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Blame the Illegal Military Occupation for the Cholera Outbreak in Haiti

Jemima Pierre

August 23, 2013

"Former U.S. Ambassador to Haiti, Janet Sanderson, lauded MINUSTAH as a 'cheap’ source of US power in Haiti."

This past week NPR, the Washington Post, and the blog Slate, among other media outlets, finally awoke to the fact that the United Nations troops brought cholera to Haiti, killing more than 8,300 people and sickening more than 650,000. This new spotlight on Haiti was undoubtedly influenced by the recent report by Yale Law School and the Global Health Justice Partnership, "Peacekeeping without Accountability [.pdf]," which provided analysis of the cause of the cholera outbreak and placed direct blame on the UN.

Let’s also remember that Haitians and other activists and scientists have been constantly calling for acknowledgment of UN culpability in this avoidable massacre over the past three years. In fact, Al Jazeera English was the first media outlet to show us, back in 2010, the exact source of the disease – the dumping of toxic fecal matter from a UN base into the rivers of the Artibonite Valley in central Haiti, rivers that local communities use for drinking, bathing, and irrigation. Most recently the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti (IJDH), filed a lawsuit against the UN for compensation on behalf of 5000 cholera victims. The UN’s Ban Ki-Moon rejected this claim for compensation, dismissing it as "non-receivable," whatever that means, and callously invoking immunity. Moreover, some at the UN argued that the cholera issue was a "political and policy matter" – which begs the question: as opposed to what?

To date, and despite the mounting evidence and calls for restitution, the UN has not taken responsibility for its deadly actions in Haiti – actions that have led to death of three times more people than the attacks on the US on September 11, 2011. And now it is using the cholera outbreak that it brought to Haiti as one of the main reasons for its continued presence in Haiti.

"Some at the UN argued that the cholera issue was a "political and policy matter" – which begs the question: as opposed to what?"

It is not only a question of demanding accountability and restitution from the UN for its attacks on Haitian life and society. The better questions to ask are: Why is the UN actually in Haiti? And, why is the country under military occupation? The answers demand that we connect the UN’s use as proxy for the US’s illegal military occupation of Haiti to the social and political havoc that the UN has wreaked on that country.

The establishment of the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) in 2004 is itself dubious. MINUSTAH took over the US military occupation that had begun early that year when, on February 29th, the George W. Bush administration forcibly removed the democratically elected president Jean Bertrand Aristide from office and sent him into exile. This illegal coup d’état was both enforced and cleaned up with the sanction of the UN, which took over from US forces under the guise of establishing peace and security. According to the Wikileaks files, former U.S. Ambassador to Haiti, Janet Sanderson, lauded MINUSTAH as a "cheap" source of US power in Haiti, as it is made up of a multinational coalition of western and nonwestern forces, including countries ranging from Benin and Kenya to Brazil (who heads the mission) and Ecuador, who were all bent on using Haiti as their training ground.

While there is no civil war in Haiti, and no clear examples of systematic violence (except those conducted by the foreign occupation forces), MINUSTAH has become the fifth largest UN "peacekeeping" force in the world. At last count, MINUSTAH’s force in Haiti boasted 8,793 military troops and police, 432 international civilian personnel, 1,306 local civilian staff, and 194 UN volunteers. Its budget for the 2012 – 2013 fiscal year is $648,394,000. This is a multi-billion dollar occupation. With its mandate repeatedly renewed and extended over the past 9 years, its numerous outposts scattered throughout the country, and its constant spectacle of armed patrols, MINUSTAH is obviously a permanent occupation force.

"The UN’s actions that have led to death of three times more people than the attacks on the US on September 11, 2011."

Cholera was brought to Haiti by a group of MINUSTAH soldiers from Nepal. They were sent to Haiti without being tested, even though there was a cholera outbreak in their country. But MINUSTAH has also supported Haitian police repression of the population, and is generally understood as the force propping up the illegitimate governments of Haiti over the past 9 years, particularly the US-chosen Michel Martelly. Moreover, since their arrival, beyond cholera, countless of gruesome acts of sexual abuse, murder, theft, and overall thuggery by the UN have been documented (see here, here, here, and here).

In 1920 James Weldon Johnson wrote an assessment of the US occupation of Haiti (which would last from 1915 – 1934) for the Nation magazine. As historian Peter James Hudson describes in his important essay on the occupation, Johnson saw how "Haiti’s political classes were muzzled, how its assembly was deprived of power, and how its economy was wrested away from Haitian control, [how] US marines…bragged…of torturing and murdering Haitian peasants…[how] some three thousand Haitians were killed in the first five years of occupation." Moreover, Johnson viewed the occupation in two ways. On the one hand, he saw it as a way for the US to forcibly open up the Haitian economy to its business interests, in particular the National City Bank of New York. But on the other hand, for Johnson, the military occupation emerged out of a racist obsession with the "Negro republic" and the continuous need to demonstrate that it cannot rule itself.

History continues to repeat itself.

One hopes that history will also repeat itself through the resistance Haitians provide to this current occupation – taking cues from Charlemagne Peralte and the Caco Revolution, as well as the students and workers who took to the streets to demand that the foreign occupiers leave their land.

What Haitians need now is not compassion. They also do not need the "justice" that comes from begging MINUSTAH to live up to its moral obligations and acknowledge its crimes. A military occupation can never be moral. The time will soon come when Haitians will demand – by any means necessary – that these armed foreigners leave their land. Those of us who believe in true liberation should be prepared to support that endeavor.

Jemima Pierre can be reached at BAR1804@gmail.com



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