Protesting the UN in Haiti
NEW YORK--Two dozen Haitian solidarity activists gathered outside the United Nations building on December 10 to demand the withdrawal of the 12,000-member UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH). The demonstration consisted of protestors from the newly formed Coalition Against Sham Elections and Occupation (in Creole, Koalisyon kont eleksyon fo màmit ak okipasyon).
Despite the chilly weather, the crowd chanted with enthusiasm: "Clinton: Out of Haiti, OAS: Out of Haiti, and MINUSTAH: Out of Haiti." In addition to demanding the withdrawal of UN troops, the demonstrators also called for the removal of the Conseil Electoral Provisoire d'Haiti (CEP) and the invalidation of the November 28 elections.
On Election Day, some voters with identification cards were not able to vote, and some could not even find polling stations. Former First Lady Mirlande Manigat and Jude Célestin, son-in-law of outgoing President René Préval, have advanced to a January runoff. Michel Martelly came in third, according to the official results, missing second by a few thousand votes, and thus will be left out of the proposed January elections.
Yet the CEP and the Organization of American States (OAS) have declared the election valid. When the election results were announced on December 8, thousands of Haitians took to the streets in protest. Mass demonstrations broke out in major cities such as Port-au-Prince and Cap Haitien.
The U.S., with the assistance of Brazilian, Chilean and Nepalese troops, occupies Haiti. The military campaign began in 2004 and continues six years later. Despite promises to restore stability, MINUSTAH has done little to help Haitians. This is even more apparent in the wake of the devastating January 12, 2010, earthquake. The lack of sanitation has sparked a recent cholera outbreak, and 1.5 million people are still displaced. Impoverished and embittered Haitians live in camps that are omnipresent throughout Port au Prince and surrounding areas.
Recently, investigators from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute concluded that the strain of cholera currently devastating Haiti originated in Southeast Asia--with UN troops most likely the source. And despite the hundreds of millions of dollars donated by individual and institutional donors to address Haiti's humanitarian crisis, Haitians are continuously disappointed--or worse--by the sluggish and often non-existent relief effort.
Most earthquake victims have not reaped the benefits of the donated funds, which are supposed to be used to provide access to clean water, housing and infrastructure. "Basically what you have is a systematic disenfranchisement of the people and the government," explained a member of the Coalition Against Sham Elections and Occupation. "They have made sure that the government relies completely on foreign aid. Now, they take the aid away to strangle you...What we have to really worry about is why they are doing that."
THE UN occupation has reduced Haitian self-sufficiency and undermined political dissent by co-opting grassroots opposition. So why are the U.S. and UN interested in controlling Haitian affairs? For one, labor in Haiti is cheap. Wages in Haiti are abysmally low--less than $2 a day. Under the current conditions of global competition, this helps keep all wages in the Caribbean low.
Historically, Haitians have resisted imperialism, and the current situation has shown that they will continue to do so. When the U.S. military used brutal force to occupy Haiti between 1915 and 1934, Haitians led various protests throughout the country. The current protests reflect years of bitterness at harsh treatment under military occupation and capitalist exploitation.
Similar to previous historical moments, the press, radio stations and cultural associations can serve as sites for political discourse and mobilization of grassroots opposition. Most people around the world would agree that Haitians should be freed from the squalor of living in tent communities, but Haitians will need to organize themselves to demand this from the UN, which is more interested in "stability" than relief efforts.
Describing the state of the grassroots movements in Haiti, Kim Ives, a long-time Haitian solidarity activist, explained:
The organizations are very embryonic. They're formed from the Tèt Kole Organization Popular. They've organized some demonstrations. They've organized press conferences and a few actions, but they don't have the leadership and the organizational strength and numbers to really lead the response to the occupation and this electoral scam. That's what hopefully will happen now as it's tested...The present struggle, the crisis that will now be continuing for the next three or four months will be the coming of age, hopefully, of this new movement as it finds its footing and gets grounded.
It is imperative that the left remains organized in supporting Haitian autonomy by calling for an end to the UN occupation and the reversal of the sham elections. The demonstration outside the UN, though small, is an example of the kind of international solidarity that is needed to defend Haitian self-determination from U.S. imperialism imposed in the guise of "humanitarian relief.