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.”

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Weekly Links Round-Up: Haiti’s Economic Future, MINUSTAH Poll, and More!

December 2, 2011

Invest In Haiti: The Future of the Haitian Economy

President Martelly plans to create 500,000 jobs in three years. Some of these will come from a new Marriott hotel being planned in downtown Port-au-Prince, but he intends even more to come from a new industrial park in Caracol, Haiti.

Pairs Well With: This investigation finding that the garment industry – which will take center stage in the new industrial park – has been fraught with union suppression.

Also Pairs Well With: This Haiti Grassroots Watch investigation highlighting the wage suppression, poor working conditions, and bad track record of “sweatshop-led development” in Haiti.


USAID begins construction at the industrial park in Caracol, Haiti.


MINUSTAH Poll & Doublespeak

A new poll finds that two-thirds of Haitians want the immediate withdrawal of UN forces.

Pairs Well With: The headline-making line about the UN, however, came from Nigel Fisher, deputy Special Rep of the Secretary General for Haiti. In a press conference this week, he claimed that “only media and elites” want the UN out of the country – just days after the poll’s release.


Quick Hits

The US government decided to lift an 18-year arms embargo, which was only intermittently observed while in place.

The World Bank approved a $255 million plan to provide housing and education in Port-au-Prince in response to the disbanding of the Interim Haiti Recovery Commission.


Framing Rule of Law Issues: Beyond “Lawless and Violent”

September 23, 2011

The media loves talking about lawlessness in Haiti (ad infinitum), which often leads to graphic depictions of ubiquitous violence. Many Haiti activists retort that these narratives brim with “unattributed false statement[s].” They point to the testimony of journalists like Sebastian Walker: “Haitians are among the most friendly, peaceful people I’ve ever encountered.”

Those informed by the mainstream media typically conclude that Haiti’s “lawlessness” necessitates more UN troops to impose security, while the justice-minded bemoan the “myth of Haiti’s lawless streets.” At this point, dialogue usually ceases as each side retires with their preferred conclusion.

Framing Rule of Law Issues Effectively

Human rights attorney Brian Concannon of the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti (IJDH), however, frames rule of law issues in a manner that allows for overcoming this impasse.

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THE ‘HIDDEN’ HAND: The UN and Haiti’s Elections

December 12, 2010

Coming quickly on the heels of definitive evidence that the UN caused the cholera outbreak, the election results (however tainted) were announced last week. Mirlande Manigat, former first lady, and Jude Célestin, ruling party candidate, will head for the runoff – if the current results hold. This announcement was immediately greeted by protests.

In the midst of this tense pause between the initial announcement and the result of the recount, I want to comment on the UN involvement in Haiti’s election.

Haiti activists often discuss the UN Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) as a force for ill in the country. However, it can be difficult to substantiate particular instances of abuses like violent crowd control, as they actively target those who attempt to document these cases.

Two UN actions in recent weeks merit particular attention as examples of its negative influence. I want to comment on these particular actions because the UN doesn’t dispute their occurrence, yet they reveal perverse elements of the UN’s engagement with Haiti.

The first concerns a call placed by Edmund Mulet, MINUSTAH head, to Mirland Manigat and Michel Martelly. When 12 of 18 candidates called for boycotts following election day, Mulet attempted to manipulate public opinion by playing to the political ambitions of Manigat and Martelly. He placed calls to the candidates, promising each that he or she was the frontrunner and suggesting that they should rescind their calls for boycott.

The ploy worked (see the embedded video at the always excellent Haiti-Cuba-Venezuela Analysis blog in which Manigat describes the call). Both Manigat and Martelly dropped their call for boycotts, assured they would advance to the second round.

The violent anger of Martelly’s camp in response to his failure to advance comes, in large part, from his and his supporters’ belief that the government “modified the numbers” when it appeared Célestin would lose. Martelly’s unshakable confidence that the results were rigged against him stems at least in part from the private assurance he received from the UN that he was the frontrunner.

Which brings us to the second item I’d like to comment on. The UN has reacted to these protests by threatening to pull out if the initial election results aren’t respected. This is particularly striking given the fact that even the US Embassy has expressed skepticism about the announced results. With this threat, the UN is attempting to pressure the Haitian people to accept the election results (nevermind the fact that most would be glad to see them go).

This illustrates the nature of the UN’s involvement in Haiti: they intervene behind the scenes, spreading misinformation when it’s politically expedient, and then denounce the effects (i.e., the protests) of that misinformation when it becomes inconvenient.

The ultimatum issued by the UN to coerce acceptance of the election results is, in itself, a fascinating case study of MINUSTAH’s political tactics in the country. Their threat simultaneously depicts the UN mission as essential to stability in the country (“don’t reject the results, or else!”), and also gives one result (Célestin and Manigat advance) the aura of legitimacy, despite the fact that few Haiti watchers think it reflects the will of the people.

When the story of this election goes down in the history books, these low-profile interventions – calling candidates with misinformation and threatening to pull out as a piece of political theater – will likely be forgotten, replaced by images of burning tires and street protests.

But as a matter of day-to-day interference in the political sovereignty of the Haitian people, violations like these may have the larger role in shaping the outcome of Haiti’s 2010 elections.

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.