Wednesday, November 24, 2010
UN labels Haitian protestors “criminals”
Edmond Mulet, the head of the UN Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH), issued a press release on November 18 ( http://minustah.org/?p=27786 ) labeling Haitian protestors as “criminals”. This press release is the latest insult in an increasingly strained relationship between the Haitian people and the UN Mission.
Mr. Mulet showed an extraordinary lack of cultural sensitivity to the Haitian people by issuing his release on that date which marks the day of the Battle of Vertieres (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Vertières ), which marks the battle won on that day against the French occupiers. This day may not mean anything to Mr. Mulet, but it is very significant to the eight million Haitians who live in a free republic today as a result of our ancestors fight against slavery and oppression. To issue the release on that day is a special kind of political insult to the Haitian people.
But more importantly, it is astounding that a UN spokesperson would label peaceful protestors as “criminals”. Peaceful protest is a fundamental principle of democracy. Thousands of Haitians have been taking to the streets for the past week to vent frustration against a myriad of issues, including the corruption of the Haitian government, the lack of results in the earthquake recovery effort, the UN role in the cholera epidemic, and the upcoming electoral coup being orchestrated by President Preval. The protests have been heated – to be sure – but protestors are unarmed. By no means does this meet the definition of a criminal act.
The Haitian people have lived in inhumane conditions since January 12. Private citizens and the international community to help with the disaster and emergency response and to rebuild Haiti donated more than $4 billion. Ten months later, rubble remains in the street and more than 1.7 million people live in 1,350 makeshift tent cities with no electricity, sanitation or regular access to food or healthcare.
UN fires on protestors
Why was this offensive press release issued? The UN needed to get in front of a story and yet another controversial action. On November 17-18, UN troops fired on unarmed demonstrators in Cap Haitien (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wihc8fSGiXk ). In an effort to frame the story, Mr. Mulet hastened to issue the press release and go on the offensive.
Haitian citizens have absolutely no recourse but peaceful protest. On the one hand, they live under a corrupt and inept regime focused only on retaining power by rigging the upcoming elections robbing them of their right to choose new leadership for their ailing country. And on the other hand, the international community, led by the UN, has failed to make any progress over the past 10 months and has only supported the corrupted electoral process despite overwhelming evidence that the fix is in.
Firing on demonstrators is not the action of a peacekeeping force; these actions verge on the behavior of foreign occupiers. At this point, it is difficult to see how Haitians will come to trust the UN and impossible to see how the UN will defend this story once it’s publicized.
UN defies calls for cholera investigation
The simmering tensions with the UN reached a head when it became know that all evidence points to the Nepalese base of MINUSTAH being the source of the cholera outbreak (for a full summary of the evidence see: http://solutionshaiti.blogspot.com/2010/11/cholera-in-haiti-is-united-nations.html and see http://www.miamiherald.com/2010/11/19/v-fullstory/1934414/un-worries-its-troops-caused-cholera.html . Protests have centered on this issue and broken out throughout the country. The UN has steadfastly denied the charges and remained firm that identifying the source of the outbreak is merely a distraction. And, for good measure, they impugned the Haitian culture as being rife with rumor mongering dismissing these claims as nothing but the latest rumors to sweep through the country. Nothing could be further from the truth. The UN is merely concerned with preserving its funding and reputation.
Haitians in the Mirebalais region obtained photographic evidence showing UN contractors dumping sewage from the Nepalese base of MINUSTAH into a tributary of the Artibonite River, a main source of drinking water for many of the tent camps.
Furthermore, there is video evidence of Nepalese soldiers covering up the trenches connecting their toilets to the tributary (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gk-2HyQHUZ0&feature=player_embedded ). The same thing can happen in Fort Liberte in the North East Department where the sewage of the UN base was dumped in the Bassin Poisson of Fort Liberte Lac (see pictures below). The soldiers of that base are from Chile and Nepal. These Nepalese soldiers in the North might be also carrying the cholera bacteria.
The US CDC determined that the strain of cholera in Haiti is of South Asian origin. See: http://www.cdc.gov/media/pressrel/2010/r101101.html We know that six months prior to the cholera outbreak in Haiti, Kathmandu experienced a cholera outbreak. There are no other troops from the South Asia region currently stationed in Haiti and unlikely that there are any South Asian aid workers currently in Haiti. And, Nepalese troops arrived in Haiti shortly before the cholera outbreak.
Suspicious information about medical test results were leaked by MINUSTAH as unofficial evidence that tests had been conducted on the soldiers. The tests were supposedly conducted by CEDIMAT, a medical organization from the Dominican Republic, which has worked for MINUSTAH since 2004. Until now it’s not clear whether or not the Nepalese soldiers have been tested. The Dominican doctor, Maximo Rodriguez, an obesity specialist, was supposed to be in charge of administering the tests and admittedly has no expertise with infectious diseases. Further, according to several epidemiologists interviewed by the Associated Press, his laboratory is incapable of conducting such tests. The leaked testing report gives the name of the soldier, identifies his employer as MINUSTAH, and notes that he is a 40-year-old male.
And finally, a Swedish diplomat went on the record about the Nepalese soldiers being the source of the outbreak in Haiti: (http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/articleshow/6945229.cms?prtpage=1).
In the face of this evidence, the UN denies that there is conclusive proof that their Nepalese troops are the source of the outbreak. With tensions already simmering against the UN after a series of controversies, this gross mismanagement of the issue brought the tensions to head and resulted in a series of angry protests throughout the country.
Their mismanagement of this issue in the first place by failing to put in place proper controls has resulted in the introduction of cholera into an already desperate situation, but their refusal to acknowledge and deal with the source of the outbreak is egregious. Why is it important to establish where the cholera originated? Medically it helps provide more effective treatment and could prevent more deaths. But the cost of dealing with this disease is significant and it is unclear now who is responsible for incurring those costs. It is estimated that it will cost $5-10 billion to treat and contain the outbreak over the next several years. Where will that money come from? Will that come from the $10 billion that the international community pledged to help rebuild the country? Or will the Haitian people have to pay for this? This is a significant issue that the UN is hoping to defer. Haitians should not be saddled with these costs, particularly if it comes at the expense of rebuilding the country. In the US when BP was responsible for the worst oil spill in history, the US government held them accountable. BP acknowledged their responsibility and set up a US$20 billion fund to help the victims the disaster. Why shouldn’t the Haitian government be able to hold the UN accountable?
HIRC awards no-bid contracts
Meanwhile, rebuilding is at an almost total standstill. Rubble remains in the streets and there has been no effort to find more permanent housing solutions for the 1.7 million homeless people. At a recent press conference, Bill Clinton, the UN Special Envoy to Haiti and co-chair of the newly formed Haitian Interim Recovery Commission (HIRC) pleaded for patience while they work through an action plan and a strategy for the long-term development of Haiti (link).
So far, only 23% of the money has been committed. Of that $200 million has been awarded to foreign contractors in no-bid contracts. What does awarding foreign companies lucrative contracts do for Haiti in the long term? Does it build capacity in-country? Does it enrich the local economy? Several commentators are starting to assert that the rebuilding is merely charity for profit (http://www.prevalhaiti.com/messages.php/25145). After the round the clock Haiti coverage in the wake of the disaster in January, there has been only the most minor media attention to the glacial pace of rebuilding.
UN track record in Haiti
For overall context, it is worthwhile to review the UN’s track record in Haiti. Since 2004, the UN has spent $4 billion maintaining a mission in Haiti -- most of the funding coming from the US taxpayers. There is almost nothing to show for this expenditure. No schools, hospitals or roads were built. After six years, the country remains as unstable as it was the day they set up shop. Instead, there has been a string of controversies.
MINUSTAH suffered heavy losses during the earthquake. A significant percentage of their employees were killed and their headquarters collapsed. This was shocking. Since October 2002, the UN knew that Haiti sat on two fault lines and faced the imminent possibility that an earthquake would hit the country, but failed to make any preparations for such an event (http://www.bme.gouv.ht/alea%20sismique/Alea_sismique%20HAITI.pdf).
In 2007, members of MINUSTAH were implicated in a corruption scandal with Haiti’s Groupe de Bourdon business cartel. The Groupe de Bourdon bribed MINUSTAH officials to secure the lucrative $10 million MINUSTAH oil import contract (http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/12/17/AR2007121701914.html).
In 2008, UN soldiers from Sri Lanka soldiers were found to be exploiting Haitian women and paying for sex. They were rushed out of the country to avoid having to face charges in Haiti (http://www.desivideonetwork.com/view/rwp7kfp39/bbc-news-srilanka-army-sexually-abuse-100s-haiti-tamil-women/). Venezuelans soldiers did the exact same thing in 2010. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mNt1gChaELA&feature=player_embedded). Haitian women never received justice.
Then there was the recent cover up of the murder of 16-year-old Gerard Gilles in Cap Haitien, whose death was made to look like a suicide by MINUSTAH soldiers (http://reseaucitadelle.blogspot.com/2010/09/justice-pour-gerald-jean-gilles-tue-par.html). The MINUSTAH mission wrote to the Minister of Justice to seek diplomatic immunity from being called into the court system to answer questions about this crime. Haitian Judge Heidi Hanabi refused to honor their request and called in the UN personnel responsible (http://solutionshaiti.blogspot.com/2010/09/weekly-haiti-electoral-update-5-by.html). This week, MINUSTAH soldiers shot teargas at the judge’s house as retribution according to many citizens presumably in an effort to intimidate him. (http://reseaucitadelle.blogspot.com/2010/11/cap-haitien-le-juge-heidi-fortune.html)
In 2009, it was widely known and reported that President Preval and his INITE coalition rigged the April and June legislative elections. Rodol Pierre, Vice President of the Haitian Electoral Council at that time, provided the MINUSTAH with documents and evidence supporting these claims, which were ignored by Mr. Mulet (http://lenouvelliste.com/article.php?PubID=&ArticleID=72369). In fact, there was no mention of any electoral manipulation by the ruling party, INITE, in MINUSTAH’s September 2009 report to the Secretary General of the UN (http://daccess-dds-ny.un.org/doc/UNDOC/GEN/N09/494/51/PDF/N0949451.pdf?OpenElement ) .
Since the beginning of the 2010 electoral process, MINUSTAH has remained silent about the evidence of violations of the electoral law, the laws of Haiti, and the handling of the electoral process by President Preval, the Group de Bourdon and Preval’s INITE party. By remaining silent, the UN has essentially guaranteed the illegality of the upcoming elections.
And finally, for protesting against these injustices and the abysmal state of the country, Haitians have been fired upon and killed this month (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wihc8fSGiXk).
The UN’s role in Haiti needs serious scrutiny and an in-depth investigation. Additionally, the head of MINUSTAH, Mr. Mulet should be investigated for presiding over this failed mission. At this point, Mr. Mulet and his MINUSTAH are actually harming the country, and Haiti would be better off without them. There are too many dire mistakes and controversies for them to continue to operate in Haiti without serious oversight and restructuring. If they cannot clean up their act – they should withdraw.