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Haiti: Relief and Reconstruction

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With Funding for Cholera Falling Short, Calls for Compensation from MINUSTAH Increase Print

In July, one Haitian fell ill with cholera every minute. In August, after the "second peak" from the May/June rains receded, that rate has slowed and yet still one Haitian falls ill every two minutes.  In our report, "Not Doing Enough: Unnecessary Sickness and Death from Cholera in Haiti", we noted that funding was withdrawn from the cholera response right as the rainy season was about to begin, despite the predictable spike in cases from the increased rains. Thankfully, the case load has receded some, as Jacqueline Charles of the Miami Herald pointed out yesterday:

Health experts anticipate that Haiti might experience one more deadly peak before the end of this hurricane season. After that, there are chances that the disease might become endemic in Haiti with frequent peaks over the years.

Recently, health organizations and the Haitian government have sounded the alarm over the lack of funding to combat cholera in Haiti. Al Jazeera's Craig Mauro spoke with Romain Gitenet of the health organization Doctors Without Borders, who explained:

"We just noticed that the funding for cholera is decreasing, and some actor, well some funder, who was giving money, stopped giving money which is something we don't understand."

As NGOs have retreated from the field, Haiti's Ministry of Health has taken over many of their operations and has become stretched thin. As Charles writes:

“Funding is not enough to fight against cholera in the upcoming months,’’ said Dr Gabriel Thimothé, executive director of Haiti’s Health Ministry, which lacks money to provide even basics, such as water at treatment centers.

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Explosive New Report Accuses UN Troops of Sexual Assault--Will This Lead to Greater Pressure for Withdrawal? Print

(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

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

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

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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