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Guest post by Ansel Herz:
As this blog has amply documented, the establishment media is replete with inaccurate and biased coverage of Latin America. When it comes to Haiti, the quality of reporting has been so poor so often that a whole book was once written about the island nation’s odious “bad press.”
It takes a special kind of writer, however—typically a respected “expert” from a prominent think tank—to pen something that sounds studious and reasonable but is actually a deliberately misleading defense of the untenable status quo in Haiti.
Mark L. Schneider, President of the International Crisis Group and former U.S. government official, is one such writer. In his September 20 op-ed for the Christian Science Monitor titled, “UN Can’t Leave Haiti Until Rule of Law is Established,” he calls for a multi-year extension of the UN peacekeeping mission’s mandate in Haiti. Masquerading as a sober and objective analysis, his piece offers a highly selective reading of the facts that borders on outright propaganda.
For example, in pushing for an extension of MINUSTAH, as the UN mission is known, Schneider silences the millions of Haitians who oppose the presence of foreign troops on their soil and want the mission to withdraw. Between 65 to 75 percent of Haitians in Port-au-Prince, in two separate surveys, said they want UN troops to leave the country within the year.
Schneider, however, doesn’t see fit to mention any of this opposition in his op-ed. Instead, he says “everyone” he met with in Haiti believes MINUSTAH is needed to support the Haitian police force.
If this is truly the case, Schneider has evidently not bothered to talk with some of Haiti’s most prominent human rights activists, nor with its Senators, who passed a resolution last year calling on MINUSTAH to withdraw. “The presence of the UN in Haiti is a scandal; it is not useful for anyone,” Senator Jean William Jeanty told a reporter earlier this year, adding that its presence “is not a necessity for us.”
While this is a common refrain among Haitians, they don’t have the ear of policy-makers that Schneider does. He’s testified numerous times on Haiti before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. This op-ed appears timed in an effort to improve the peacekeeping mission’s public image before its mandate comes up for renewal at the UN Security Council next month.
Never mind that no foreign military occupation is permitted by Haiti’s constitution. He says the “logical time” for MINUSTAH to withdraw is after four more years, following Haiti’s next presidential election, and praises its involvement in the last round of polls in his International Crisis Group report.
But if Haiti’s last election in 2010 is any guide, this represents a call for diminished Haitian democracy. “At around noon, they called me,” former Haitian President René Préval said in an interview, referring to representatives of the international community, including the UN. “‘It’s no longer an election,’ they told me. ‘It’s a political problem. Do you want a plane to leave?’”
Election day had been a complete fiasco. Finding themselves unable to vote, earthquake victims at one official settlement threw rocks at their polling station as UN troops fled. Diplomatic cables had long since slammed the UN’s “mismanagement” of elections. All but one of the presidential candidates joined hands on stage and called for the election to be annulled, amidst growing protests in the streets.
But through the intervention of the UN and its foreign partners, the flawed election was manipulated and salvaged. It’s no wonder that in the runoff round, two right-wing candidates emerged who opposed the very same “populist and anti-market economy political forces” that the US Embassy credits MINUSTAH with suppressing. Participation from the Haitian electorate hit historically low levels.
As for Haiti’s cholera epidemic, Schneider euphemistically says MINUSTAH “is blamed” for it. The reality, of course, is that the United Nations is correctly blamed for the cholera epidemic because it is responsible, according to multiple studies, for introducing cholera bacteria into Haiti’s waterways through negligent waste disposal.
Bill Clinton, the UN Special Envoy to Haiti, has acknowledged as much, and a Haitian human rights group is currently suing the UN for reparations on behalf of thousands of cholera victims. Ignoring these facts in any discussion of Haiti’s cholera epidemic is tantamount to relaying disinformation.
Perhaps what’s most offensive are Schneider’s paeans to MINUSTAH’s bolstering of the rule of law. This is a cruel joke for the Haitian victims of sexual abuse and other acts of violence by UN troops who have long been denied the opportunity to confront the perpetrators in court.
After all, MINUSTAH systematically applies immunity from Haitian courts to its personnel—foreign and Haitian—for all transgressions. And for eight years, it has refused to create a Standing Claims Commission to hear cases against it, as called for by its own mandate. Its personnel enjoy near-complete impunity. Schneider talks of the need for justice reform in Haiti. But the peacekeeping mission and its supporters are in no position to lecture Haitians on respect for the rule of law.
One example provides a stark illustration of MINUSTAH’s lawlessness: that of 16-year-old Gerard Jean Gilles, who was found hanged inside a Cap Haitien UN base two years ago. Edmond Mulet, the former head of the UN force—while giving speeches promoting the “rule of law” compact lauded by Schneider—personally intervened to block a Haitian judge’s effort to investigate the case. Mulet asserted that Gilles committed suicide and quashed the judiciary’s attempt to subpoena a Haitian suspect employed by MINUSTAH. The suspect enjoyed immunity, Mulet claimed.
This earned an angry rebuke from Haiti’s then-justice minister. To this day, the case was never fully investigated and Gilles’ family believes he was murdered.
Eighteen-year-old Johnny Jean, 17-year-old Rose Mina Joseph, 29-year-old Joseph Gilbert, 20-year-old Abel Joseph, 19-year-old Armos Bazile, and 14-year-old Roody Jean—this is only a partial list of young Haitians who have been abused by the UN soldiers in the past year alone.
This is to say nothing of the scores of civilians killed by MINUSTAH’s brutal raids on the capital’s slum of Cité Soleil in 2005 and 2006. They don’t merit a single mention in Schneider’s op-ed, nor in the 38-page report on MINUSTAH his group authored.
Schneider pays a perfunctory bit of lip service to the idea that MINUSTAH should do more to vet and train its troops against misconduct. But for nearly a decade, the mission has failed to adequately address these issues. “Sexual exploitation and abuse (SEA) occurs by MINUSTAH members who are determined to circumvent MINUSTAH's anti-SEA mechanisms,” a former US Ambassador to Haiti concluded in a diplomatic cable.
It’s no surprise, then, that the litany of injustices—those that have been documented, anyway—stretches throughout MINUSTAH’s history in Haiti. The victims’ families must wonder: How can a UN mission that spreads disease and shields criminal abusers from the law be expected to build peace in Haiti?
Schneider, the expert analyst, has fashioned an answer. But it’s not an honest one.
Ansel Herz is a multimedia journalist who reported from Haiti for two years for Inter-Press Service and Free Speech Radio News. His work has been published by ABC News, The Nation, New York Daily News, and Al Jazeera English, among other publications and broadcast outlets. Ansel is a graduate of the University of Texas at Austin School of Journalism. Follow him on Twitter @Ansel.