I just got back from a six-day trip to northern Haiti. Been without Internet access, so I’m posting this story here a week late! It aired last Thursday on Free Speech Radio News.
MP3 here. Rough transcript below.
The United Nations Security Council re-authorized this week a peace-keeping mission in Haiti, extending its mandate in the country by one year. Haitian and international officials credit some 9,000 peacekeepers, known by the acronym MINUSTAH, with improving security in Haiti since the US-backed ouster of President Jean Bertrand Aristide in 2004. But the UN troops face increasing popular resistance to its presence from many Haitians who view it as a militarized occupation force….
Christenor is a 21-year-old father living in the impoverished slum of Cite Soleil. He preferred not to give his last name. Walking past metal shacks and pigs feeding on mounds of trash in the water, Christenor – who preferred not to give his last name, said UN troops’ heavy patrols in the area forced him to move to a new house.
[Translated from Haitian Creole] “What they do the most is violence and beating people, but they are not doing anything to help the area. The violence is not against everybody, but if they are around and you don’t know, you can easily become a victim. We’re living with animals and living like animals. We wish they would come and help us build houses because we want a better way of life. We don’t have food or anywhere to sleep, but MINUSTAH isn’t doing anything for us.”
In 2007 UN troops was accused of destroying houses and killing civilians during large anti-gang incursions into Cite Soleil. This summer, the so-called peacekeepers helped police repress student demonstrations for an increased minimum wage. Students at the public university are bitterly opposed to the foreign presence in their country.
“Everybody can see that we are under occupation. They don’t say it clearly, but we can see that they’re exploiting us. They’re taking the people into a deeper misery.”
Mimose Louis-Jeune is a college student studying sociology.
“MINUSTAH is not doing anything in the country. We can see with their presence, that there is more violence. When I see them on the street, I’m upset because President Preval says they are here for security and investment, but in my opinion, they are here causing insecurity. Preval thinks the presence of MINUSTAH can bring peace and security, that’s why he keeps talking about investment, but MINUSTAH are not bringing a peaceful atmosphere for investment. When we see what he calls investment, it’s not something that can help the people get out from poverty.”
Earlier this month Haitian President Rene Preval and UN Special Envoy to Haiti Bill Clinton led a conference at an upscale hotel here to attract private investment in Haiti. Representatives of corporations from around the hemisphere flooded the hallways. Officials said that building new apparel factories in Cite Soleil could generate 100,000 jobs in one year. Luis Moreno, President of the Inter-American Development Bank, said the UN troops had improved security across the country.
“There are some facts. One fact is that the security situation is getting better, the investor climate is getting better. So I am really hopeful that we begin to score small wins. I mean at the end of the day, investors will come if the right business climate is there or if they feel that they can work within it. And they definitely want to make money. People are coming here, the ones that we’ve invited, to really invest – tied to the fact that we can really generate jobs, because in my view, as I said earlier, is the most important social investment and social program that we can have.”
Haiti faces extremely high levels of unemployment. In its extension of the peacekeeping mandate, the UN Security Council directed the UN troops to work closely with UN Envoy Bill Clinton to provide the security necessary for new jobs. But Beltis James, a student at the public university, described Clinton as a modern-day Christopher Columbus, who comes to Haiti to exploit it for the American empire. He said Clinton and the UN have a twisted definition of security for Haitians.
“We don’t call security what MINUSTAH considers security, because we think that security is not setting up a checkpoint trying to catch people robbing. Even if security meant that, the presence of MINUSTAH is not stopping violence or stopping people from dying. The ones committing violence are MINUSTAH.”
Students said they are organizing with activists in Brazil, the country that leads the peacekeeping mission, to force the UN troops to withdraw. But no one in the Haitian government opposes the MINUSTAH presence, even though the Haitian Constitution expressly forbids any foreign military presence on domestic soil. Under their new Security Council mandate, UN troops will remain in Haiti at least through next year’s presidential elections.