Leading up to the elections on Sunday we will be posting commentary from CEPR's Alex Main, who is in Haiti this week. The following is the third installment, click here for the first or here for the second:
After a heavy dose of meetings with foreign aid workers at the UN Log base we decide that it’s time that we heard from some of the Haitians most affected by the January 12 earthquake. Over two days we visit a few of the tent and tarp camps around Port-au-Prince that are now home to nearly a million and a half individuals who lost their homes during the quake. Everywhere we go we ask camp dwellers – referred to in a clinical manner by the international aid community as internally displaced people, or IDPs – what they think of the elections, the cholera epidemic and the general situation of their country following the earthquake.
Located in the heart of downtown Port-au-Prince in the Chanmas public park, this camp lodges hundreds of families that lost their homes in the nearby neighborhoods of Kafou Fey and Fò Nasyonal which were hit particularly hard by the earthquake. As is frequently the case with most of the camps throughout the city, Chanmas is an informal camp; in other words, the Haitian government never authorized the use of the site for temporary shelter. According to camp dwellers and outside witnesses, Haitian authorities, with the backing of MINUSTAH and the Haitian police, have done everything they can to discourage people from staying by restricting aid and intimidating residents. But for many of those who set up camp here in the days following the earthquake there was no other available space in the area and, to this day, there is nowhere else for them to go. And so, despite the discomfort, hostility and lack of basic services they have for the most part stayed put.
Every Tuesday morning at the UN Log base representatives of international agencies and relief organizations involved in post-quake relief operations meet in “cluster” meetings, where they share news regarding their various projects and discuss ways in which to coordinate and improve delivery of humanitarian assistance on the ground. If there’s any place that can be considered the strategic hub of the relief effort, this is it. We arrive at the base at 8am eager to learn more about how organizations are responding to the cholera crisis and what is being done, if anything, in relation to the November 28 legislative and presidential elections.
Haitian protesters have been chanting: "MINUSTAH go home," MINUSTAH being the name of the UN force.
Why do UN troops remain in Haiti? What are their plans for leaving? Is there a timetable for the withdrawal of UN forces from Haiti? If not, why not?
If the demands by Haitian protesters for UN forces to leave are not just, shouldn't someone have to explain why? No explanation is being given for why UN troops should remain in Haiti indefinitely.
Deaths from the cholera epidemic in Haiti could rise above 10,000 if help doesn't quicken, but bureaucracy is slowing aid down, says a Canadian who heads the United Nations humanitarian efforts in the Caribbean country.
"All the conditions for a massive cholera epidemic are present in Haiti," Nigel Fisher told CBC News. "It is exploding."
The United Nations puts the reported cholera death toll at 1,344, but says experts believe the tally could be as high as 2,000. Though official numbers state about 50,000 Haitians have been stricken by the disease, Fisher believes the true number could be closer to 70,000.
"If we don't move — we, the whole community and national counterparts — don't accelerate the process, we could see deaths going above 10,000 or so."
While additional funds are necessary to combat the outbreak, Fisher said the key to tackling the treatable disease are setting up more treatment centres and moving resources from future projects and reconstruction to cholera.
"This today is the most urgent crisis Haiti is facing," he said. "Put the resources in now. Let's worry about next year next year."
[MINUSTAH head Edmond] Mulet said 4.5 million Haitians have been registered to vote for president and for seats in the parliament, and that campaign rallies and caravans are being held without incident. He cautioned that former Haitian soldiers and gangs may attempt to disrupt the voting.Sadly, there was actually a fatal shooting incident today – media reporting a clash between supporters of presidential candidates Jude Celestin and Charles Henri Baker, respectively, with two people dying.
HRRW's own Dan Beeton writes in today's Los Angeles Times:
Haiti is scheduled to hold elections on Nov. 28, and nothing — neither the cholera outbreak that has killed more than 1,000 people nor the fact that more than 1 million earthquake survivors remain homeless — seems likely to convince the Haitian government or its international backers that the vote should be postponed. It should be. Why? The electoral process is rigged. Unfortunately, the Obama administration seems happy to go along with the charade.
Earlier this month President Obama rightly condemned the bogus elections in Burma (renamed Myanmar by the military regime). He said: "The unfair electoral laws and overtly partisan Election Commission [controlled by the military regime] ensured that Burma's leading pro-democracy party, the National League for Democracy, was silenced and sidelined." And NLD party leader Aung San Suu Kyi
Now that a similarly flawed process is about to be repeated much closer to home, the Obama administration should be equally adamant in condemning it.
Witnesses told an AP Television News cameraman that the peacekeepers opened fire, killing a demonstrator and wounding one protester in the face, one in the stomach and another in the leg. The dead man's body was displayed to reporters with a fatal gunshot wound in his left armpit.
The U.N. denied its peacekeepers fired, insisting there wasn't any shooting at the scene by anyone. The U.N. acknowledged earlier in the week when a peacekeeper killed one of the two other demonstrators who have died, saying the soldier shot in self-defense.
“The way the events unfolded suggests that these incidents were politically motivated, aimed at creating a climate of insecurity on the eve of elections,” the mission, known as MINUSTAH, said in a statement.The protesters, according to news reports, largely held MINUSTAH responsible for bringing cholera (with a death toll now over 1000) into Haiti, where it had not been seen for decades. Despite calls from public health experts like Paul Farmer to pin point the cause of the epidemic, and the popular anger directed at MINUSTAH, officials have shied away from such an investigation. As reported by the Associated Press, a World Health Organization official said today that "at some time we will do further investigation but it's not a priority right now."
“MINUSTAH calls the people to remain vigilant and not be manipulated by enemies of stability and democracy in the country,” the mission added.
The World Health Organization said Friday that the epidemic isn't likely to end soon.
"The projections of 200,000 cases over the next six to twelve months shows the amplitude of what could be expected," said WHO spokesman Gregory Hartl. He noted that the current fatality rate of 6.5 percent is far higher than it should be.
"Cholera, now that it is in Haiti, probably the bacteria will be there for a number of years to come," he added. "It will not go away."
In and around Port-au-Prince, obviously where the earthquake damage last January was most significant, there are 400 shelters available in and around Port-au-Prince and these shelters can accommodate close to 1 million people, and we’ve been encouraging the people of Haiti to move to those shelters if they’re able in anticipation of the storm. If there is a silver lining here, it’s a very small one.AP reported that
Officials in Haiti maintain a list of thousands of usable shelters in the capital -- often schools and churches -- but it is not being released to the public, despite pressure from international aid groups who say the information could save lives.
“We don't want people to know where these buildings are because people are going to invade and we won't have enough places for the people who really need them," [Nadia Lochard, Haiti civil protection departmental coordinator for the area that includes Port-au-Prince] said.
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. She said the epidemic will contain lessons for humanitarian relief work and disaster relief around the world.Some experts, such as Partners in Health founder, U.N. deputy special envoy, and award-winning doctor and humanitarian, Paul Farmer, urged continued investigation into the cause, despite UN reluctance. Farmer added that the decision not to investigate the diseases origins, “sounds like politics to me, not science.” AP also reports that
"It has to be either peacekeepers or humanitarian relief workers, that's the bottom line," she said.
there are at least six Lavalas candidates in the presidential race, including former Aristide Prime Minister Yvon Neptune and Minister of Haitians Living Abroad Leslie Voltaire, and Yves Cristallin, Fanmi Lavalas co-founder and former Préval minister of Social Affairs.For anyone who’s been following the controversy around the Provisional Electoral Council’s (CEP’s) arbitrary exclusion of political parties from this month’s ballot – perhaps most notably Fanmi Lavalas -- this statement may have come as a surprise. When we prodded Charles for a clarification, she stated that she stood by what she wrote, as she never wrote that any candidates were running under Fanmi Lavalas, and that Lavalas was a movement long before the Fanmi Lavalas party was founded.
"Breaking: North American news outlets "excited" by Haiti cholera outbreak. They say for them, "without a crisis, Haiti doesn't exist."Herz continues:
Now, CNN crews are back in Haiti, covering a deadly cholera epidemic that has killed at least 330 people and infected nearly 5,000, according to officials. The bacteria incubate in bodies before causing symptoms or passing into the environment. What most media reports ignore is that the epidemic has been years in the making.
The George W. Bush administration blocked millions of dollars in loans from the Inter-American Development Bank for public water infrastructure in Haiti's central region. In the previous decade, President Bill Clinton pressured the Haitian government into slashing tariffs on imported American rice, devastating the rice farming economy of the area.
Families are so poor they have no choice but to drink, bathe and cook with water from the muddy Artibonite River, where the cholera outbreak began. Yet UN officials said this epidemic was unexpected, attempting to excuse their slow response and failure to quarantine the zone where cholera broke out - even as they took credit in preceding months for preventing a postearthquake outbreak of infectious disease.
Hundreds of patients reporting those symptoms have overwhelmed a hospital in the seaside town of St. Marc, some 45 miles (about 70 kilometres) north of the capital of Port-au-Prince, Catherine Huck, country deputy for the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, told The Associated Press.
It remains unclear if the cases are linked. U.N. and Haitian health care workers are running tests for cholera, typhoid and other diseases, with results possible on Thursday, said OCHA-Haiti spokeswoman Jessica DuPlessis.
As we noted on Saturday, MINUSTAH, whose mandate is “to protect civilians under imminent threat of physical violence,” and “support …Haitian human rights institutions and groups in their efforts to promote and protect human rights; and to monitor and report on the human rights situation in the country,” among other responsibilities, attacked a group of peaceful demonstrators Friday who were criticizing the UN’s decision to renew MINUSTAH’s mandate for another year. Following the decision, “a coalition of grassroots and political opposition groups took to the streets to call for the end of what they say is an occupying force costing millions but doing little to ensure the security of the general population,” independent reporter Isabeau Doucet writes.
Among the threats MINUSTAH soldiers engaged with at the protest were foreign journalists, as “A reckless UN vehicle pushed a hand full of journalists, including myself and Al Jazeera’s correspondent, into a trash-filled ditch,” Doucet states. Another independent journalist, Ansel Herz, was threatened at gunpoint (click the link to see a photo).
Herz reports that “The protesters were peaceful, except for one bottle thrown at the end.” Nevertheless, as Other Worlds Program Coordinator Beverly Bell describes:
On October 15, according to video footage and to witness Melinda Miles of Let Haiti Live, about 200 people were marching in front of the U.N. logistics base when MINUSTAH forces fired two bullets in the air and leveled their guns at demonstrators. A MINUSTAH vehicle and a second UN car pushed three foreign journalists and at least two Haitian demonstrators into a ditch. Haitian police then began striking demonstrators and journalists, including foreigners Sebastien Davis-VanGelder and Federico Matias, with the butts of their rifles. A policeman bashed his rifle into the mouth of a demonstrator from the Kanarin camp, knocking out his front teeth.
“There was no provocation at all. The Haitian police and the private UN security guards were so aggressive. They were just looking to do violence,” said Miles.
The Associated Press and Al-Jazeera both reported yesterday on a protest at the "main U.N. logistics base" following the UN Security Council's decision to extend MINUSTAH's mandate. The protest, which involved around 100 people was broken up by MINUSTAH forces. AP correspondents, who were on the ground, reported that:
U.N. security personnel then emerged from the base. A plainclothes guard struck a protester before a Jordanian soldier with the mission fired a warning shot. AP journalists also saw a Haitian policeman hit protesters with his rifle and a U.N. vehicle push through the crowd, knocking over protesters and journalists.While Sebastian Walker of Al-Jazeera noted that, "Haitians feel that the presence of [UN] security personnel doesn't offer much in terms of ordinary Haitians living in camps."