Thousands of demonstrators took to the streets in various Haitian cities today in a day of protest against MINUSTAH, which is now widely believed to have been the source of the cholera outbreak. Marchers in Port-au-Prince, Cap Haitian, and elsewhere are protesting the UN mission’s role in the outbreak and other misdeeds, with many calling on the forces to leave Haiti.
A third protester – this week – was killed during protests yesterday. AP reports:
Witnesses told an AP Television News cameraman that the peacekeepers opened fire, killing a demonstrator and wounding one protester in the face, one in the stomach and another in the leg. The dead man's body was displayed to reporters with a fatal gunshot wound in his left armpit.
MINUSTAH’s denials, whether in regards to the origins of the cholera outbreak, the shootings of demonstrators, the death of Gerald Jean Gilles, or numerous other scandals, seem to be routine. MINUSTAH continues to deny its troops were the cause of the cholera outbreak, despite a Swedish diplomat’s assertions, and scientific evidence, to the contrary. Instead of MINUSTAH’s leaders – or higher ups at the UN – taking the evidence of Nepalese troops causing the cholera outbreak seriously, the overall UN response has generally been one of denial – sometimes attributing it to “appalling luck” – and MINUSTAH itself has been the most defensive. As Ansel Herz described in an interview with Democracy Now today:
The U.N. denied its peacekeepers fired, insisting there wasn't any shooting at the scene by anyone. The U.N. acknowledged earlier in the week when a peacekeeper killed one of the two other demonstrators who have died, saying the soldier shot in self-defense.
I mean, it’s been interesting to see how the U.N. here has responded to these riots, because they—and protests, because they’ve actually claimed that people are sort of being manipulated and that it’s not a legitimate sort of spontaneous political movement. But, of course, I was here in this city a year ago, actually, and I was interviewing people on the street, and they were telling—there were protests at that time, peaceful protests, against U.N. peacekeepers. And they were telling me that they were tired of an occupation in their country, that the peacekeepers have an enormous budget, but very little of it is spent on, you know, concrete humanitarian activity that could actually improve education and healthcare in this country.
MINUSTAH also attacked marchers with tear gas (read Melinda Miles’ on-the-scene account here) and an IDP camp. According to Aljazeera:
And, of course, also, back in August, a young boy, a 16-year-old boy, was found hanging from a tree inside a U.N. peacekeeping base here in Cap-Haïtien. That’s a story that’s been totally ignored by basically the entire U.S. media. And U.N. troops claim that he committed suicide. But people just across from the base at a hotel said that they heard his screams. They heard that he was being strangled. And there’s a lot of suspicion that he was, in fact, murdered by peacekeepers for maybe stealing a small amount of money.
Al Jazeera's Cath Turner in Port-au-Prince, said that rioting has escalated a great deal in the capital.
Independent journalist Isabeau Doucet describes some of the motivations behind the new demonstrations:
"The military wing of the national police have fired tear gas directly into the homeless camp across the road from the national parliament - Champ de Mars.
"Sources are telling us that there are scenes of parents and kids running around there trying to escape the tear gas.
"There are also UN troops monitoring this, and there are reports that they earlier fired tear gas at protesters. So really things are coming to a head now."
Hundreds of people have been living in tents in the Champ de Mars camp since January when a disastrous earthquake struck the country, particularly affecting the capital.
As deaths from the cholera outbreak soar past 1,000, fear is taking hold in neighbourhoods that have been so deprived of any civic investment that sanitation infrastructure often amounts to little more than open sewers filled with rubbish and human excrement.
Meanwhile, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights has directed the Haitian government to stop evicting IDP’s when safe shelter is not available to them. We can only speculate on what the IACHR might have to say about shooting up IDP camps with tear-gas.
Despite the billions of dollars in international aid that flowed into this country before the earthquake, these neighbourhoods can be found in any town or city across Haiti. Ten months and more billions later, things are much worse, and after suffering in relative silence, with elections just a fortnight away, many here, it seems, have now had enough.
Chants such as "We refuse to vote while living under tarps", have been replaced with "UN peacekeepers and cholera are brothers". The difference now is that in some parts of the country the songs are accompanied by burned-out cars, flaming tyres, broken glass and the coffins of cholera victims blocking movement, forcing aid workers to suspend operations and leaving people to die in the street.