[News] How MINUSTAH Hurts Haiti
news at freedomarchives.org
Tue Oct 25 14:12:18 EDT 2011
From: haiti action <action.haiti at gmail.com>
Tune in to FLASHPOINTS, 94.1 FM tonight at 5pm
(Oct 25) to hear Becca Polk, School of the
Americas Watch, and Marilyn Langlois, Haiti
Action Committee and Haiti Emergency Relief Fund,
speak with Kevin Pina about their recent trips to Haiti.
Reflections Following A Delegation: How MINUSTAH Hurts Haiti
by Becca Polk, from
Liberte Oct 19-25, 2011
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 nations dignity and sovereignty.
SOA Watch monitors and protests the activities of
the U.S. Armys School of the Americas (SOA),
based at Ft. Benning, Georgia, where the officers
of repressive Latin American military and police
forces, including Haitis, 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
détat (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 Haitis people,
but rather for foreign companies (including most
of the large NGOs) and Haitis 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 dont 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
womens 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 Haitis 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,
Haitis largest political party, and in
maintaining that partys leader, Aristide, in
exile. This constitutes repression of Haitian
sovereignty, not democracy promotion.
Even the legality of MINUSTAHs 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 Haitis 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
Haitians 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.
MINUSTAHs 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 governments, signed by a number of
prominent Latin American intellectuals, academics
and human rights defenders, demanding MINUSTAHs
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 peoples 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 peoples 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 <mailto:Becca at soaw.org>Becca at soaw.org.
522 Valencia Street
San Francisco, CA 94110
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