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Haiti: Relief and Reconstruction

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Explosive New Report Accuses UN Troops of Sexual Assault--Will This Lead to Greater Pressure for Withdrawal? Print
Friday, 02 September 2011 22:44

(updated below)

ABC News
 released an explosive report today which appears to confirm one of many allegations that Haitians have been making for weeks regarding gross sexual misconduct by Uruguayan peacekeeping forces who participate in the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH). Journalist Ansel Herz, reporting from Port Salut, uncovered a disturbing scene recorded on a cell phone video, showing the Spanish-speaking troops in sky-blue hats and military fatigues laughing as they pin an 18-year-old Haitian youth down on a mattress on the floor, and--as a photograph captured from the video seems to suggest--sexually assault him.

According to the ABC article, Uruguayan Navy Lieutenant Nicolas Casariego confirmed that the video was real, but dismissed charges of assault, construing the incident as a nonsexual "game" of "bullying." However, a medical certificate filed with the court in Haiti and acquired by ABC News belies his interpretation of video's the events: the examiner asserted that the alleged victim was beaten and sustained "injuries consistent with having been sexually assaulted." When interviewed, the youth described being "snatched from behind as he walked by the U.N. base." The young man's mother, a street merchant, stated that he "had stayed in his bed during about two weeks but he never told me what was wrong with him. We're humiliated...After I saw the video, I couldn't stop crying."

This latest episode may further amplify the pressure that is already mounting on Latin American countries involved in the U.S.-led MINUSTAH occupation of Haiti to withdraw from the country. Uruguay, which according to ABC News has 1,100 troops stationed in Haiti, had been facing weeks of embarrassing allegations of malfeasance even before this video was released. According to Uruguyan press, in mid-August Uruguayan Undersecretary of Defense Jorge Menéndez confirmed the launch of investigations into accusations that members of the contingent were "involved in prostitution based on sexual relations with disadvantaged children" [translated]. A member of a Port Salut community group denounced the alleged activity, citing as "worst of all" the fact that the peacekeepers "take photographs of naked children on their phones to show the other soldiers" [translated]. The group also criticized MINUSTAH's creation of a sewage disposal system that emits bad odor into the area--a cause for alarm, considering that new scientific evidence definitively places responsibility for the 2010 introduction of the cholera bacterium into Haiti on UN troops from Nepal stationed in Mirebalais. The contamination of Haiti's Artibonite river with UN troops' improperly treated waste was the likely cause of the outbreak, which has killed over 6,000 Haitians to date.

While largely focusing on one particular case of purported sexual assault, ABC News does seem to independently corroborate these complaints raised in the Uruguayan news media: "Sinal Bertrand, a Haitian parliamentary deputy from the Port Salut area, said he began talks with U.N. officials last week about other allegations against the soldiers by residents of Port Salut, ranging from sexually exploiting young women to environmentally polluting the area." ABC also interviewed a local mechanic in Port Salut who denies that the troops provide more security: "They aren't useful to us at all...They just go back and forth to the beach, nothing more here in Port Salut. They just check out the young girls."

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As US Charge D’Affairs, Clinton Bush Haiti Fund VP Green Lighted Assault on Slum Despite “Inevitable …civilian casualties" Print
Wednesday, 31 August 2011 11:47

A January 2006 cable recently made available by Wikileaks describes Haitian business leaders’ efforts to pressure MINUSTAH to crack down on slums, in particular Cite Soleil (site of the July 5, 2005 operation that resulted in dozens of unarmed civilian deaths and injuries, including of children). In the cable, then-Charge d’Affairs to the post-coup interim regime (and now Executive Vice President for the Clinton Bush Haiti Fund), Timothy Carney, describes how the business leaders also “pleaded” with him for more ammunition for the police:

¶2.  (SBU)  SUMMARY:  Leaders of the Haitian business community told Charge that they would call a general strike for Monday, January 9 to protest MINUSTAH,s ineffectiveness in countering the recent upswing of violence and kidnappings. Representatives will also meet with UNSRSG [Special Representative to the UN Secretary General] Juan Gabriel Valdez to pressure him to take action against the criminal gangs.  They also pleaded with the Charge for more ammunition for the police.  Charge told the group to be ready to assist Cite Soleil immediately after a MINUSTAH operation, if it were to take place, and countered that the problem of the police was not a a lack of ammunition, but a lack of skills and training.  Clearly, the private sector is worried about the recent upsurge in violence.  END SUMMARY.

The cable describes how the business leaders (Reginald Boulos, President of the Haitian Chamber of Commerce and Industry; Rene-Max Auguste, President of the American Chamber of Commerce; Gladys Coupet, President of the bankers’ association, and Carl Auguste Boisson, President of the petroleum distributors’ association) wanted MINUSTAH to systematically sweep through Cite Soleil, one of Haiti’s poorest slums:

¶5.  (SBU)  Representatives of the private sector will also meet one-on-one with UNSRSG Juan Gabriel Valdez to pressure him personally to take action against the criminal gangs in Cite Soleil.  Boulos argued that MINUSTAH could take back the slum if it were to work systematically, section by section, in securing the area.  Immediately after MINUSTAH secured Cite Soleil, Boulos said that he and other groups were prepared to go in immediately with social programs and social spending.  NOTE:  Boulos has been active in providing social programs in Cite Soleil for many years.  END NOTE.

Carney warned them that this would “inevitably cause unintended civilian casualties”. But rather than a warning that such an operation should be out of the question, considering the “inevitable” civilian deaths it would entail, Carney merely cautioned that the business leaders should follow up the raid with “social programs and social spending”, presumably to calm the expected outrage among Cite Soleil residents:

¶6.  (SBU)  The Charge cautioned that such an operation would inevitably cause unintended civilian casualties given the crowded conditions and flimsy construction of tightly packed housing in Cite Soleil.  Therefore, the private sector associations must be willing to quickly assist in the aftermath of such an operation, including providing financial support to families of potential victims.  Boulos agreed.
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U.S. Embassy: “Without a UN-sanctioned …force, we would be getting far less help …in managing Haiti.” Print
Wednesday, 24 August 2011 14:21

As a new child sex abuse scandal involving Uruguayan MINUSTAH troops unfolds (without coverage in the English language media), and new scientific studies emerge linking MINUSTAH to the origin of the current cholera epidemic, recently Wikileaked cables from the U.S. Embassy in Port-au-Prince spell out MINUSTAH’s importance to the U.S. government in a more direct fashion than probably any previously released documents. A confidential October 2008 cable from then-Ambassador Janet Sanderson begins:

The UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti is an indispensable tool in realizing core USG policy interests in Haiti. Security vulnerabilities and fundamental institutional weaknesses mean that Haiti will require a continuing - albeit eventually shrinking - MINUSTAH presence for at least three and more likely five years. Haiti needs the UN presence to fill the security gap caused by Haiti's fledgling police force's lack of numbers and capabilities. It needs MINUSTAH to partner with the USG and other donors in institution-building.

It goes on to state:

MINUSTAH is a remarkable product and symbol of hemispheric cooperation in a country with little going for it. There is no feasible substitute for this UN presence. It is a financial and regional security bargain for the USG. USG civilian and military assistance under current domestic and international conditions, alone or in combination with our closest partners, could never fill the gap left by a premature MINUSTAH pullout.

The cable expands on these points later on, noting in detail how the U.S. government benefits from Latin American and other nations’ contributions to the Mission in funds and troops:

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Illegal Evictions and Violence Are No Solution to Haiti’s Post-Earthquake Housing Problem Print
Monday, 22 August 2011 13:57

CEPR Co-Director Mark Weisbrot has filed his latest Guardian column from Port-au-Prince. It highlights ongoing forced evictions following a tense stand-off over the weekend between residents of Camp Barbancourt 17 and actor Danny Glover and other activists, on the one side, and the camp’s landlord, on the other.

Mark writes:

Port-au-Prince, Haiti --  At this sprawling IDP (Internally Displaced Persons) camp of battered tents and tarps here in the neighborhood of Barbancourt in Port-au-Prince, a confrontation was underway. A landlord who claimed ownership of the land on which some 75 families had been living since the earthquake was very angry. A crowd of hundreds had gathered and a man in his thirties said that the landlord had beaten him and destroyed his tent.

“These people have been here for 19 months and I want them out of here!” the landlord shouted.  He was yelling in English now because a group of activists had arrived, including the actor and human rights campaigner Danny Glover. They were defending the camp residents, but the landlord wasn’t having it.

Meanwhile a group of heavily armed troops from MINUSTAH – the UN military force that has occupied the country for the past seven years – arrived on the scene.  They were tense and sweating in the morning heat, and as the standoff continued and the crowd spilled into the street, another contingent of troops arrived, bringing the total to about fifteen.

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Not Doing Enough: Unnecessary Sickness and Death from Cholera in Haiti Print
Thursday, 18 August 2011 14:30

A new paper from the Center for Economic and Policy Research argues that cholera treatment and prevention efforts in Haiti have fallen woefully behind, leading to thousands of preventable deaths, even though the dramatic rise in new cases this spring and summer was entirely predictable. The paper, “Not Doing Enough: Unnecessary Sickness and Death from Cholera in Haiti”, by researchers Jake Johnston and Keane Bhatt, argues that it is not too late to bring the 10-month old cholera epidemic under control and save thousands of lives by ramping up treatment and prevention efforts. Below is the Executive Summary of the paper, to read it in its entirety, click here.

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A Brief History of Failure in Post-Quake Haiti Print
Tuesday, 16 August 2011 10:11

A 11,849-word article by journalist Janet Reitman in the new issue of Rolling Stone provides a sometimes fascinating and always disheartening overview of relief and reconstruction in Haiti since the earthquake. Reitman, who has recently been in the news herself over her new book, Inside Scientology, spent months researching the report, both in the U.S. and in Haiti, and so she is able to cover a good deal of ground. Much of her focus falls on the failings of various initiatives by often prominent individuals and organizations, which often contrast with their public images and their stated goals and intentions. Addressing the role of big NGO’s, for example, Reitman writes

On top of the earthquake, aid workers in Haiti are contending with a cholera crisis, a disease of poverty spread through poor sanitation and contaminated drinking water. These are all things that NGOs like the Red Cross have expertise in fighting, but larger structural issues often trump their best intentions. Because international NGOs get most of their money from large government agencies, they are beholden to the broader policy imperatives of their funders. "The big problem is that most NGOs are only really accountable to their donors, when we should really be accountable to the people we're trying to serve," says Dr. Louise Ivers, senior health and policy adviser for Partners in Health, a Boston-based NGO that has worked in Haiti for 25 years. Some organizations, she notes, "exist only to write grant proposals that respond to specific donor requests. If your mandate is just to follow the money, then the money determines what happens."

CHF International is one NGO that comes in for scrutiny further on:

[American field-office director for CHF International, Ann] Lee admits that [CHF], a vast NGO with relief operations in 25 countries around the world, has never done "micro-urban planning," as she calls it — nor have the half dozen or so other NGOs planning similar projects in Port-au-Prince. "It's a complete learning experience for all of us," she says. All that's needed to make the project a reality, she adds, are more funds.

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MINUSTAH: Mission (Almost) Accomplished? Print
Thursday, 11 August 2011 16:29

As was reported in the Brazilian and other Latin American press, but generally ignored by English language media (save for brief mentions by Americas Quarterly and Haiti Libre), new Brazilian Defense Minister Celso Amorim made public remarks the other day regarding a possible draw down of Brazilian troops from MINUSTAH.

As Haiti Libre and other outlets have noted, Amorim’s remarks are significant in part because Amorim was “the 'artisan' of the participation of Brazil in the Minustah [UN Mission for Stabilization in Haiti]” during his previous tenure as Foreign Minister.

Haiti Libre goes on to report that

Already in 2010, as Foreign Minister under the government Lula, Amorim expressed the necessity of replacing the military presence in Haiti by engineers and social workers to collaborate in the development and the economy of Haiti.

Amorim’s remarks are the latest sign that an end to the UN Mission, so widely unpopular in Haiti, may soon be on the horizon. As we’ve noted in various earlier posts, MINUSTAH has been controversial from its start, when it often appeared to aid police in their post-coup crackdown on Fanmi Lavalas members, social movement activists, and others in the wake of the 2004 U.S.-backed coup. The Blue Helmets have since killed innocent civilians in violent raids on slums, attacked journalists, and seen over 100 troops expelled from Haiti over child prostitution and related charges. These are just the documented crimes, which are supplemented by other suspicious incidents. But the Mission’s popularity undoubtedly hit a new low following the cholera outbreak last October, which quickly was traced back to a MINUSTAH camp in Mirebalais.

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Heavy Rains Threaten to Bring More Cholera Cases; What to Do About It? Print
Thursday, 04 August 2011 16:18

Haiti may thankfully be spared the heavy impact of Tropical Storm Emily, as the storm seems to have weakened as it hit Hispaniola’s mountains. Health workers and others have been tracking the storm’s progress with trepidation, as it was heavy rains in June that led to a resurgence in cholera cases. Unfortunately, even a weakened storm may still bring strong rains, and more cholera. The PBS Newshour's Talea Miller reported yesterday:

A tropical storm bearing down on Haiti threatens to make daily life more miserable for tens of thousands homeless still living in tent camps and could deepen the cholera epidemic that has already killed more than 5,800.

Tropical Storm Emily was on a path toward the Dominican Republic and Haiti Wednesday, and forecasts predicted heavy rains and possible flooding -- perfect conditions for the spread of water-borne diseases like cholera.

"[The weather service] is talking about possibly 10 inches in Haiti. That's a huge amount of water," said Julie Sell, spokesperson for the Haiti mission at the American Red Cross. "In a country where people are frequently using the same water sources to bathe, [such as] as a toilet, and to drink, the last thing you want is standing water."

But missing from the report was any mention of the role the U.S. government played in undermining Haiti’s provision of potable water. As described in great detail elsewhere, the U.S. government, under the Bush administration, directed the Inter-American Development Bank, in a highly unusual move, to withhold loans to the Aristide government that would have provided hundreds of millions of dollars for a potable water project, among other purposes. The Aristide administration was even forced to pay interest on the loans, despite their non-disbursal (in other words, the “loans” actually took money from Haiti while offering nothing in return).

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Forced Evictions Continue, Despite Public Opposition from Martelly Print
Tuesday, 02 August 2011 15:28

On July 21, President Martelly declared “my government is against forced evictions,” but as of yet has done little to stop this systematic violation of rights. The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA ) reports that over 125,000 people face the imminent threat of eviction every day. Yesterday, the residents of Camp Django in Delmas protested (click for photos) for their right to adequate shelter and for Martelly to live up to his promises after having faced the constant threat of eviction for months (follow developments on Twitter under #noevictions). In June, Bill Quigley and Jocelyn Brooks of the Center for Constitutional Rights, reported:

Last Saturday, a group of five men, some armed with guns, stormed into the camp and threatened the residents. Four of the men were wearing green t-shirts that read “Mairie de Delmas” (The Office of the Mayor of Delmas).

The Mayor’s men told the people that they would soon destroy their tents. They bragged they would mistreat people in a manner worse than “what happened at Carrefour Aero port,” referring to the violent unlawful eviction of a displacement camp at that location by the same mayor and police less than a month ago.

The Mayor’s men pushed their way through the camp, collecting the names and identification numbers of heads of household and marking tents with red spray painted numbers.

When the men pounded on the wooden door of the tarp covered shelter where 25-year-old pregnant Marie lived with her husband, she tried to stop them from entering.  Marie tried to explain that her husband was not home.  But the leader of the group, JL, violently slammed open the wooden door of her tent into her stomach, causing her to fall hard against the floor on her back.

Three days later, Marie remained in severe pain and bed ridden, worried sick about her baby.


Jeena Shah, a BAI attorney, arrived at Camp Django while government agents were still there. Jeena asked JL [the leader of the group] who had sent his group to Camp Django and why they had marked the tents with numbers. JL was evasive, repeating over and over that “the government” had sent him. Finally he stated that “the National Palace,” a reference to current President Michel Martelly, had sent him.
Last Thursday, Jeena Shah gave an update on Camp Django:
At around 9 am this morning, two truckloads of police officers along with one of the mayor’s agents returned to the camp.  By this time, Camp Django residents had begun protesting just outside of their camp.  The police officers proceeded to beat camp residents with their batons and boots and arrest them.  Several victims required medical attention.  One family’s tent – that of the camp leadership’s spokesperson, who had spoken out against the Mayor’s past threats against the camp – was ransacked by police officers as they searched for her to arrest her.  The mayor’s agent and police officers were unaccompanied by a judicial officer, and neither did they present any judicial order to evict the residents, as required under Haitian law.
What happened to Camp Django was not an isolated incident. In mid-July some 500 families were forcibly evicted, illegally, from the area around Sylvio Cator Stadium in Port-au-Prince. The UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights characterized the eviction as not respecting the right to adequate housing and added that “the former camp residents will be much more vulnerable than they were in the camp.” Amnesty International added that:
“Port-au-Prince's Mayor must stop these illegal forced evictions of earthquake victims until adequate alternative housing can be found for all the displaced families,” said Javier Zuñiga, Special Advisor at Amnesty International.

“By pushing families out in the street for a third time since last year’s earthquake, Haitian authorities have failed to protect their rights to an adequate standard of living and basic shelter.”
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Inside the Haiti Reconstruction Fund Annual Report Print
Tuesday, 26 July 2011 16:22

Last Friday, as the board of the Interim Haiti Recovery Commission (IHRC) was meeting, the Haiti Reconstruction Fund (HRF) released their first annual report. (Note: we obtained a copy by asking one of the report’s media contacts for one; the report itself unfortunately has still not been made publicly available.) The report, which received cursory but positive media coverage, touted the high level of aid disbursement and the flexibility with which the HRF can operate, while rightly noting that the wider international community was failing to keep up. As AFP reported:

At an international donors conference held in New York in March 2010, 55 donors pledged $4.58 billion in grants in 2010 and 2011 for rebuilding the country. But as of June, donors had disbursed $1.74 billion, just 38 percent of the pledges, the World Bank said.
In releasing the report, the HRF also pointed to major reconstruction projects, such as the Neighborhood Housing Reconstruction Project as “highlights of the work done so far”.

A more thorough look at the annual report, however, shows that although the HRF has disbursed a significant portion of the funds raised, much of that money remains unspent in the hands of partner agencies. In fact, the World Bank, which is the administrator of the Neighborhood Housing Reconstruction Project, has yet to disburse a single dollar for the project, while the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) has yet to disburse any aid that has been transferred from the HRF.
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