The Death of Gérard Jean-Gilles: How the UN Stonewalled Haitian Justice

Screengrab from video taken by Gerard Jean-Gilles' uncle of autopsy. Posted with his permission.

Finally, this story is being published – the version below in Haiti Liberte today (French), another coming in The Nation magazine next week.

Faced with growing outrage over an alleged sexual assault by UN occupation soldiers on 18-year-old Johnny Jean in the southern town of Port Salut, the UN is pledging to investigate the incident and bring the perpetrators to justice.

But this promise is belied by the UN mission’s refusal to cooperate with the Haitian justice system’s attempt to investigate the hanging death of a 16-year-old boy inside another UN base one year ago.

Gérard Jean-Gilles ran errands for Nepalese soldiers at their base in Cap Haïtien, Haiti’s second largest city. A Haitian interpreter for the troops, Joëlle Rozéfort, accused Jean-Gilles of stealing $200 from her car. The next day, on Aug. 18, 2010, Jean-Gilles was found hanging from a tree inside the base, a wire around his neck.

The UN Stabilization Mission to Haiti (MINUSTAH) said its internal inquiry found that Jean-Gilles committed suicide. But Jean-Gilles’ family and friends suspect he was murdered, and when a Haitian judge tried to investigate, the UN stone-walled.

The former delegate (or central government representative) of Haiti’s northern region calls the UN “the primary obstacle” to learning how Jean-Gilles died.

In impassioned demonstrations against MINUSTAH this week, Haitians are calling for justice for Gérard Jean-Gilles, too.

“He died searching for a way to live,” said his adoptive father, Rémy Raphaël, whose street merchant wife took in Jean-Gilles as a baby, after his mother died and father went missing.

“He was in school, but my wife couldn’t keep paying for it,” said Raphaël, in the family’s sparse two-room home in a narrow, grimy alleyway. “He never tried to make trouble with people because he understood his situation, he preferred to search for jobs… That’s why he became friends with the soldiers.”

Evens Bele, 17, worked alongside Jean-Gilles on the MINUSTAH base for three years. They earned the equivalent of $10 a month, running errands, cleaning base facilities, and translating for the UN troops during patrols.

“He entered, said hello to me, and told me he had trouble with a lady who lost around $200,” said Bele of the fateful morning. Not long after, “I saw him hung up.”

UN personnel immediately met with the family and local officials. The body was flown to Port-au-Prince, Haiti’s capital city, the same day. But it sat for three days until Haitian doctors carried out an autopsy at the General Hospital, according to Calixte James, Jean-Gilles’ uncle, who accompanied the body.

“They could have done the autopsy the same day because we arrived in Port-au-Prince at 3:45 p.m.,” said James, a heavyset Blackberry-toting lawyer. “In our country, we don’t have the equipment that can detect things in [an autopsy on] a body after 72 hours. So to me what they were doing was already meaningless.”

An autopsy report obtained by Haiti Liberte said no traces of violence were found on the corpse, which the UN uses to buttress its claim of suicide.

But Raphaël, who worked as a dishwasher in the base, believes the UN soldiers “asphyxiated [his son] with gas and then hung him from the tree,” which was “in a restricted spot of the yard behind a lot of containers.”

“He could have fought them because he was strong enough,” Raphaël said, his voice rising. “He wouldn’t let them do that to him. . .To me the autopsy is not clear enough.”

The suspicions of Jean-Gilles’ family and friends swirl around interpreter Joëlle Rozéfort, who had accused Jean-Gilles of stealing money from her car the previous day.

The morning of the boy’s death, “Joëlle came to me while I was washing dishes, saying Gérard shouldn’t have stolen money from her,” Raphaël said. “While she was talking, a soldier came in and told me Gérard had hung himself! Her face stayed quiet… Even when Rozéfort found the money in her trunk, she kept on saying that Gérard was a thief.”

Bele also doesn’t believe Jean-Gilles committed suicide. “He’s dead because of the money,” he said. Shortly after the hanging, Bele and Raphaël both lost their jobs at the base.

The northern region’s former Government Delegate, Georgemain Prophète, represented the Haitian state in its initial dealings with the UN on how to probe Jean-Gilles’ death. They agreed the Haitian judiciary would open an investigation, he said.

The case was given to Heidi Fortuné, a Cap Haïtien investigating judge (juge d’instruction) since 2006.

“The autopsy can only show whether or not he was strangled, but it can’t determine if it was a suicide or if someone else hung him,” said Fortuné. “They sent me the case to investigate if it was a suicide or not – that’s my job.” Continue Reading…

I penned a new WikiLeaks article, did some interviews, and got tear-gassed.

Anti-MINUSTAH protesters peacefully marching.

Here’s a round-up of some of odds and ends that I haven’t gotten around to posting until now.

First, there’s this piece for Haiti Liberte: WikiLeaks Reveal: Expecting Civilian Deaths, US Embassy Approved of Deadly Attack on Crowded Haitian Slum. The article describes how a top Embassy official agreed with private sector leaders like Reginald Boulos, who now holds influence over Haiti’s reconstruction, that MINUSTAH should attack Cite Soleil knowing full well that innocent Haitians would be killed by the “peacekeepers” during the operation.

For more on the Port Salut abuses, there are these interviews I did with Democracy Now!, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, and if you speak Spanish, this Uruguayan media outlet. The five soldiers accused of abusing Johnny Jean in the video are reported to have been jailed in Uruguay pending sentencing. 17-year-old Rose Mina Joseph, who was pregnant with a Uruguayan soldier’s child when this was published, gave birth to a healthy boy a few days ago. She told me yesterday she hasn’t been able to reach the father in Uruguay to tell him yet, but that when they last talked he said he’d seen an article about her.

Amnesty International issued an action alert that you can participate in about the eviction threat to Camp Mosaic, which I reported on a few weeks ago. And this interview with Dr. Renaud Piarroux about cholera and its origins in Haiti is well worth reading.

Finally, I’d like to shout out this heartfelt and insightful reflection from Sebastian Walker, Al Jazeera’s post-quake Haiti correspondent (check out his new film, produced in part by Haitian journalist Yvon Vilius), especially this part: “I would have liked to stay in Haiti forever. If you spend any significant time there, you will believe, as I did, that Haiti deserves to be on the front page of every newspaper, every single day. It is a permanent, urgent and unjustified humanitarian tragedy.”

I feel the same way.  To me, it’s not just the humanitarian tragedy that makes Haiti worthy of front page coverage every day, but the extraordinary way that tragedy is politically and internationally maintained.  There are stark political choices (some examples) that keep Haiti mired in this state which implicate a wide range of powerful groups in Haiti and across the globe.  Sebastian’s team did a great job of exposing many of them while listening to and projecting the voices of ordinary Haitians.

This contrasts with some recently sloppy reporting by the Associated Press.  An anti-MINUSTAH protest march last Wednesday was completely peaceful from the start, when it was confronted by MINUSTAH soldiers in a jeep, very nearly until it reached its destination in Chanmas. When the march arrived near the palace, Haitian police immediately began launching tear gas canisters, to which the protesters responded by throwing rocks.  This can be observed in a video I produced.

The Associated Press team was not present at that time, to my knowledge.  I saw them walking down towards the protests hours later, after many of the demonstrators had left and only a small band of rock-throwers remained.  But the AP wrote that protesters had “fled into” the camps in Chanmas (they may have since improved the language from the original article), which I did not observe (one resident of the tent camp told me he did not blame the protesters for the tear gas).  The AP did not even mention the peaceful march.  And today, another AP article reduces all recent anti-UN protests in Haiti to “rock-throwing.”  I already pointed out some serious flaws in their initial reporting on the Port Salut abuses.

They should do better. Update: One of the AP’s photographers may have been present as the march itself reached Chanmas.

Does this only become a big deal if it causes an outbreak of deadly disease?


View on YouTube: Haitians Upset With UN Base Runoff into Foul-Smelling Pool

Or is living with swarms of mosquitoes and an overpowering stench in the area an acceptable level of suffering for Haitians? They’re resilient people, after all.

Interviewed in the video is Dantes Eseck, whose house is directly across from the UN peacekeeping base (there are two different bases) in Port Salut. His house is visible on the left at the 16 second mark. He’s a painter and his wife is a teacher. I wasn’t able to show in the video, but the manhole seen at the beginning is one of several spaced out evenly with connecting pipes along a dirt road leading to the base, and not further.

Check out this photo gallery to get a better view.

I had to look up anophele and filariasis. And please forgive my rough translation of Dantes, though it’s essentially accurate.

Below is a MINUSTAH spokeswoman’s official response. Here is the UN’s response in New York.

II. WASTE MANAGMENT SYSTEM

Whenever there is a technical problem related to sanitation and waste management issues, being in Port Salut or in other areas of Haiti, MINUSTAH discusses them with the local authorities, with whom it coordinates all necessary efforts in order to solve it and keep improving the sanitation and waste management system. Important surveillance measures also exist and inspection teams are regularly dispatched to the field to monitor/test the waste and sanitation systems.

MINUSTAH is not the only player in this chain of waste management. There are several other actors, including the companies in charge of garbage, waste collection, the local authorities, the state of infrastructures in the country as well as the riverine population.

MINUSTAH is currently in the process of installing water treatment plants in its bases, in order to be fully independent in the whole chain of waste management and be able to control the process for A to Z.

HAITI: United Nations Troops Accused of Exploiting Local Women (with UN response)

I received this response from MINUSTAH spokeswoman Sylvie van den Wildenberg yesterday. Johnny Jones?

1 SEA ALLEGATION YOUNG GIRL PREGNANT OF AN URUGUAYN PEACEKEEPER (PIC STORY 7 SPET 2011)

MINUSTAH is investigating on every serious misconduct allegation brought to its attention, and it does not necessarily request an external complaint – the case of the soldier involved in this specific incident is a good illustration of it:

The investigation was opened upon by the Commander of the Uruguay contingent himself, after he suspected that the soldier had some relation with a local. This case was not brought to MINUSTAH by the victim or her family; And indeed, it was a very serious breach of the Code of Conduct and the girl was a minor.

MINUSTAH got in touch with the victim and her family as soon as the case was brought to its attention by the contingent commander (as the family has reported to the media).

As a disciplinary measure, the soldier was repatriated and banned from serving in other UN missions. He is required by his hierarchy in Uruguay to assist the young girl and her to be born baby. We are following up on whether he was sanctioned, what was the sanction, and whether he has executed it, as well as on the continuation of assistance to the girl and the baby

The fact that the UN is not communicating on every single case of misconduct by his staff can be discussed – debated/ but one has to take into account the need to protect the victims, and respect their dignity. The Johnny Jones case is a good illustration of that need: the victim is today highly exposed thanks to the facts that some people found that it was a good idea to spread the video on the net and through cell phones, regardless of the respect of the dignity of the victim, which is now stigmatized;

17-year-old Rose Mina Joseph

Published by IPS on Wednesday:

PORT SALUT, Sep 7, 2011 (IPS) – Seventeen-year-old Rose Mina Joseph says she is nine months pregnant. Her belly is swollen and she moves slowly, placing each step, as she walks around her family’s dusty yard.

The father, she says, is a Uruguayan soldier from the local U.N. peacekeeping battalion named Julio. She holds up a photo of him smiling and embracing her at her seventeenth birthday party, on Jan. 8 this year. IPS verified her birth date by looking at her birth certificate.

Joseph says that five days after her birthday, she became pregnant with the soldier’s child. “Nowadays, sometimes I feel anemic,” she told IPS. “I’m afraid I won’t have the money to pay the hospital when I give birth.”

A copy of a wire transfer receipt shows that Julio Cesar Posse Juncal sent her 150 dollars from Montevideo, Uruguay on Jul. 15. Joseph complained that he hadn’t sent more money for her in August.

“Sexual relations with minors (under 18 years old), whether consensual or not, are deemed to be sexual abuse and, therefore, prohibited,” acting Deputy Spokesperson for the United Nations Secretary-General Eduardo del Buey said in a briefing Wednesday following a question by IPS about the allegations.

He did not address Joseph’s specific case. A U.N. peacekeeping mission spokesperson in Haiti said they are investigating all accusations of misconduct in Port Salut. She did not elaborate.

Under Haitian law, an individual must be 18 years old to give sexual consent. Continue Reading…

“I Like That Song. Put It On My Phone.” How They Got the Video From the Soldiers In Port Salut

I’ve been asked a number of times how I obtained the cell phone of the apparent assault by Uruguayan UN troops on Johnny Jean. The answer is simple: The video is circulating on cell phones in Port Salut. On Wednesday, after speaking with the family at the courthouse, they allowed me to make a copy off the victim’s cousin’s phone.

More interesting is how the video was initially obtained, through what local activist Ernso Valentin called, “the strategy of the population.” Yesterday evening I found the two young men who, by all accounts, swiped the video from a soldier’s phone. They explained to me what happened – about a week after July 18, they said, the date of the assault. It all started with an upbeat, pulsating Spanish song (which I stupidly mistook for Konpas at first).

21-year-old Viaud Fegens on the right, with his 18-year-old friend Leveille Jean-Michel, whose phone swiped the video.

Viaud Fegens: “Me and Jean-Michel were passing by the base. A soldier named Leo called out to us. I went and sat down and he to put the music on his telephone.”

Leveille Jean-Michel: “We were listening to some music and he liked it.”

VF: “We’ve passed by the base before playing Spanish music. This time, he liked it. He asked me to put it on his phone and he gave me his phone. So I went into his phone to see if it had cool things or nice videos on it. I took his phone, and I’m looking inside to see what it has on it. Then, I came upon the video! When I saw the video, I said [to Jean Michel], ‘Hey look at this!’ The soldier went to sit down. So we’re looking at the phone, and we see the video. I said, ‘Look, that’s my cousin. My cousin, Johnny.’ I’m looking at it and I see what they did. I said, ‘Oh mezami [roughly translates to holy crap]!’ I transmitted the video via Bluetooth onto this phone. I said, ‘Go give him his phone.’ So then I have the video, I’m watching it again, and it’s dominating me. It’s giving me problems [in my head]. So then later, we had a meeting across from the Commiseriat. MINUSTAH was there. We talked about everything bad that MINUSTAH does in Port Salut. They’re dumping their trash in aviation… Now when we come to the subject of what they did to Johnny, they said they don’t believe it happened. Then we showed them the proof. The MINUSTAH chief saw the video, and he’s shocked! He sweats!”

LJM: “He’s afraid. He’s afraid.”

VF: “There were three of them. The deputy was there too. He asked us to transmit it by Bluetooth for him. We did it. He looks again, he watches again, and he’s shocked, sweating.”

LJM: “It was weighing on me since I saw that. I was shocked when I was seeing it, it made me feel terrible. They committed the act but they didn’t want people outside to know about it. Yes, I thought it was rape. Because he’s yelling, ‘Help!'””

VF: “He’s saying, “Problem, problem, that he’s in a problem.” And they pulled down his pants. The video is proof. Because when they saw it, they could see what the soldiers did. Everyone who sees this video can see what happens. I heard about the protest tomorrow. I don’t think I’ll attend. But MINUSTAH represents a force in the country. It’s MINUSTAH that helped created a situation where we don’t have war or gunfire. They gave us some calm. But they violated a young man, they’re dumping trash, [AH: didn’t understand this part]… this isn’t good. We didn’t have these things in our country. It’s them who gave us cholera. We never had these things before.”

Viaud’s mother is worried. “Are they going to be ok? I’m scared. Will something happen to them?” she kept asking me. I left my number and tried to assure her that nothing bad would happen.

Update 9/16/11: After removing the photo and the boys names on the advice of some commenters, I’ve just restored them. I’m in touch with the boys and they want recognition for what they did. Viaud specifically asked that his photo and name be included. His mother never objected.

Photos from Port Salut: MINUSTAH Trash Piles, Murky Water Running Off from the Base

There are further complaints against the UN’s Uruguayan peacekeeping battalion in Port Salut, beyond the incident captured on cell phone video detailed yesterday, as described in the slideshow below.

Ernso Valentin and Deputy Sinal Bertrand also allege that MINUSTAH troops have been engaged in exchanging food for sex and prostitution with young girls.

The slideshow can be embedded on your website using this code, while larger-size photos can be viewed at my Flickr page and subsequently shared.

Update: Also see this piece I filed for Al Jazeera English, which includes more details and Haitian voices from Port Salut.

U.N. Abuse of Haitian Teen in Port Salut Caught on Cell Phone Video

Went out to Port Salut to look into allegations of abuse leveled at UN peacekeepers. Most of what I found is in this story, just published by ABC News:

Haitians in this remote seaside town are demanding an investigation into allegations that United Nations peacekeeping troops pinned down an 18-year-old Haitian man and subjected him to a humiliating sexual assault.

The alleged assault occurred in July, but graphic cell phone video surfaced in recent days, showing what appears to be the four UN troops in camouflage and some wearing the trademark sky blue berets attacking the man. As the video began circulating through the coastal village, it sparked a growing sense of outrage there and prompted the victim’s mother and father to seek criminal charges against the United Nations peacekeeping officers, who are from Uruguay. Both parents submitted written depositions on Wednesday in Port Salut’s courthouse.

A medical certificate filed with the court in Haiti and obtained by ABC News, alleges the victim was beaten and had sustained injuries consistent with having been sexually assaulted.

Word of the alleged attack quickly made its way up the chain of command at the United Nations, both in Haiti and in New York, where officials are now vowing to see the incident investigated and the alleged perpetrators brought to justice. Michel Bonnardeaux, a spokesperson for peacekeeping operations based in New York, told ABC News that officials in his office first became aware of the allegations Saturday. They sent a diplomatic note to the Uruguayan mission requesting the country deploy a national investigative officer to Haiti immediately.

“The defense minister of Uruguay has expressed deep concern and said they will take all the necessary action,” Bonnardeaux said. “We see this as a breakdown of the command and control structure. If the allegations are proved, the assailants must be brought to justice.”

Messages left Friday with the Uruguayan mission in New York were not returned.

Bonnardeaux said the troops involved in the incident have been confined to their barracks.

Under an agreement between Haiti and the U.N., peacekeeping troops are only subject to discipline and legal action from their country of origin. Uruguay has deployed 1,100 troops to the quake-battered island nation. Bonnardeaux said the primary purpose for the U.N. troops being in Haiti is to insure the protection of Haitian civilians.

video platformvideo managementvideo solutionsvideo player

But that is not what appears to be happening on the one-minute video, which pans out from a sideways close-up of the alleged victim’s strained face to reveal his body being held down on a mattress by the uniformed men. The alleged assailants can be heard laughing as a shirtless soldier kneels behind the Haitian victim and appears to be assaulting him. The video ends as a soldier grabs the bedraggled young man’s arm and seems to try pulling him onto his feet.

Interviewed by a reporter at the courthouse, the young man said he was snatched from behind as he walked by the U.N. base. He alleged he was beaten and sexually molested. “They’re bad people — vagabonds,” he said. The young man’s mother, a street merchant, held up a pair of black pants to show they were torn. She said it was not until the video surfaced that she discovered what had happened.

“He had stayed in his bed during about two weeks but he never told me what was wrong with him,” she said. “We’re humiliated … After I saw the video, I couldn’t stop crying.”

Uruguayan Navy Lieutenant Nicolas Casariego confirmed to ABC News that the video is real. He spoke through the barbed-wire fence that surrounds the base where the alleged incident took place.

Casariego, the base commander, called the apparent abuse in the video “a game” and said it wasn’t sexual in nature. “It’s a young guy who is normally around here, like these people,” he said, pointing to a Haitian family sitting outside their home twenty yards away. He said the soldiers engaged in “some kind of bullying, but nothing more.”

The alleged assault is just the latest in a series of incidents that have frayed relations between Haitians and the 12,000 foreign troops who have been stationed in Haiti under the U.N. banner now for several years. Anti-U.N. riots shut down major cities and thoroughfares after an outbreak of cholera last October. Rumors circulated that a U.N. base had introduced the disease to Haiti. Scientific studies by the Centers for Disease Control and others have since confirmed the source of the outbreak was a Nepalese peacekeeping base in central Haiti.

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.

Andre Jean, a local mechanic, summed up those tensions, saying he does not believe the peacekeepers make him any more secure.

“They aren’t useful to us at all,” he said. “They just go back and forth to the beach, nothing more here in Port Salut. They just check out the young girls. If something happens to you and you go to them to ask for help, they tell you, go to the police.”

Bertrand said he is calling on the U.N. to ensure that the alleged assailants in this latest case are punished.

“If they don’t collaborate with the justice system, I’ll denounce them,” he said. “I’m expecting [the U.N.] to respond, until there’s justice.”

For the record, I’m not sure the medical certificate says what my colleagues at ABC News believe. My reading is that it identified a still-healing anal laceration. The rest was reportage of the family’s accusations.

WikiLeaks: Embassy’s “Privatization Update” Shows Shock Doctrine in Action in Haiti

Klein spells out the definition of shock doctrine: using shocking situations to push through legislation that would not be passed under normal circumstances. The shock doctrine is, as she states, a “democracy-avoidance strategy.”

– Naomi Klein lecture at Berkeley, 2009

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: ECON EFIN EIND ECPS ENRG ETRD PGOV HA
SUBJECT: HAITI: PRIVATIZATION UPDATE

Despite assurances that privatization is a still a priority for the government, as elections draw nearer we are increasingly skeptical that privatization, in whatever form, will happen under the watch of the IGOH. Time is running out and we are not convinced that the IGOH has the technical capacity nor political will to carry out even one privatization prior to turning over power to an elected government. We will continue to advocate strongly on behalf of privatization and/or private management. Post repeats its recommendation in reftels that privatization be a requirement under future agreements with the IFIs, including an IMF Poverty Reduction and Growth Facility (PRGF) to be negotiated with the new government. Indeed we believe that the only reason that the audits will eventually be completed is because it is a requirement of the World Bank program.

– US Ambassador to Haiti James Foley, Aug. 25, 2005

IGOH refers to Interim Government of Haiti, the unelected government installed after a US-backed coup ousted Jean-Bertrand Aristide in February 2004.

Update: Thanks to WikiLeaks for tweeting this! I should add that this “shock doctrine in action” cable pairs nicely with this “disaster capitalism in full effect” one that we flagged earlier this summer, in which the US Ambassador described a post-earthquake “gold rush” for reconstruction contracts.

If you’re a new visitor, check out more WikiLeaks Haiti content here and here, and consider donating to the venerable shoe-string budget Haitian newspaper Haiti Liberte, without which the effort to comb through and analyze these cables would have not been possible.

Audio: Haitian Views on President Martelly’s First 100 Days


City Mosaic

I spoke to some Haitians in displacement camps – living there since about the time of January 12, 2010 earthquake – about President Michel Martelly’s first 100 days in office. They voice their perspectives in this story for Free Speech Radio News broadcast on Friday:

Download the MP3. You can also hear an archived interview with me about Haiti and WikiLeaks from KOOP Radio’s People United program here – my part starts at the 37 minute mark.


Camp kids playing Mortal Kombat

WikiLeaks Haiti: The Aristide Files

I’m a little late in posting this here to my blog, but I recently co-authored with Kim Ives this piece in The Nation. A longer, more detailed version of this story including discussion of how the campaign Aristide continues even to this day appeared in the previous week’s edition of Haiti Liberte.

US officials led a far-reaching international campaign aimed at keeping former Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide exiled in South Africa, rendering him a virtual prisoner there for the last seven years, according to secret US State Department cables.

The cables show that high-level US and UN officials even discussed a politically motivated prosecution of Aristide to prevent him from “gaining more traction with the Haitian population and returning to Haiti.”

The secret cables, made available to the Haitian weekly newspaper Haïti Liberté by WikiLeaks, show how the political defeat of Aristide and his Lavalas movement has been the central pillar of US policy toward the Caribbean nation over the last two US administrations, even though—or perhaps because—US officials understood that he was the most popular political figure in Haiti.

They also reveal how US officials and their diplomatic counterparts from France, Canada, the UN and the Vatican tried to vilify and ostracize the Haitian political leader.

For the Vatican, Aristide was an “active proponent of voodoo.” For Washington, he was “dangerous to Haiti’s democratic consolidation,” according to the secret US cables.

Aristide was overthrown in a bloody February 2004 coup supported by Washington and fomented by right-wing paramilitary forces and the Haitian elite. In the aftermath of the coup, more than 3,000 people were killed and thousands of supporters of Aristide and his Fanmi Lavalas political party were jailed.

The United States maintained publicly that Aristide resigned in the face of a ragtag force of former Haitian army soldiers rampaging in Haiti’s north. But Aristide called his escort by a US Navy SEAL team on his flight into exile “a modern-day kidnapping.”

Two months later, the UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) was established, a 9,000-strong UN occupation force that still oversees Latin America’s first independent nation.

Aristide has spoken forcefully against the UN occupation, particularly in his 2010 year-end letter to the Haitian people. “We cannot forget the $5 billion which has already been spent for MINUSTAH over these past six years,” he wrote. “Anybody can see how many houses, hospitals, and schools that wasted money could have built for the victims” of the January 12, 2010, earthquake that destroyed much of Port-au-Prince and surrounding regions.

Such positions are major reasons Washington fought to get and keep Aristide out of Haiti, the cables make clear. “A premature departure of MINUSTAH would leave the [Haitian] government…vulnerable to…resurgent populist and anti-market economy political forces—reversing gains of the last two years,” wrote US Ambassador Janet Sanderson in an October 1, 2008, cable. MINUSTAH “is an indispensable tool in realizing core USG [US government] policy interests in Haiti.”

At a high-level meeting five years ago, top US and UN officials discussed how the “Aristide Movement Must Be Stopped,” according to an August 2, 2006, cable. It described how former Guatemalan diplomat Edmond Mulet, then chief of MINUSTAH, “urged US legal action against Aristide to prevent the former president from gaining more traction with the Haitian population and returning to Haiti.”

At Mulet’s request, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan urged South Africa’s President Thabo Mbeki “to ensure that Aristide remained in South Africa.”

President Obama and Kofi Annan’s successor, Ban Ki-moon, also intervened to urge Pretoria to keep Aristide in South Africa. The secret cables report that Aristide’s return to Haiti would be a “disaster,” according to the Vatican, and “catastrophic,” according to the French.

But the regional and Haitian view was quite different. US Ambassador James Foley admitted in a confidential March 22, 2005, cable that an August 2004 poll “showed that Aristide was still the only figure in Haiti with a favorability rating above 50%.”

The Bahamian Foreign Minister Fred Mitchell, apparently referring to Haiti’s revolutionary leader Toussaint Louverture’s kidnapping and imprisonment in the Jura mountains in 1802, warned “that a perceived ‘Banishing Policy’ has racial and historical overtones in the Caribbean that reminds inhabitants of the region of slavery and past abuse.”

Keeping the Pressure On

After Aristide left Jamaica for exile in South Africa on May 30, 2004, the US government worked overtime to keep him out of Haiti and even the hemisphere, even though the Haitian constitution and international law stipulate that every Haitian citizen has the right to be in his homeland.

When Dominican President Leonel Fernández suggested at a hemispheric conference eight months after the coup that Aristide should return and play a role in Haiti’s political future, the United States reacted angrily, saying in a cable that Fernández had been “wrong in advocating the inclusion in the process of former president Jean Bertrand Aristide.” Continue Reading…