Where the Cure is the Disease and the Doctor Sickens the Patient: The Pathology of Occupation in Haiti

Posted on November 18, 2010 by

An internationally-organized basket case. A festering garbage dump. An international protectorate, imposed and enforced by Western powers, and applied by the United Nations. A dependency lorded over by 3,000 NGOs, the United Nations with 12,000 troops, and the U.S. military which was eager to take control of the country in the weeks after the 12 January 2010 earthquake (with little actual aid provided since then). A disaster capitalism industry, where 14,000 NGO workers make a living off of “aiding” Haitians, and the UN’s euphemistic “Haiti Stabilization Mission” (MINUSTAH) gets 20% of the $760 million allocated for “Haitian reconstruction” each year (Danto). And then some tried and tested accusations against the Haitian people–these are mobs, acting on rumour, because they are criminals. The only thing UN spokespersons have so far failed to add, to make their points more obvious, is statements such as: “And you know, these are black people in the end.”

The UN has been rhetorically reducing protesters to “mobs” acting on “rumours” with the intent of “destabilizing” and “spoiling” the upcoming elections. Yet the UN itself, the Centers for Disease Control, and the World Health Organization all claimed that it’s not important to know the source of the cholera and that trying to find out would be a “distraction” (AP)–in other words, in reply to Haitian rumours, the occupiers offer nothing. A spokesman for the World Health Organization said finding the cause of the outbreak is “not important right now.”

“Right now, there is no active investigation. I can’t say one way or another (if there will be). It is not something we are thinking about at the moment. What we are thinking about is the public health response in Haiti,” said spokesman Gregory Hartl (AP).

The main concern of the UN has become reinforcing the “peacekeepers” (AFP). Sounding like out-of-place American officials, MINUSTAH has declared the anti-UN violence a “national security issue.”

It’s not the first time the Caribbean has been visited by unscrupulous intruders, powered by ambition and carrying disease. There is evidence that one of the NGOs, the Red Cross, is distributing water that is making Haitians sick (also see Danto):

Let’s look at some of the ways that the UN has tried to colonize the ideological battlespace of Haiti with naming, stigma, and a drive to preserve the unwanted and unwelcome aid industry that sustains thousands of foreigners while more than a thousand Haitians have already died for causes that are directly attributable to the foreign, disease-bearing intruders. Not surprisingly, the subtext is that this is all for the good of Haitians, whether they like it or not. When empire greedily projects itself, it tries to maintain itself during decline by encouraging everyone else to believe that empire, ultimately, is good for everyone else, and the imperialists are just misunderstood and benign altruists. The Haitian case should, at the very least, demand that future defenders of wild and idiotic schemes of humanitarian interventionism speak in more sober and circumspect tones. As for those of you who want to “help the Haitian people” by joining some NGO and trying to get your beak stuck into Haitian hide, here’s some advice: stay home.

“Altruism” in the Time of Cholera

Of course, as the UN would have it, the “mobs” rising up in Cap-Haitien were motivated by ignorance, acting on rumour. Let’s take a look at this wild, irrational, savage mind. Why would they think that the UN, and specifically Nepalese troops, brought cholera? And there is the first answer: the uprising has not suggested that all of the UN, everywhere in Haiti, has brought cholera–which would be the politically useful or the ‘wildly savage’ way of seeing things–but rather a specific base, at a specific time, in an exact location.

  • No cases of cholera were found upstream of the Nepalese UN base, but were found downstream from it (Axis of Logic).
  • MINUSTAH has a Nepalese contingent in Mirebalais. Nepal regularly has cholera outbreaks, one of the last ones occurring in September 23 at Kathmandu, Nepal’s capital and at Nepalgunj, Nepal in August of 2010 infecting 1400 and leaving 8 dead (Pacific Free Press).
  • “Laguerre Lochard, the mayor of Mirebalais, along with many of the citizens of Mirebalais accuse this UN base to be the source of the cholera outbreak….Mayor Lochard and Mirebalais residents say they’ve seen, with their own eyes [and see the video from Al Jazeera below], waste from this UN base spilling out, leaking and also some area residents say they have seen the soldiers relieving themselves at the Meille river, which feeds into the Artibonite River and is at the exact location where the outbreak started. They worry because these Nepalese soldiers may be infected without showing symptoms. The rains, storms and downpours, they say, perhaps carried their infections South where the people of Haiti are now dying in droves” (Pacific Free Press).

  • Contrary to Western media rumours (AFP as one example) that Haiti had cholera 50 years ago–in actual fact it has never before documented any case of cholera (AP). “According to Haiti’s president and health minister, Haiti has never before found cholera in the country” (Pacific Free Press).
  • “The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that the strain of cholera that has killed at least 442 people the past three weeks matches strains found in South Asia” (AP)
  • “John Mekalanos, a cholera expert and chairman of Harvard University’s microbiology department, said it is important to know exactly where and how the disease emerged because it is a novel, virulent strain previously unknown in the Western Hemisphere — and public health officials need to know how it spreads. Interviewed by phone from Cambridge, Massachusetts, Mekalanos said evidence suggests Nepalese soldiers carried the disease when they arrived in early October following outbreaks in their homeland. ‘The organism that is causing the disease is very uncharacteristic of (Haiti and the Caribbean), and is quite characteristic of the region from where the soldiers in the base came,’ said Mekalanos'” (AP)
  • “Laurie Garrett, senior fellow for global health at the Council on Foreign Relations, said it is clear that the disease was imported to Haiti but that it is still not clear by whom or how….’It has to be either peacekeepers or humanitarian relief workers, that’s the bottom line'” (AP)
  • “Mekalanos said researchers might be more aggressive in finding the source of the infection if the case was less sensitive. ‘I think that it is an attempt to maybe do the politically right thing and leave some agencies a way out of this embarrassment. But they should understand that … there is a bigger picture here,’ he said. ‘It’s a threat to the whole region'” (AP)
  • As for the UN denying that its base or its troops are the source of cholera, based on “tests” it conducted…Mekalanos “cast doubt on U.N. military tests released this week that showed no sign of cholera. The tests were taken from leaking water and an underground waste container at the base a week after the epidemic was first noted and processed at a lab in the neighboring Dominican Republic, U.N. spokesman Vincenzo Pugliese said. Mekalanos said that it is extremely difficult to accurately isolate cholera in environmental samples and that false negatives are common. The Nepalese troops were not tested for cholera before their deployment if they did not present symptoms. But health officials say 75 percent of people infected with cholera bacteria do not show symptoms and can still pass on the disease for weeks” (AP)
  • The Associated Press found questionable sanitation in an unannounced visit to the base last week and an exclusive tour of the facility given by peacekeepers Sunday. Despite earlier statements that sanitation at the base was up to international standards, on Monday the mission acknowledged there are santiation problems and said they are being solved” (Axis of Logic).
  • “The U.N. issued a statement on Tuesday defending the base. It said the Nepalese unit there uses seven sealed septic tanks built to U.S. Environmental Protection Agency standards, emptied every week by a private company to a landfill site a safe 820 feet (250 meters) from the river. But those are not the conditions AP found on Wednesday. A buried septic tank inside the fence was overflowing and the stench of excrement wafted in the air. Broken pipes jutting out from the back spewed liquidOne, positioned directly behind latrines, poured out a reeking black flow from frayed plastic pipe which dribbled down to the river where people were bathing” (Pacific Free Press).
  • “Pugliese (the UN Mission spokesman ) denied that the reeking black flows from the base were human waste, saying that the only liquid investigators was testing came from kitchens and showers. He said the pipes had only been exposed for the tests, though he could not explain why the liquid inside them was allowed to flow toward the river. The samples were collected in mid-morning by uniformed military personnel, who scooped black liquid into clear jars with U.N. sky-blue lids. About a half hour later, as AP and Al Jazeera journalists stood by, the Nepalese troops began hacking around the septic tank with pickaxes and covered the exposed pipe jutting from behind the fence, but did not plug it” (Pacific Free Press).

Not a bad chain of concrete evidence, documentation, corroboration, and deductive thinking for ‘irrational mobs.’ Maybe instead of deflecting attention toward “elections” –ironically, something just as sickening: another set of UN-assisted fraudulent elections (having pulled off a few successful frauds in Afghanistan)–the UN should be busying itself with convincing Haitians that its military occupation is not the source of virulent harm, repression, and even the abuse and rape of Haitian children and women (see BBC, Salon, Examiner). Since such explanations could never be convincing, the next step for the UN would be pleading with Haitians not to do what the situation demands: to burn down the UN bases and string its personnel by their own guts from lamp posts.

“Elections” in the Time of Cholera

This month, on 28 November 2010, the UN will assist Haitian elites in mounting another tawdry electoral spectacle. Far from “stabilization,” the UN mission, and a whole range of international donors, are supporting a process that has banned the most popular political party from the elections along with a dozen others. Speaking of the uprising, the UN mission “blamed the violence in Cap-Haitien and Hinche on political agitators it said were bent on stirring up unrest ahead of presidential and legislative elections set for November 28 in the earthquake-hit Caribbean country” (Reuters). In a formal statement, MINUSTAH declared:

“The way events unfolded suggests that these incidents were politically motivated, aimed at creating a climate of insecurity on the eve of elections. MINUSTAH calls the people to remain vigilant and not be manipulated by enemies of stability and democracy in the country” (CBC).

On Tuesday the UN again “blamed political and criminal ‘spoilers’ in Haiti for attacks on U.N. peacekeepers, saying those agitators sought to sabotage elections this month by manipulating public fear over a cholera epidemic that has killed more than 1,000 people” (Reuters). Edmond Mulet, the head of the UN mission in Haiti told Reuters: “All this is certainly not spontaneous,” …adding the United Nations had found the attacks in Cap-Haitien were “well planned and coordinated.” But the only planned and coordinated attack has been on Haitian democracy, by Western powers in alliance with local elites: since the coup that overthrew the Fanmi Lavalas government in 2004, with the support of troops from Canada, France, and the United States, Lavalas has been banned from most elections since then, and along with a dozen other parties it has again been banned from the upcoming elections. If Haitians were to take UN advice seriously, they would therefore launch even more vigorous attacks against the UN itself, as part of that criminal class of “spoilers” who have destabilized and thwarted Haitian democracy. Lavalas remains the most popular political party in Haiti–hence it has been banned. As Haiti Action reported, in a recent OpEd in the Miami Herald former Counsel to the President of Haiti, Ira Kurzban wrote:

“Imagine if the Federal Election Commission in the United States disqualified the Democratic and Republican parties from the 2012 presidential election and declared that only candidates of minor parties could run. No one would consider it a fair election, and certainly the people of the United States would rise up, claiming the election is unconstitutional and undemocratic.

Yet the upcoming presidential and parliamentary elections in Haiti on Nov. 28 are just that — unfair, unconstitutional and undemocratic. The country’s Provisional Electoral Council, which itself is not constitutionally composed, is refusing to allow the country’s majority party — Famni Lavalas (Lavalas Family) — to participate in the election. Thirteen other legitimate political parties are also being excluded from parliamentary elections.

Maxine Waters (U.S. Member of Congress) in a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton that called for suspension of U.S. funding of Haiti’s fraudulent elections, reminded her:

President John Kennedy famously remarked, “Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable.” Running transparently unfair, exclusive elections, with the support of the international community, will leave many Haitians to conclude that they have no choice but to protest the elections and the consequent government through social disruption. That disruption threatens to severely limit such a government’s ability to govern, and imperils the United States’ past and future investments in Haiti’s reconstruction.

As many as 45 members of Congress supported Waters’ letter to Clinton. They stated: “if the Haitian government does not implement basic democratic reforms, the election will not be viewed as legitimate by the Haitian people or the international community, the next government will lack the ability to govern, and the ongoing recovery process could be impeded.”

Despite some international donors expressing “disappointment” over the banning of Fanmi Lavalas from Haiti’s elections, they are nonetheless continuing to fund the elections (Global Village Voices).

As Haiti Action reports:

Last year — on February 6 — President Préval met with Hillary Clinton in Washington DC, the next day Fanmi Lavalas was banned from the April 19 Senate elections. Fanmi Lavalas was contacted to meet on March 4, 2009 with a high profile delegation — UN Secretary Ban Ki Moon, Presidents Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter — but the meeting was cancelled. When Moon and Clinton did arrive the following week they avoided any meeting with Fanmi Lavalas with the assistance of the US Embassy staff. Lavalas then called for a boycott of the primary election. The USA put $17 million into the primary and the UN plastered the Lavalas strongholds with posters warning the pro-democracy supporters that “more hunger and more violence” would be the result if the People of Haiti honored the Fanmi Lavalas boycott. Less than 3% of the electorate participated in the election. The US media spin was that the elections were a resounding “success for democracy.” For the runoff in June, just about the only voters were the election workers themselves who were required to vote if they wanted to get paid for their day of “work”.

Bernice Robertson, senior Haiti analyst at International Crisis Group (ICG), says that fraud allegations, incomplete voter lists and expected low turnout threaten to undermine Haiti’s elections (Reuters).

The Imperial Protectorate in Haiti: Some Lessons to be Learned

One of the pretensions of “humanitarian interventionism” –which tends to have been the kind of intervention that has accelerated existing humanitarian crises, or has created new ones–is that empire is good for the dominated. There are at least four, generally cost-effective ways of running empire: one is to use native personnel to police other natives, and to rope in local elites to help in the colonization process; the other is to indoctrinate as many as possible into thinking that locals should have a vested interest in their administration by empire, because ‘independence was a failure.’ What is a possible third way of maintaining a cost-effective empire is to persuade other states to pursue your interests for you, as if they were their own interests. A fourth way is to create multinational and multi-actor coalitions, to diffuse the costs, and widen the scope of interests in preying on places such as Haiti: hence, multinational coalitions under the UN, and a gigantic array of NGOs, all profiting from the “civilizing mission.”

If they could force us to dismiss realities–the disease, abuse, garbage, corruption, and anti-democratization of the various destabilization missions that have attacked Haiti–then the second effort might work. It doesn’t. Both ideologically and practically, the UN protectorate in Haiti is an outstanding failure for Haitians, and a success only in gaining grants and funds for NGOs (by the thousands) and for the UN itself, while the colonized troops of Pakistan, Nepal, Brazil, and Nigeria gain experience in policing hostile and recalcitrant locals during natural disasters. Nearly a year after the earthquake, Haiti is even worse off than before–and this happened on the UN’s watch, on the same watch of France, Canada, and the U.S., and what are now Haitian problems were not Haiti’s making.