[The following is an edited version of
Democracy Now’s Sep. 6 interview with Ansel Herz, the
independent journalist and Haïti Liberté collaborator who
broke the story in the international press about recent events
in Port Salut.]
The commander of the Uruguayan Navy’s
United Nations mission in Haiti has been dismissed after the
circulation of a video that allegedly shows Uruguayan occupation
troops sexually assaulting an 18-year-old Haitian man.
The video appears to show four
UN troops in camouflage attacking the young man, named Johnny
Jean. The men are laughing and standing over Jean while he lies
face down on a mattress, his trousers pulled down. Two of the
men can be seen holding his arms behind his back. The uniformed
men speak Spanish, but it’s inaudible. The Uruguayan Defense
Ministry said yesterday it had begun a "repatriation of the
Although it occurred in July, a
graphic cell-phone video of the alleged attack only surfaced in
recent days. This latest episode of abuse follows others by UN
forces. In December 2007, 111 Sri Lankan soldiers were deported
from Haiti following charges of sexual abuse of under-age girls.
In 2005, UN troops went on the rampage in Cité Soleil, one of
the poorest areas in Port-au-Prince, killing at least 23 people,
including children. On Sep. 5, there were demonstrations in Port
Salut, the Southwestern seaside town where the incident is
alleged to have occurred. We go to Port Salut to speak with
journalist Ansel Herz, who broke the story.
Amy Goodman: Yesterday there were
demonstrations in Port Salut. Ansel Herz spoke to a town
resident Katia Daniel at the protest.
Katia Daniel: We are here in support
of Johnny Jean, because of what happened to him. It could happen
to my brother, my sister, or anybody. So, this has to stop...
Those people are here as so-called peacekeepers, but they are
not peacekeepers here... They are not helping us... We don’t
want them here. They have to leave. And we need justice, justice
for Johnny Jean and the others.
Amy Goodman: Ansel, explain what has
unfolded, how you got this videotape, and what has happened
Ansel Herz: In late July – it’s not
totally clear exactly what date it occurred – Johnny Jean was
assaulted in some form inside the base. That’s what the cell
phone video appears to show. And what I’ve understood is that
one of the soldiers who was present in that room was making a
video of this on his cell phone. He then came outside of the
base one day about a week later, and two young Haitian men were
walking by the base. They were playing some music on their cell
phone. The soldier said, "Hey, I like that music. I’d like it
on my phone." He gave the two Haitian men his phone. These
guys were then looking through his phone to see if this soldier
had any good music on it. They saw this video on this soldier’s
cell phone, and one of the young men recognized his own cousin,
Johnny Jean, in that video and was shocked. He transferred that
video, using Bluetooth, over to his friend’s phone. And, at that
point, the video had gotten out.
Those boys later gave that
video to a local journalist and activist. They were later also
in a meeting, they told me, with MINUSTAH [UN Stabilization
Mission in Haiti] officials. They told me that the MINUSTAH
official who was there denied that this had happened. Then they
showed him the video, and he broke out sweating. He was shocked
at what he was seeing.
I arrived here in Port Salut on
Wednesday [Aug. 31] for the first time. When I arrived, Johnny
Jean’s family was making a criminal complaint at the courthouse
about this incident. Time had passed, and Johnny Jean had not
spoken out about this. I think that he was afraid. His mom said
that he stayed in the house for two weeks after it first
happened, and she didn’t know what was going on. And then
somebody was walking by her house and asked her, "Hey, do you
know that MINUSTAH soldiers raped your son?" She was, of
course, shocked, and she questioned him. And then they decided
to go forward with this criminal complaint. They gave me a copy
of the video last Wednesday...
There is a state of tension
between the population and the UN troops, especially in light of
the fact that these troops brought cholera to Haiti. That’s been
documented now by several scientific studies. Nepali UN soldiers
in central Haiti somehow brought the disease with them, which is
endemic in Nepal, and introduced it through negligent waste
disposal into the water system in central Haiti last October.
Cholera has since killed over 6,000 Haitians. It’s still an
epidemic in the country. There were riots last October against
the UN for that.
Amy Goodman: So, right now, the
protests that have taken place through the weekend, what are
people demanding right now?
Ansel Herz: There’s a range of
demands. Some people want MINUSTAH, the entire force in the
country – it’s now about 12,000 soldiers – to simply leave. [MINUSTAH’s
Security Council mandate expires on Oct. 15, and Brazil says it
will withdraw its troops.] That’s a demand I’ve heard elsewhere
in Haiti, as well; it’s not just here in Port Salut. Whether
it’s Cité Soleil, which is a very heavily policed slum in
Port-au-Prince, whether it’s Cap-Haïtien, the northern city
where a young man was hung inside a UN base last year, a
17-year-old, and there was never a clear investigation into what
happened. The UN claimed that he committed suicide. People here
in Port Salut, the opposite end of the country, have spoken
about that to me. That’s in their memory. They know that there
are these cases where things have not been investigated. So,
some people believe that they need to get out of the country
Others are asking that they
transform their mission from one of military so-called
peacekeeping into development – building roads and schools,
helping create the infrastructure that Haiti needs to get back
up on its feet after the earthquake, which happened Jan. 12,
Other people here in Port Salut
are more angry with specific problems that they’re having with
the UN, like a pool of dirty water that has amassed right next
to the sea, right alongside some homes. It’s down the road,
basically, from another Uruguayan UN base here in Port Salut. I
watched this water actually flow out at night, as the residents
told me that it did. This dirty water smells terrible, and it
comes out of the base. You can see the canal or the pipes that
connect the base that come down to this beach area, and then it
just pools up in this foul-looking pool. The residents there say
that this pool attracts mosquitoes and is subjecting them to the
risk of malaria contraction. One man showed me his young girl,
who seemed to have lots of mosquito bites on her arm. So they’re
really upset about that. They’ve said they’ve asked MINUSTAH to
take care of this, and MINUSTAH hasn’t.
There are other allegations
made by the deputy here in Port Salut that women are engaging in
food for sex, although that’s unproven. I haven’t been able to
find evidence of that.
There’s a fourth thing now.
There’s a 17-year-old woman here in Port Salut who has had a
child by one of the UN soldiers. Her name is Rosemina Joseph.
She’s 17 and she showed me photos of the Uruguayan soldier. His
name is Julio. She has a photo with him attending her birthday
party. She’s nine months pregnant, and she’s about to give birth
this month, she believes Sep. 20, with his child. She doesn’t
feel like he’s supporting her the way he should. She doesn’t
know if she has the money to pay for the services she’ll need
when she gives birth. According to her, this was consensual but
she is a minor, and that obviously goes against the regulations
that the UN soldiers have.
She’s not the only one who’s engaged in sexual
relations with the UN soldiers here. There are two other women
that I’ve met now. One is named Narlande Azar. She’s 22. And
another is named Odette. These are very poor women. They don’t
really have steady work. Narlande and Odette both have had
children. One of them is a toddler, six months old, and the
other is a little bit older, two years old. They’re
light-skinned. You can see that they have hair which comes from
a light-skinned person. So there are a range of complaints here
in Port Salut against the UN soldiers.