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Haiti: Relief and Reconstruction

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MINUSTAH: Securing Stability and Democracy from Journalists, Children, and Other Threats Print
Monday, 18 October 2010 16:44

As we noted on Saturday, MINUSTAH, whose mandate is “to protect civilians under imminent threat of physical violence,” and “support …Haitian human rights institutions and groups in their efforts to promote and protect human rights; and to monitor and report on the human rights situation in the country,” among other responsibilities, attacked a group of peaceful demonstrators Friday who were criticizing the UN’s decision to renew MINUSTAH’s mandate for another year. Following the decision, “a coalition of grassroots and political opposition groups took to the streets to call for the end of what they say is an occupying force costing millions but doing little to ensure the security of the general population,” independent reporter Isabeau Doucet writes.

Among the threats MINUSTAH soldiers engaged with at the protest were foreign journalists, as “A reckless UN vehicle pushed a hand full of journalists, including myself and Al Jazeera’s correspondent, into a trash-filled ditch,” Doucet states. Another independent journalist, Ansel Herz, was threatened at gunpoint (click the link to see a photo).

Herz reports that “The protesters were peaceful, except for one bottle thrown at the end.” Nevertheless, as Other Worlds Program Coordinator Beverly Bell describes:

On October 15, according to video footage and to witness Melinda Miles of Let Haiti Live, about 200 people were marching in front of the U.N. logistics base when MINUSTAH forces fired two bullets in the air and leveled their guns at demonstrators. A MINUSTAH vehicle and a second UN car pushed three foreign journalists and at least two Haitian demonstrators into a ditch. Haitian police then began striking demonstrators and journalists, including foreigners Sebastien Davis-VanGelder and Federico Matias, with the butts of their rifles. A policeman bashed his rifle into the mouth of a demonstrator from the Kanarin camp, knocking out his front teeth.
          
“There was no provocation at all. The Haitian police and the private UN security guards were so aggressive. They were just looking to do violence,” said Miles.

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MINUSTAH Breaks Up Anti-MINUSTAH Protest Print
Saturday, 16 October 2010 18:21

The Associated Press and Al-Jazeera both reported yesterday on a protest at the "main U.N. logistics base" following the UN Security Council's decision to extend MINUSTAH's mandate. The protest, which involved around 100 people was broken up by MINUSTAH forces. AP correspondents, who were on the ground, reported that:

U.N. security personnel then emerged from the base. A plainclothes guard struck a protester before a Jordanian soldier with the mission fired a warning shot. AP journalists also saw a Haitian policeman hit protesters with his rifle and a U.N. vehicle push through the crowd, knocking over protesters and journalists.
While Sebastian Walker of Al-Jazeera noted that, "Haitians feel that the presence of [UN] security personnel doesn't offer much in terms of ordinary Haitians living in camps."  
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State Department Dumbfounded by Congressional Concerns Over Haiti's Selection Elections Print
Thursday, 14 October 2010 15:02
The arbitrary exclusion of 14 political parties from Haiti’s November 28 elections is a growing scandal, with a letter from 45 members of Congress sent to Secretary of State Clinton last week stating that the U.S. should not provide funding for elections that do not “include all eligible political parties and ready access to voting for all Haitians, including the displaced.” This in turn has led to increased scrutiny and coverage of the issue from the BBC, Reuters, Agence France Presse, Spanish newswire EFE, and national and local radio broadcasts.

The congressional letter follows a similar statement from over 20 NGO’s last month, not to mention periodic press reports, so the State Department’s lack of a position on the issue is troubling. When pressed on the question last week, State Department spokesperson Mark Toner’s response was even more of a non-answer than P.J. Crowley’s had been when he was asked in September, and, even worse, Toner referred to the party exclusions as “allegations”:
obviously, we want free, fair, democratic, transparent elections to take place in Haiti as well. And we’ll look into these allegations and the letter and comment later. We just -- I’m sure we’ll review it and respond appropriately.
The reporter asking the question pointed out that indeed, this wasn’t the first time the issue had come up:
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Impatient to Profit from Disaster Print
Thursday, 14 October 2010 10:11
Months ago we reported on disaster capitalists that were setting themselves up to profit from the relief and reconstruction in Haiti, among them were many of the same contractors who found themselves surrounded in controversy after Hurricane Katrina. Yesterday The Hill reported on the use of lobbyists by many of these same companies:
A number of construction and disaster-response firms have hired Washington lobbyists to help navigate the contracting process for rebuilding Haiti.
The article reports on the companies' eagerness for U.S. reconstruction funds to be disbursed, not, apparently, out of any humanitarian concern (as no such sentiments are voiced in the article), but because the contractors are eager to make a profit.
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Congress Takes Action for Free and Fair Elections in Haiti Print
Tuesday, 05 October 2010 15:34

Robert Naiman writes today at Huffington Post:

There are many legitimate criticisms to be made of the electoral system in the United States as we know it. But it could be much worse. We could be confronted with the electoral system that Haitians are currently facing in elections scheduled for November 28.

In Haiti, as things are currently run, political parties are completely excluded from participation if the people currently in power don't like them, including Haiti's largest political party, the Fanmi Lavalas party of deposed and exiled former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide.

It is a telling fact of our political-media culture that while American newspapers regularly carry articles, op-eds and editorials raising the alarm about democracy and human rights in countries where the U.S. has little influence, the major U.S. media are virtually silent about extreme violations of democratic rights in Haiti, a country where the U.S. has tremendous influence. (Two rare, praiseworthy exceptions have been the Miami Herald, which last month published this op-ed by Ira Kurzban, and the reporting of the AP's Jonathan Katz.)
Naiman then goes on to point out that part of the U.S. influence comes from the U.S. funding for the elections, already underway, despite these political party exclusions.
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Haitian Elections: Less Parties Allowed, Less Voters Expected Print
Friday, 01 October 2010 10:47
An Inter Press Service article this week reports on widespread discontent with the planned November 28 elections. Surveying people in Port-au-Prince from a variety of socio-economic backgrounds, journalist Judith Scherr reports that
Residents of a number of camps recently told IPS they are neither ready nor willing to participate in the Nov. 28 elections, for which the international community is paying two-thirds of the $29 million cost.
and that
Only the more middle-class people interviewed said they planned to go to the polls.
Scherr describes some IDP’s sentiments, exemplified by a recent demonstration slogan "We are not going to the election in tents. We want housing before elections”, and noting that
In Camp Noailles, just outside Port-au-Prince, no one IPS spoke with planned to vote. A new president should come with plans to bring schools and jobs, "but most people come with a plan that doesn't work," one resident said.
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Deadly Storm Underscores Importance of Rich Nations Living up to Aid Pledges Print
Wednesday, 29 September 2010 15:05
Jonathan Katz reports for the Associated Press on the status of aid the US had pledged for reconstruction efforts in Haiti. The verdict: “Not a cent of the $1.15 billion the U.S. promised for rebuilding has arrived.” Rich nations not living up to their pledges is a topic we have reported on previously, but the effects were recently highlighted when a storm swept through Haiti last week, killing at least five. Although it lasted just 30 minutes, the storm had dire consequences for the displaced earthquake survivors throughout the country. Describing the situation, Jesuit Refugee Service/USA wrote:
In camp Automeca the situation is very dramatic. The people who were not evicted from the camp and forced to relocate two months ago are now living on a very fragile piece of land, on the downhill slope where the latrines were previously located. The camp has become a sea of mud and the air is dominated by a staggering odor left behind by human waste. We found the residents practically nude, scrambling to clean belongings and cut the branches and trunks of fallen trees. The rains and winds had tattered some of the tens and destroyed others. We don’t yet have a firm number on how many were destroyed, but it is much the same as in the rest of the camps – many will not sleep tonight and they have nowhere to go.
The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs reported yesterday that even after some emergency shelter materials (tents and tarps) were delivered, there are still at least 14,000 families who are without even what meager shelter they had before the storm.
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US and France Scold Displaced Haitians and Other Whiners for Being 'Impatient' and 'Unrealistic' Print
Tuesday, 21 September 2010 15:52
Speaking alongside a meeting with Haitian Prime Minister Jean Max Bellerive, Hillary Clinton and French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner addressed the "growing impatience in the Caribbean nation over the slow pace of recovery," reports AFP.

Hillary Clinton said, "Those who expect progress immediately are unrealistic and doing a disservice to the many people who are working so hard." While for his part, Kouchner said that "It's because they have no idea of the immensity of the disaster." These statements echo those that were made against people speaking out against the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan; that to criticize was to undermine or be "unpatriotic" in some way. Yet, it may be the foreign ministers who are unaware of the immensity of the disaster on the ground for the millions of Haitians still homeless nearly 9 months after the earthquake.
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What Happened to Gerald Jean Gilles? Print
Tuesday, 21 September 2010 08:48
September 14, São Paulo based Brasil de Fato reported on the death of 16 year old Gerald Jean Gilles. The paper reports that the death may have been caused by MINUSTAH soldiers in the city of Cap-Haïtien. Thalles Gomes writes for Brasil de Fato (translated by lo-de-alla.org):
“They are suffocating me,” was the cry heard on August 17 by employees of the Henri Cristophe Hotel, in Cap-Haïtien, capital of the Nord department of Haiti. The call for help came from the Formed Police Units base belonging to MINUSTAH, the United Nations Mission for the Stabilization of Haiti. On that same day, Nepalese United Nations soldiers reported that Haitian Gerald Jean Gilles had entered their military base and had hanged himself.

The report issued by the UN did not explain how the young Gerald had managed to get into the military base, tie a rope on the patio and hang himself without any soldiers noticing.

Their version is contested vehemently by Gerald’s family and friends. According to them, the young man had been doing odd jobs for the Nepalese soldiers for some time in exchange for money or food. And the suspicion that Gerald had stolen 200 dollars from one of the soldiers was the reason the Nepalese soldiers tortured and suffocated him to death.
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Selection, or Election? The Monitor Describes the CEP's Troubling Exclusion of Fanmi Lavalas et al Print
Friday, 17 September 2010 11:30
The Christian Science Monitor reported yesterday on the crisis of legitimacy surrounding the Provisional Electoral Council (CEP) in Haiti. CSM writes:
Details of an Aug. 16 meeting between Mr. Préval and members of Haiti’s election commission (CEP) has observers questioning whether the CEP rejected candidates based on politics instead of the Constitution.
The Monitor continues, noting that some allege President Préval personally removed some candidates from the final list, including former U.S. ambassador and Jean’s uncle, Raymond Joseph.

Although the election process has received considerable media coverage, most of it has simply focused on the candidacy of Wyclef Jean and not the larger issues relating to the CEP. As we have written numerous times before, and as described in an open letter from over 20 Haiti and U.S.-based NGO’s to Secretary Clinton this week, the CEP has suffered from a lack of legitimacy well before the current electoral season because of their arbitrary exclusion of Haiti’s most popular party, Fanmi Lavalas, as well as numerous other political parties from last years planned legislative elections.  To the Monitor’s credit however, they also report on the exclusion of the political parties, writing:
The CEP excluded 14 political parties from parliamentary elections and seven political parties from presidential elections, including Fanmi Lavalas, the popular party of former President Jean Bertrand Aristide. Reasons given for its exclusion do not “pass the smell test under Haitian law,” says Mr. Concannon at IJDH.

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