only successful slave revolution routed the most powerful army at the time, and then, as a free nation, provided support and safe refuge for anyone fighting slavery and colonialism, including Simon Bolivar, who led the freedom struggles on the South American continent.

This heroic history has instilled a resilience in Haitians that you can see in the faces of women as they balance huge baskets on their heads, or in the faces of children playing soccer in the dust of Cité Soleil.

Despite their near total lack of financial support, many Haitian grassroots organizations continue fighting, interacting and empowering the poorest and most disenfranchised sectors of Haitian society in the pursuit of jobs, water, food, housing, and security. One representative of MOLEGHAF (Movement for Liberty and Equality by Haitians for Fraternity) told us that “there cannot be freedom if people’s basic needs for survival are not respected and met.” Others whom we interviewed repeated this several times during our visit.

No amount of studying or analysis beforehand can prepare you for the situation in Haiti. My conclusions after this, my first trip to Haiti, are clear and straightforward: I support Haitians’ demand for sovereignty and believe they have the right to govern themselves. We must support lawyers working both to bring justice for crimes of the past but also to empower people to change their own futures. We must support student groups working for justice and reparations for victims of MINUSTAH violence and cholera. We must support Haitian journalists working to investigate injustice and give voice to the Haitian people’s concerns. We must support Haitian women's organizations working on issues of rape and gender imbalance. I support the demands from all quarters for “solidarity, not a military force,” solidarity like the doctors provided by Cuba and the petroleum provided by Venezuela. I hope that people from the international grassroots community will join in the call that international money raised for Haiti be spent on Haitian initiatives to benefit the Haitian people, and not on military occupation and economic initiatives that benefit the international and Haitian ruling elite.

I have learned how the U.S. government has worked to undermine rather than to build democracy in Haiti. The strategies to solve these problems are complicated and not mine to determine. But I will continue to support the organizations working with the Haitian people for democracy, justice and sovereignty. 

Becca Polk works at SOA Watch in Washington, DC and can be reached at Becca@soaw.org.

Du 19 au 25 Octobre 2011

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