[News] Haiti: one more shameful UN betrayal

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Thu Nov 25 14:00:11 EST 2010

Haiti: one more shameful UN betrayal

Cholera is just the latest disaster to be linked 
to the UN in Haiti – and the election won't change the nature of the mission
    * <http://www.guardian.co.uk/profile/peter-hallward>Peter Hallward
    * <http://www.guardian.co.uk/theguardian>The 
Guardian, Tuesday 23 November 2010
Almost everyone now accepts that the United 
Nations brought cholera to Haiti last month. The 
evidence is overwhelming and many experts 
(including the head of Harvard University's 
microbiology department, cholera specialist 
Mekalanos) made up their minds to that effect several weeks ago.

Poverty and a lack of rudimentary infrastructure 
compels much of Haiti's population to drink 
untreated water, but there has been no cholera 
there for decades. Haitians have no experience 
with – and therefore litttle resistance to – the 
disease. All the bacterial samples taken froom 
Haitian patients are identical and 
a strain endemic in southern Asia. Cholera broke 
out in Nepal over the summer, and in mid-October 
a new detachment of Nepalese UN troops arrived at 
their Haitian base in Mirebalais, near the 
Artibonite river. A few days later Haitians 
living downstream of the base started to get sick 
and the disease spread rapidly throughout the 
region. On 27 October, 
visited Mirebalais and found evidence that 
untreated waste from UN latrines was pouring 
directly into an Artibonite tributary.

By early November, Mekalanos couldn't see "any 
way to avoid the conclusion that an unfortunate 
and presumably accidental introduction of the 
organism occurred" as a result of UN troops. 
Mekalanos and others also refute UN claims that 
identification of the source should be a low public health priority.

Probably as a result of UN negligence, 
than 1,200 people are already dead and 20,000 
infected, and the toll is set to rise rapidly 
over the coming weeks. So is the number and 
intensity of popular protests against this latest 
in a series of UN crimes and misadventures in 
Haiti in recent years, which include scores of 
killings and hundreds of alleged rapes.

Rather than examine its role in the epidemic, 
however, the UN mission has opted for disavowal 
and obfuscation. UN officials have refused to 
test Nepalese soldiers for the disease or to 
conduct a public investigation into the origins 
of the outbreak. Rather than address the concerns 
of an outraged population, the agency has 
preferred to characterise the fresh wave of 
protests as a "politically motivated" attempt to 
destabilise the country in the runup to 
elections on 28 November. Protesters have been 
met with tear gas and bullets; so far at least three have been killed.

So far, in fact, so normal. The truth is that the 
whole UN mission in Haiti is based on a violent, 
bald-faced lie. It says it is in Haiti to support 
democracy and the rule of law, but its only real 
achievement has been to help transfer power from 
a sovereign people to an unaccountable army.

To understand this requires a little historical 
knowledge. The basic political problem in Haiti, 
from colonial through post-colonial to 
neo-colonial times, has always been much the 
same: how can a tiny and precarious ruling class 
secure its property and privileges in the face of 
mass destitution and resentment? The Haitian 
elite owes its privileges to exclusion, 
exploitation and violence, and only 
quasi-monopoly control of violent power allows it 
to retain them. This monopoly was amply 
guaranteed by the US-backed Duvalier 
dictatorships through to the mid 1980s, and then 
rather less amply by the military dictatorships 
that succeeded them (1986-90). But the Lavalas 
mobilisation for democracy, which began in the 
1980s, threatened that monopoly and with it those 
privileges. In such a situation, only an army can 
be relied upon to guarantee the security of the status quo.

Haiti's incompetent but vicious armed forces, 
established as a delegate of US power, dominated 
the country for most of the 20th century. After 
surviving a brutal military coup in 1991, Haiti's 
first democratically elected government – led by 
president Jean-Bertrand Aristide – fi finally 
demobilised this hated army in 1995; the great 
majority of his compatriots celebrated the 
occasion. Lawyer Brian Concannon recalls it as 
"the most important step forward for human rights 
since emancipation from France". In 2000, 
Aristide was re-elected, and his 
Lavalas party won an overwhelming majority. This 
re-election raised the prospect, for the first 
time in modern Haitian history, of genuine 
political change in a situation in which there 
was no obvious extra-political mechanism – no army – to prevrevent it.

The tiny Haitian elite and their allies in the 
US, France and Canada were threatened by the 
prospect of popular empowerment, and took 
elaborate steps to undermine the Lavalas government.

In February 2004, Aristide's second 
administration was overthrown in another 
disastrous coup, conducted by the US and its 
allies with support from ex-Haitian soldiers and 
rightwing leaders of the Haitian business 
community. A US puppet was imposed to replace 
Aristide, in the midst of savage reprisals 
against Lavalas supporters. Since no domestic 
army was available to guarantee "security", a UN 
"stabilisation force" was sent in at the behest of both the US and France.

The UN has been providing this substitute army 
ever since. At the behest of the US and its 
allies, it arrived in Haiti in June 2004. Made up 
of troops and police drawn from countries all 
over the world, it operates at an annual cost 
that is close to twice the size of Aristide's 
entire pre-coup budget. Its main mission, in 
effect, has been to pacify the Haitian people, 
and make them accept the coup and the end of 
their attempt to establish genuine democratic 
rule. Few Haitians are likely to forget what the 
UN has done to accomplish this. Between 2004 and 
2006, it participated in a campaign of repression 
that killed more than a thousand Lavalas 
supporters. It laid siege to the destitute 
pro-Aristide neighbourhood of Cité Soleil in 
and has subsequently contained or dispersed 
popular protests on issues ranging from political 
persecution and privatisation to wages and food 
prices. In the last few months the UN has also 
kept a lid on the growing pressure in the 
capital, Port-au-Prince, for improvement in the 
intolerable conditions still endured by about 1.3 
million people left homeless after 
<http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/haiti>January's earthquake.

Today, cholera or no cholera, the 
priority is to ensure that next week's elections 
go ahead as planned. For Haiti's elite and their 
international allies, these elections offer an 
unprecedented opportunity to bury the Lavalas project once and for all.

The political programme associated with Lavalas 
and Aristide remains overwhelming popular. After 
six years of repression and infighting, however, 
the political leadership of this popular movement 
is more divided and disorganised than ever. Fanmi 
Lavalas itself has simply been 
<http://ijdh.org/archives/13138>barred from 
participation in the election (with hardly a 
whisper of international protest), and from his 
involuntary exile in South Africa, Aristide has 
condemned the ballot as illegitimate. Many if not 
most of the party's supporters are likely to back 
its vigorous call to boycott this latest 
masquerade, as they did in the spring of 2009, 
for senate elections was less than 10%. This time 
around, however, half a dozen politicians 
associated with Lavalas have chosen to run as 
candidates in their own name. They are likely to 
split the vote. Haiti's people will be deprived 
of what has long been their most powerful 
political weapon – their ability to win genuine elections.

Since it is almost guaranteed to have no 
significant political impact, this is one 
election that might well achieve its intended 
result: to reinforce the "security" (and 
inequity) of the status quo, along with the many 
profitable opportunities that a suitably secured 
post-disaster Haiti continues to offer 
international investors and its business elite. 
"This will be an election for nothing," says 
veteran activist 
Elie. Properly managed, it may even provide an 
opportunity for rightwing presidential candidates 
Baker to pursue the goal that has long been at 
the top of their agenda: restoration, with the 
usual "international supervision", of Haiti's own branch of the imperial army.

And if that comes to pass, then when the UN 
eventually leaves Haiti its departure may only 
serve as a transition from one occupying force to 
another, reversing decades of popular sacrifice 
and political effort. In the meantime, though, it 
looks as if the UN may soon have more 
opportunities than ever before to fulfil its mission in Haiti.

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