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Haiti: Relief and Reconstruction

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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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Not Doing Enough: Unnecessary Sickness and Death from Cholera in Haiti Print

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

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

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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