Friday, November 19, 2010

MINUSTAH Responds to Day of Protests By Tear-Gassing IDP Camp

Despite Everything, Haitian Government Continues to Move Ahead With Flawed Elections

by Center for Economic and Policy Research
Tuesday, 16 November 2010 11:27
Despite the outbreak of cholera which has already claimed over 900 lives and spread to all 10 of Haiti’s provinces, despite new protests against authorities including the UN for possibly starting the outbreak (something which the UN continues to deny, while defensively claiming that the protests are “politically motivated”, “aimed at creating a climate of insecurity on the eve of the elections”), and despite public concerns from various Haitian politicians and parties, 45 members of the U.S. Congress,Senator Lugarnewspapers, and numerous NGO’s, the Haitian government still seems prepared to move ahead with November 28’s elections as scheduled.

As readers of numerous press reports and past blog posts know, controversy around the elections centers around the Provisional Electoral Council’s banning of some 14 political parties from the ballot, including the most popular, Fanmi Lavalas. Many Haitians and observers are also concerned about voter access in the wake of the January quake that displaced over a million people.

Now a new constituency of people with experience and knowledge of Haiti are weighing to voice opposition to what they see as rigged elections:returned Peace Corps volunteers (RPCV’s). As TruthOut describes

This letter was also signed by Kevin Quigley, president of the National Peace Corps Association, which is the leading organization of RPCVs and represents a network of 30,000 individuals. Quigley supports the former volunteers' petition, which urges that the US condition funding for the Haitian elections on the full participation of currently banned political parties and active engagement to ensure that voters among the 1.5 million internally displaced Haitians are not disenfranchised. RPCV Neil Ross ('62-'64), founding president of the NGO Friends of the Dominican Republic, an NPCA affiliate for the Dominican Republic, also signed the petition.
Truthout goes on to say 
The RPCVs ended their petition with a short list of recommendations for the US: (1) withholding financial support for elections "until the CEP is replaced by a new Council chosen through a process that ensures neutrality, competence and credibility with Haiti's voters"; (2) the adoption of a "clear, firm position on the need for the upcoming elections to be free, fair and open to all of Haiti's political parties"; and (3) "adequate funding and technical assistance for a fairly-chosen CEP to prepare elections." This would include production and distribution of lost or destroyed CINs, the updating of the electoral list and ensuring that polling stations are accessible to internally displaced, poor and disabled Haitians. Extensive voter education was also suggested.
A new interview with former president Jean-Bertrand Aristide sheds new light on the flimsy pretexts by which the CEP has banned Fanmi Lavalas from participating:
Last year I received a letter from the Provisional Electoral Council, by the way, a council that was selected by the president, which is why they do what he wants. Excluding Lavalas was the implementation of the will of the government of Haiti.

I received a letter from them inviting me to a meeting and I said to myself, “Oh that is good. I am ready. I will go.” Then they said in the letter, “If you cannot come, will you send someone on your behalf?” So I said okay and I replied in a letter (1), which became public, asking Dr. Maryse Narcisse to represent Lavalas and to present the candidates of Lavalas based on the letter I received from the CEP. But they denied it because the game was to send the letter to me and assume that I would not answer. Then they could tell the Haitian people, “Look he does not want to participate in the election.” So they were using a pretext to pretend that they are intelligent, but in reality to hide the truth.

Did they not claim it was false at some point, or that it was not your signature?

They claimed that the mandate from me should have been validated by the Haitian consulate in South Africa, when they know that there is no representative of the Haitian government in South Africa, you see.

No embassy at all?

No. When I was President, I had named an Ambassador to South Africa, but that ended with the coup...
Meanwhile – all but ignored by the foreign press -- thousands of people in Port-au-Prince came out on November 1 for a demonstration in support of Aristide’s return and to support the candidacy of Jean-Henry Céant, who is reportedly making Aristide’s right to return to Haiti a key part of his platform. See photos here.

This demonstration and the new protests targeting the UN for its role in the cholera crisis could also be a harbinger of things to come if the Haitian government moves ahead with elections that will, again, leave the Haitian people without a popularly elected leader. With over 1 million displaced, many of them confined to tarp and tent camps with inadequate sanitation and a cholera epidemic underway, many Haitians may not have much patience for a government that has no legitimacy -- especially if the new government is as ill-prepared to deal with the ongoing crises as the outgoing one.

The U.S. role in enabling such flawed elections could lead to yet another disaster. As RPCV Neal Riemer states: "If we care about promoting democracy, it's just much easier and more practical to not financially and logistically support fraudulent elections with our tax dollars," and "demand real democratic features in exchange for funding."


MINUSTAH Responds to Day of Protests By Tear-Gassing IDP Camp

Thursday, 18 November 2010 17:40
Thousands of demonstrators took to the streets in various Haitian cities today in a day of protestagainst 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. APreports:

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.

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.
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:
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.

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.
MINUSTAH also attacked marchers with tear gas (read Melinda Miles’ on-the-scene account here) and an IDP camp. According to Aljazeera:
Al Jazeera's Cath Turner in Port-au-Prince, said that rioting has escalated a great deal in the capital.

"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.
Independent journalist Isabeau Doucet describes some of the motivations behind the new demonstrations:
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.

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.
Meanwhile, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights hasdirected 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.

In Response to Protests, MINUSTAH Disregards Legitimate Grievances

Tuesday, 16 November 2010 15:10
Protests against the UN and MINUSTAH in Cap-Haitien and elsewhere throughout the country yesterday resulted in at least two civilian deaths and numerous injuries. Yet the response from MINUSTAH completely ignores the legitimate concerns of the citizens about the source of the Cholera outbreak and the role of MINUSTAH in Haiti. The UN News Center reports:
“The way the events unfolded suggests that these incidents were politically motivated, aimed at creating a climate of insecurity on the eve of elections,” the mission, known as MINUSTAH, said in a statement.

“MINUSTAH calls the people to remain vigilant and not be manipulated by enemies of stability and democracy in the country,” the mission added.
The protesters, according to news reports, largely held MINUSTAH responsible for bringing cholera (with a death toll now over 1000) into Haiti, where it had not been seen for decades. Despite calls from public health experts like Paul Farmer to pin point the cause of the epidemic, and the popular anger directed at MINUSTAH, officials have shied away from such an investigation. As reported by the Associated Press, a World Health Organization official said today that "at some time we will do further investigation but it's not a priority right now."

MINUSTAH's statement on the protests says that "One of the demonstrators was killed when he was hit by a bullet fired by a UN peacekeeper, who shot back in self-defense. An investigation is under way to determine the exact circumstances of the death." However Ansel Herz, writing for Inter-Press Service, reports that "At least two protesters have been reported killed, one shot in the back, a local official told the media." If indeed the protester was shot in the back, it would seem to discredit the explanation of shooting in self-defense.

Also, as Herz points out, there are outstanding issues with MINUSTAH that have angered Haitians in the past:

Anger at U.N. troops has simmered and boiled over into peaceful protests several times since the body of teenaged Gerard Jean Gilles was found hanging from a tree inside a Cap-Haitien peacekeeping base in late August.

Days later, a peacekeeping patrol responded with tear gas after being bombarded with stones. One soldier was injured, according to an internal U.N. report.

Seventeen civil society organisations authored an open letter to the head of MINUSTAH requesting an independent inquiry and condemning what they called "your decision to obstruct Haitian justice in this case".
Although MINUSTAH is ostensibly in Haiti to ensure a "secure and stable environment", when it becomes the cause of instability and violence, it calls into question whether their presence is really necessary, especially given the long list of prior complaints and abuses.

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