MINUSTAH’s Deadly Denials

February 16, 2012

…Violent abuses are MINUSTAH’s (the UN Haiti Mission’s) basic modi operandi for protecting US & other Western economic interests by targeting poor Haitians…

Council on Hemispheric Affairs

A UN Security Council delegation is currently in Haiti to “review its mandate” and “evaluate” its efforts in the country. At the conclusion of this 4-day trip, the delegation will report on its findings. Given that the UN formally denies responsibility for the cholera outbreak ravaging the country, it won’t tally the 7,000 cholera deaths as part of its impact.

In light of this, it’s tempting to review yet again the “mountain of evidence” proving the UN’s fault for the outbreak. But there’s no need. The only remaining question about UN culpability is not whether they’re to blame for introducing cholera to Haiti, but whether the tools of international law will work on behalf of justice or on behalf of the powerful.

Instead, this post provides historical context for evaluating MINUSTAH’s public statements about the ongoing cholera crisis. Specifically, we compare similar public statements about a previous scandal to internal documents that only came to light years after the fact.

For those who aren’t familiar with the UN Mission’s history in Haiti, this post will show that MINUSTAH has used public denials not just to deflect responsibility, but to provide cover for continuing its “violent abuses.”

Read the rest of this entry »

CAUSING CHOLERA? US Denial of Right to Clean Water in Haiti

December 1, 2010

Inter-governmental organizations and the States that form [them]… are able to turn a blind eye to the impacts of such policies because they are not forced to confront the human faces of those who die or become ill through their action.

The above quote is from the introduction to a report from Partners in Health entitled Woch nan Soley: The Denial of the Right to Water in Haiti. It describes in gripping detail how the US Treasury Department intervened to stop the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) from disbursing funds to repair water and sanitation systems in several regions of Haiti.

How did this happen? Briefly:

Haiti was approved to receive $55 million from the IDB in 1998 to address its failing water system. However, despite the fact that the IDB’s constitution explicitly forbids taking political considerations into account when determining loan distribution, the US set numerous political benchmarks for Haiti to meet before it approved sending the money.

The special counsel in the IDB director’s office, however, informed the US Treasury that benchmarks notwithstanding, there were “no legitimate technical obstacles” to releasing the money. However, he advised the US on several techniques they could use to “slow” the disbursement process, which amounted to demanding that a report be submitted to the IDB Board concerning the delay between the Board’s approval of the loans in 1998 and Haiti’s ratification of the loans in 2000. Through continued pressure, the US eventually leveraged its 30% voting power on the board to successfully delay sending the money to begin repairing Haiti’s water and sanitation systems.

Why the delaying tactic? The IDB charges a “commitment fee” for holding undisbursed loans, which grew to $1.9 million between President Aristide resuming office in February of 2001 – when the US began pursuing this delay – and November of 2001. Since this fee counted towards Haiti’s total debt balance, the $1.9 million fee disqualified Haiti from receiving the original $55 million from the IDB.

At this point, the US mission was accomplished: as a result of political distaste for President Aristide, they prevented Haiti from receiving social sector loans from the Inter-American Development Bank. This was one piece of a large, coordinated effort to undermine development in Haiti during Aristide’s rule, and thus to erode support for his Presidency.

What’s striking about this is how blatant it is. The report details memos and emails between US Treasury officials and IDB executives that openly refer to America’s goal of “put[ting] a few more large rocks in the road” toward disbursing funds for these water and sanitation projects. The US Treasury made no bones about the fact that it wanted to stop the money from getting to Haiti come hell or high water, and they succeeded only by creatively circumventing IDB procedures.


Recalling this historical episode is timely for a variety of reasons.

Observers expected Haiti’s elections past Sunday to be flawed by the exclusion of its most popular party and logistical problems due to the earthquake. The recent cholera outbreak, however, made the administration of the election much more difficult. Cholera’s spread, of course, is made possible because of inadequate water and sanitation services.

Regardless of one’s stance on whether the UN caused the outbreak, the international community – particularly the US – thus deserves substantial blame for preventing Haiti from developing a functioning water and sanitation system in the past decade. Who knows how the cholera outbreak may have played out (or not played out, as the case may have been) if Haiti’s water systems was effectively developed using these loans.

As it happened, however, international money was blocked, and Haiti’s government lacked the resources to invest in the water system itself. The lack of government financing largely resulted the fact that Haiti had to pay off $631 million in debts from 1991-2007, the vast majority of which were incurred by the US-backed dictators, Papa and Baby Doc Duvalier. In many years, debt repayments were as high as 20% of Haiti’s GDP – that would be roughly $2.5 trillion in the US (see report, below).

Prevented from domestic investment due to onerous and unjust debts, and blocked from international loans by a politically motivated United States, Haiti was forced into a position of continual under-investment. This under-investment was devastating for many social sectors, including water and sanitation.

By denying Haiti the right to clean water, we have made ourselves a major culprit in Haiti’s recent cholera outbreak.

I encourage you all to take a look at the report here: www.pih.org/page/-/reports/Haiti_Report_FINAL.pdf

CHOLERA OUTBREAK: Background, Political Controversy, and Responding from Northfield

November 8, 2010


The recent outbreak marks the first time in over a century that cholera has struck Haiti. With nearly 5,000 confirmed cases in the first week alone, the disease has now spread to more than half of Haiti’s ten departments since Oct. 21.

After early hopes that the outbreak was ‘stabilizing,’ news took a turn for the worse this weekend: the death toll reached 500 people amid fears that flooding from the recent Hurricane Tomas would increase cholera infection rates.

Political Controversy

The outbreak has also sparked political controversy. MINUSTAH, the UN Mission in Haiti, has a troubled (and many, including Haitians, say troubling) relationship with the people of Haiti. The Nepalese contingent of the UN Mission stands accused of causing the outbreak, which has brought Haitians to the street demanding that Nepalese peacekeepers be sent home.

On the one hand, UN military tests claim to have “cleared” the Nepalese army of suspicion. On the other, cholera experts have cast doubts on the UN’s findings. Despite the ongoing debate, The UN, CDC, and World Health Organization all oppose further investigations because they will detract from the fight against cholera, a claim Paul Farmer has dismissed as pure “politics.”

Responding from Northfield

Haiti activists in Northfield have mobilized to do our small part in response to the outbreak. After receiving a request from a nurse in St. Paul, we purchased, mixed, and packed 600 doses of the dry ingredients for Oral Rehydration Solution (ORS), an essential treatment for dehydrated cholera patients. These ORS packets will be departing the US tomorrow, destined for Kenscoff, Haiti.

Please check back later this week for a discussion of the ethics involved in holding this type of “packing event” as a form of giving aid. In the meantime, if you want to help out with relief efforts yourself, please don’t hesitate to contact us. Many of the needed supplies are quite basic (for instance, ORS is simply a mix of sugar, baking soda, and salt), and we can do our best to connect any donations with the communities who need them.