In the midst of a cholera epidemic that has killed a reported 1,300 Haitians, the U.S., Canada and the United Nations insisted that Haiti’s elections go ahead yesterday, as scheduled.
However elections might not be the most accurate term for the process by which a new Haitian president and lawmakers will be selected at the polls.
The ruling party’s hand-picked electoral council has banned the most popular Haitian political party, Fanmi Lavalas (FL), from the presidential election. FL leader Jean Bertrand Aristide, who was elected as Haiti’s president in 2000, has been exiled in Africa since a coup d’etat in 2004, when he was removed by the U.S., and warned, in the words of Donald Rumsfeld, not to “come back into the hemisphere.”
Meanwhile, the Institute for Justice & Democracy in Haiti is warning that the presence of troops from the UN “stabilization” mission in Haiti (also known as MINUSTAH) at polling stations “is more likely to trigger violence than prevent it.”
UN troops and Haitian National Police killed two demonstrators at anti-MINUSTAH protests in the city of Cap Haitien on November 15 and 16. And over the following two days, they tear-gassed Haitians participating in a march in Port-au-Prince, which as journalist Kim Ives reported for Haiti Liberte, “seriously sickened many women and children in the tent camps on the Champ de Mars in front of the collapsed National Palace.”
Calls for the withdrawal of the UN troops have been escalating amidst accusations that UN soldiers’ fecal matter, dumped into a waterway that feeds into Haiti’s Artibonite river, was the likely source of the cholera.
Prior to last month, there had never been a documented case of cholera in Haiti, and as late as March the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) was saying that the illness was “extremely unlikely” to occur in Haiti. Today, the Pan-American Health Organization is projecting that 200,000 people may be infected within a year, and that “we may have 10,000 dead.”
On October 27, Associated Press reporter Jonathan Katz broke the story of the suspected source of the cholera–an overflowing septic tank behind a UN base housing the Nepalese peacekeeping troops, who had arrived in Haiti just after a summer of cholera outbreaks in Nepal.
After visiting the site of the UN base, Katz reported that
a tank was clearly overflowing. The back of the base smelled like a toilet had exploded. Reeking, dark liquid flowed out of a broken pipe, toward the river, from next to what the soldiers said were latrines. U.N. military police were taking samples in clear jars with sky-blue U.N. lids, clearly horrified.
At the shovel-dug waste pits across the street sat yellow-brown pools of feces where ducks and pigs swam in the overflow. The path to the river ran straight downhill.
According to Harvard University microbiology chair John Mekalanos, the cholera “very much likely did come either with peacekeepers or other relief personnel.” “I don’t see there is any way to avoid the conclusion that an unfortunate and presumably accidental introduction of the organism occurred,” he recently told AP.
However the cholera epidemic sweeping the country raises a bigger question about the role of countries such as the U.S., Canada and France, that have boasted for years about all the “aid” they’ve provided to Haiti.
I mean, with all this international “help,” why on earth doesn’t Haiti have the basic infrastructure that could have prevented the cholera outbreak?
Independent journalist Isabeau Doucet recently offered some very relevant context in a commentary for the Guardian, pointing out that
A decade ago, money was in place to address the country’s failing water system. In 2000, a $54m (£34m) loan from the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) should have given the Haitian government means to rehabilitate its urban and rural water systems.”
However, “US foreign policy objectives of destabilising the democratically elected Aristide government got in the way,” Doucet stated.
In a 2004 article for the London Review of Books, Harvard medical professor Paul Farmer, who is now the UN’s Deputy Special Envoy for Haiti, specified that “Haitian and American sources have confirmed to me that the US asked the bank to block the loans.”
At a UN donors’ conference in March 2010, the international community promised $5.3 billion to rebuild Haiti after the January 12 earthquake. (A sum that is considerably less than the tens of billions of dollars Haiti is owed for the illegitimate debts that have been extorted from Haitians by Western governments and financial institutions since 1825.)
Nearly eight months after these pledges, an estimated 1.7 million people are still living under tarps in unsafe makeshift camps.
MINUSTAH recently issued a statement calling the organizers of recent protests in Haiti “the enemies of stability and democracy.”
But protest seems the most reasonable response to the present situation.
Not least for those of us whose governments promised a bright future for a “New Haiti” just nine months ago.
Isabel MacDonald is a Montreal-based freelance journalist. She can be reached at isabelmacdonald1 at gmail.co. Follow her on Twitter: www.twitter.com/isabelmacdo
Photo by Robert Miller