In the News: International Delegation Challenges UN Officials on Renewal of Haiti Occupation

UN Official Suggests that Troops May Stay Until 2015

by Kim Ives, published in Haiti Liberte, Oct 17, 2012

On October 12, the United Nations Security Council voted unanimously to renew for one more year the foreign military occupation of Haiti known as the UN Mission to Stabilize Haiti, or MINUSTAH, which has been deployed in Haiti since June 1, 2004.

However, the Haitian people, and increasingly people throughout Latin America, are calling for UN troops to immediately leave Haiti and respect Haiti’s sovereignty and right to self-determination. This was the message of an international delegation led by Haitian Senator Moïse Jean-Charles which met for almost two hours with high-ranking UN officials on Oct. 11, the day before the vote.

The 10-member delegation, composed of unionists, activists, and journalists, met with William Gardner, the Senior Political Affairs Officer of UN Department of Peace-Keeping Operations’ Europe and Latin America Division, and three of his Political Affairs Officers, Patrick Hein, Ekaterina Pischalnikova, and Nedialko Kostov.

Sen. Moïse’s delegation included Julio Turra, National Executive Director of the United Trade Union Central of Workers of Brazil (CUT); Pablo Micheli, General Secretary of the Confederation of Workers of Argentina (CTA); Fignolé St. Cyr, General Secretary of the Autonomous Confederation of Haitian Workers (CATH); Jocelyn Lapitre, a leader with the Front against Profit (LKP) in Guadeloupe; Colia Clark of the Guadeloupe-Haiti Campaign Committee; Alan Benjamin of the International Liaison Committee of Workers and Peoples (ILC); Robert Garoute, of the Progressive Movement for Haiti’s Development (MPDH); Geffrard Jude Joseph, the director of Radio Panou; and Kim Ives, a journalist with Haiti Liberté newspaper.

The meeting, which became heated at times, took place on the 27th floor of the UN’s General Secretariat in New York. The delegation told the UN officials that MINUSTAH was a violation of the UN Charter, as well as Haiti’s constitution, sovereignty, and democratic will. Gardner argued that the mission was winding down but had to remain in some form until Haiti’s police force had reached 15,000 (it is now 11,000), was well trained, and deployed throughout Haiti.

“I want to tell you that MINUSTAH is leaving,” Gardner said “But if we remove MINUSTAH too quickly, we risk that the country might not reach the level of stability to ensure that the United Nations will never return” as a peace-keeping mission in Haiti.

But the delegation rejected this argument. “Haiti doesn’t really have a problem of security and stability,” responded unionist Fignolé St. Cyr. “Haiti has a docile people, who believe in their own labor and who are fighting for a better life.”

“Haitians are a civilized people,” added Radio Panou’s Jude Joseph.

“Our delegation is part of a broad continental campaign growing since 2004 against MINUSTAH’s presence in Haiti because we believe that nobody committed to the principles of democracy and sovereignty can accept that a multinational occupation force be deployed in Haiti,” said Julio Turra, whose union initiated the meeting, as it had a previous one last year with UN officials.

“Sadly, the CUT, our trade union organization, was founded by [former Brazilian president] Lula when he was a trade unionist, so we are ashamed that he allowed the Brazilian army to become MINUSTAH’s military command. We have resolutions here from national congresses, representing over 3000 worker centers, saying that the Haitian people’s sovereignty must be respected.” Turra also presented Gadner with a packet of letters from organizations in Mexico, Bolivia, Ecuador, Peru and Uruguay.

Senator Moïse Jean-Charles asked Gardner if he was aware that the Haitian Senate had issued a resolution on Sep. 20, 2011 which called on the Haitian government to “give to the UN Security Council a formal demand for the gradual, orderly and complete withdrawal of all detachments of MINUSTAH in a period not exceeding one year or no later than Oct. 15, 2012.” Gardner appeared to be unaware of the resolution.

Sen. Moïse also raised the question of reparations from the UN to the Haitian people for the cholera epidemic the UN has unleashed in Haiti, citing the suit brought against the UN last Nov. 3 by the Office of International Lawyers (BAI) in Haiti on behalf of 5000 cholera victims. Gardner responded that the suit was still with the UN’s “legal department” and that he couldn’t comment on it.

“There was a vote in the Senate, a sovereign vote of the people expressed through their elected representatives, and you’re not even talking about it?” Alan Benjamin exclaimed to Gardner. “It doesn’t exist? For those of us committed to democracy, how can we accept that? How can you accept that? It is as if the lawsuit demanding reparations for cholera doesn’t exist. Yet this is demand voiced of the people of Haiti, and increasingly, the whole continent.”

Sen. Moïse also questioned the death of Gérard Jean-Gilles, a 16-year-old boy who was found hung inside a MINUSTAH base in Cap Haïtien in August 2010 after he was accused of stealing $200 from a UN interpreter. The money was later found, but the UN blocked the Haitian justice system’s attempts to investigate the suspicious death. Gardner said he would look into the matter.

Most alarmingly, Gardner implied that the UN might remain in Haiti until the next Haitian presidential election in 2015. “We are sure there will be an assessment of the situation this year to see if we will continue to remove the military and police,” Gardner said, “but what we also know is that the next presidential election will be critical to the process of stabilization, peace and development in Haiti.”

Gardner also said that the UN had begun planning a troop draw-down in 2009 but that the Jan. 12, 2010 earthquake changed those plans.

All the delegation members took part in the discussion and made strong cases against the UN’s military mission. “If the United Nations genuinely wants to help the Haitian people, they should do like Cuba and Venezuela,” exclaimed Robert Garoute of the MPDH. “These are the two countries that really help Haiti after, and even before, the earthquake. There is not a single Cuban or Venezuelan soldier on Haiti’s territory. But there are Cuban doctors. There is Venezuelan oil. Venezuela and Cuba are building an international airport in Cap Haitien. This is the kind of help that Haiti needs. Haiti does not need soldiers! We are not at war. Haiti is an independent country since 1804. Why send troops? If you really want to help people, build schools. Send doctors, as Cuba did.”

Journalist Jude Joseph echoed the sentiment. “We have problems of roads, water, electricity, and food,” he said. “Presently, the whole country is rising up to protest against hunger. But the little money that there is goes to pay UN soldiers. Even [former] President [René] Préval asked: instead of giving us soldiers, give us technicians. We don’t need soldiers with big guns and tanks. They don’t help us with any development. On the contrary, they kill almost 8,000 Haitians by bringing cholera to Haiti.”

In response, Gardner recognized that “in Haiti, there is not a war situation; it is a socio-economic problem and a matter of some government dysfunction, but it is also a question of violence in certain neighborhoods in Port-au-Prince, Gonaïves and Cap Haitien and of course, Cité Soleil.”

He claimed that “when the United Nations arrived in Haiti in 2004 to make an evaluation of the situation, they first thought that they might have a problem with the former Armed Forces of Haiti” but “when they arrived, they found a very different situation, and it was the presence of these armed gangs … They started in 2004 a sort of urban warfare in urban centers. This is why we deployed a peace-keeping operation with armed troops.”

But delegation members countered Gardner’s thesis of urban “gangs.”

“Mr. Gardner cited the gangs in Cité Soleil, Belair, Pont Rouge in 2004” said Fignolé St. Cyr. “The destabilization of 2004 was produced and provoked precisely to prevent Haiti from celebrating the bicentennial of its independence in cahoots with certain local lackeys who were working with the future occupiers…. In 2004, the de facto Prime Minister they imposed was a former UN official. Once in power, he requested UN troops for Haiti. The problem that you mentioned in Cité Soleil and Belair came three months after MINUSTAH’s arrival, and actually was the beginning of a resistance.”

Journalist Kim Ives reinforced the point. “There was a military intervention and occupation by the U.S. Marines in 1915, as you know, and at that time they also called those who resisted – the Cacos – bandits… I personally met some of the leaders in the slums of Cité Soleil and Belair, and they were not bandits. They were fighters against a coup and a foreign occupation… For the people, for the citizens of Cité Soleil, so-called gang leaders like Dread Wilmer, whom the United Nations was called a bandit, a criminal, was a nationalist hero” just like the Cacos’ leader Charlemagne Péralte, whom the U.S. Marines also called a bandit. “So the UN was fighting those resisting the coup and occupation, and not the real bandits who overthrew the legitimate and elected Aristide government, like Guy Philippe, Jodel Chamblain, and others.”

Ives noted in the debate that the UN could have gone after Sen. Moïse because “you could say he was a bandit, because he was fighting against the occupation and coup d’état.”

Moïse then revealed that in fact the MINUSTAH had come to his home in the northern town of Milot and chased him for six or seven months after the coup. “MINUSTAH was acting in the service of the political leaders [of the 2004 coup] who were anti-Moïse, anti-Aristide. Afterwards they said: Excuse us, Mayor Moïse. It was a mistake.” Gardner also said he would investigate this incident.

Jocelyne Lapitre decried the $850 million spent each year for MINUSTAH’s 10,000 soldiers and police officers. Under the renewal, the force is to be scaled back by about 2,000 over the next year. “When you realize how much money is mobilized for the occupation forces, and when you look at life in Haiti, it’s a real shame,” he said. “We think this money should go to education, to hospitals, to train police officers, and to make life better in Haiti.”

The Argentinian unionist Pablo Micheli had rescheduled a general strike in Argentina so he could be in New York on Oct. 12. “Because of our commitment to the anti-colonial struggle, we have a moral obligation to repudiate this occupation by UN troops, knowing that there are Argentine troops in the force,” he said.

The meeting closed with remarks by Colia Clark, a veteran of the U.S. civil rights struggles, who had worked and marched with Martin Luther King, Jr. “We will not stop until the UN is out of Haiti and has paid reparations to Haiti for all the deadly crimes committed against the world’s first democracy, not a slavocracy like America,” she told the UN officials. “Haiti must have self-determination now.”