Newly Wikileaked Cables Provide Context to Anti-MINUSTAH Backlash in the Wake of Scandals

September 14, 2011

We have noted the many scandals that have dogged MINUSTAH’s presence in Haiti since the beginning to the most recent, which involve the video-taped rape of an 18-year-old man, and MINUSTAH troops having sex – and fathering children – with Haitian minors and women. Protests have erupted following these new scandals, and signals from the Haitian government and prominent political figures in Haiti have signaled an impatience with the open-ended Mission.

The Haitian government’s stated support for MINUSTAH’s presence has always been key to its ability to remain in Haiti. A classified Embassy cable by then-Ambassador Janet Sanderson, written in October 2008, and recently made available by Wikileaks, describes how the Haitian government questioned the Mission’s purpose years ago. Then-President René Préval appears to have sought to have MINUSTAH’s mandate changed from a Chapter 7 to a Chapter 6 designation:

2. (C)  UNSRSG Hedi Annabi tells me that Haitian President Rene Preval intends to seek a change in the MINUSTAH mandate from Chapter 7 to Chapter 6 status. Arguing that bringing MINUSTAH here under Chapter 7 sends the signal to investors that Haiti is a “war zone,” and ups insurance rates, Preval told Annabi on October 1 that he is writing the UNSC President to request that the Council revisit this issue  prior to vote on the extension of the MINUSTAH mandate. Annabi added that Preval briefly raised this issue with UNSYG Ban Ki Moon during his courtesy call at the UNGA last month; the SYG tried to dissuade Preval but noted that this matter was more in the purview of the UNSC rather than the SYG’s office.

[Hedi Annabi, was Special Representative of the UN Secretary General and MINUSTAH head before being killed in the January 12, 2010 earthquake.]

As we have noted before, the distinction is important, because while a Chapter 7 designation is intended for situations in which the consent of the destination country for the UN “peace keepers” is not required because “a threat or breach of the peace” exists, a Chapter 6 designation requires “only consent by the state in question.” (See this Statement [PDF] by GWU Law School Professor Michael Matheson; h/t Ansel Herz.) Were MINUSTAH’s mandate to change to a Chapter 6 status, as Préval was suggesting, then all the Haitian government would need to do, presumably, to force the Mission’s exit, would be to publicly call for it.

Interestingly, nowhere in the cable does Sanderson respond to the questioning of whether Haiti is indeed a “war zone.” Were there indeed significant ongoing armed conflict of any sort to justify such a strong military presence, it would seem appropriate for Sanderson to reference it here. The cable seems to suggest that the issue of whether or not warfare exists in Haiti is beside the point for the U.S. government’s insistence on MINUSTAH’s Chapter 7 designation.

The cable demonstrates that Préval’s statements caused consternation for both the U.S. government, which, as we have noted, has made its motives for supporting an ongoing MINUSTAH presence very clear, and, of course for Annabi. Previously Wikileaked cables have revealed the lackluster enthusiasm that many Latin American MINUSTAH members had for the Mission from early on. A key component of the U.S. government’s strategy in encouraging Latin American participation in the Mission was to underscore the Haitian government’s desire for MINUSTAH to stay. Shifting MINUSTAH’s mandate from a Chapter 7 “non-consensual” to a Chapter 6 “consensual” designation could have been interpreted as a signal that the Haitian government was actually not as supportive of the foreign troops’ presence. It would also make plain that there was no “threat or breach of the peace” that justified MINUSTAH’s presence.

3. (C) Annabi told me that he argued strongly with Preval
that opening this matter now might unravel the Security
Council consensus, carefully crafted in 2004-2005, which
brought MINUSTAH to Haiti. He expressed deep concern that
moving to Chapter 6 status could open discussions in certain
capitals about troop commitment levels, calling into question
MINUSTAH’s current configuration. Preval, he said, made it
clear that he wants MINUSTAH to stay through the end of his
term (2011.) But Preval has, deliberately or not,
misinterpreted the difference between the two chapters and
will argue in his letter that MINUSTAH’s military role should
now evolve into a developmental presence.  Preval does not
understand, Annabi states, that MINUSTAH troop contributor
countries may not wish to play that role and could use any
such change to dial back their engagement here.

Sanderson seems to have been alarmed that Préval would pursue this proposal, which she notes had previously been suggested by his Minister of Planning, without consequence. “My Chinese, Canadian and French colleagues all agree that from our vantage point here this is a terrible idea which opens a Pandora’s box of issues better left closed,” she wrote, ending the cable with a request that the Secretary of State’s office “provide guidance on USG position on Preval’s proposal” as she planned to soon meet with Préval.

Another pertinent cable that was just made available, from February 2010, describes the Uruguayan government attempting damage control in the wake of a Frente Amplio (ruling party coalition) statement criticizing the U.S. role in Haiti following the earthquake:

1. Charg???? met with ruling Frente Amplio (FA) coalition president Jorge Brovetto February 3 to explain the U.S. role in Haiti disaster relief and underscore the extensive support the USG is providing to Uruguayan peacekeepers in Haiti. She emphasized the moral imperative our entire government and country feels to come to the aid of Haiti, our full respect for the country’s sovereignty, one government response, and our close coordination with MINUSTAH and other donors. She urged a joint public stance of collaboration that reflects our joint work together on this vital mission. Background: The FA issued a declaration January 28 articulating concern that “hegemonic powers” would take advantage of the current situation, and incoming Minister of Defense Luis Rosadilla, currently in Haiti, has made similar statements.

Considering the U.S. government’s clear desire for a robust, ongoing MINUSTAH presence, the recent sexual abuse scandals involving Uruguayan troops – which have led to President José Mujica apologizing to Haitian president Michel Martelly, and to renewed criticism in Brazil and elsewhere – must be causing new worries in the U.S. Embassy in Port-au-Prince.

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