A critic of western policy in Haiti loses his OAS job

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Brazilian peacekeepers from the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) distribute water and food in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. 22/Jan/2010. Port-au-Prince, Haiti. UN Photo/Marco Dormino/Flickr

On December 25, the Organization of American States removed their special representative, Ricardo Seitenfus, from Haiti. The reason was very simple. He told the truth.

In an interview four days earlier with the Swiss newspaper Le Temps, Seitenfus bluntly expressed the popular discontent which the Haitian people have been saying since the arrival of MINUSTAH (United Nations Stabilization Force in Haiti) on June 1, 2004 -- simply put, that their presence " solves nothing, it makes things worse. [They] want to turn Haiti into a capitalist country, an export platform for U.S. market, it's absurd." The French language article can be read here.

Looking back at MINUSTAH's record, it is hard to disagree with Seitenfus. Since the arrival of the force in Haiti, MINUSTAH has been consistently documented operating under a political agenda, actively oppressing and executing followers of Jean Bertrand Aristide's political party -- Fanmi Lavalas -- and their accompanying demands of democracy, self determination and respect for the human rights of Haiti's poor majority.

MINUSTAH's trigger-happy tactics have been rigorously compiled by Haiti scholar Peter Hallward in his book Damming the Flood (pp. 275-310). According to Hallward, Haiti has been experiencing "one of the most prolonged and intense periods of counter-revolution anywhere in the world. For the last 20 years, the most powerful political and economic interests in and around Haiti have waged a systematic campaign designed to stifle the popular movement and deprive it of its principal weapons, resources and leaders."

The undermining of Haitian democracy by MINUSTAH reached a climax during the recent elections on Nov. 28. MINUSTAH, in partnership with the international community, openly supported the deeply flawed elections in which 15 political parties, including Fanmi Lavalas, were excluded from taking part. Both domestic and international organizations warned the Haitian electoral council and the international community far in advance of the political turmoil a rigged election would unleash in already fragile Haiti. A June report by the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti was stunningly accurate in their warnings, but were disregarded, and the international community continued to finance and support the elections. The outright acceptance of the election process on Nov. 29 gave undeserving legitimacy to a sham, and further highlighted the efforts of MINUSTAH to operate in Haiti to further the demands of the international community and not the Haitian people.

If outright exercise of politically motivated violence and oppression was not enough, the occupation force has come under additional domestic and international scrutiny for importing the deadly cholera strain into the earthquake ravaged nation. At the time of writing, the epidemic had already claimed the lives of over 2,500 people. Epidemiologist Renaud Piarroux, working on behalf of the Haitian and French governments concluded that "there was no doubt that the cholera originated in contaminated water next to a UN base outside the town of Mirebalais along a tributary to Haiti's Artibonite river." In addition to the report by Dr. Piarroux, the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed that the strain of cholera spreading throughout Haiti matches a strain from an earlier outbreak in Nepal -- the home country of a large contingent of soldiers at the Mirebalais base. The United Nations has since announced that they will be launching their own investigation into the source of the outbreak which will be "completely independent" while in the same breath disputing the previously mentioned studies and statements saying that "There are several theories of the origins of the cholera outbreak in Haiti -- not all reports have reached the same conclusion." 

Seitenfus goes on to criticize the fundamental premise of MINUSTAH's modus operandi in Haiti, stating that "When the level of unemployment is 80 per cent, it is unbearable to deploy a stabilization mission. There is nothing to stabilize and everything to build." These comments are disturbingly poignant when contrasted with the patchwork -- albeit well meaning -- operation of many medical charities on the ground. The $600 million per year cost of MINUSTAH's presence since 2004 could no doubt be channelled towards the construction of basic preventative healthcare infrastructure across the country. The money spent on bullets and tanks by MINUSTAH in one year could almost fund the entire $690 million plan by Cuba to rebuild the nation's medical system. However, according to Seitenfus, such plans are not the intention of MINUSTAH or the international community -- as Haiti "offers an open field to any and all humanitarian experiences. It is unacceptable from a moral standpoint to treat Haiti as a laboratory. The reconstruction of Haiti and the shimmering promise of $ 11 billion inspire lust. It seems that a lot of people come to Haiti, not for Haiti but to do business. For me as an American it is a disgrace, an affront to our conscience." Seitenfus later stated that "If there is a proof of the failure of international aid, it is Haiti." 

Despite the plethora of heartbreaking truths contained in Seitenfus' interview, perhaps the most important aspect of the article is his understanding of MINUSTAH's present undermining of Haiti as a continuation of the naked brutality and hypocrisy which has dominated Haiti's relationship to the international community. The historical context provided by Seitenfus is much needed in the current dialogue on Haiti dominated by the distortions of short memories. He goes on to state that:

"The original sin of Haiti on the world stage is its liberation. Haitians committed the unacceptable in 1804: a treasonous crime for a troubled world. The West was then a world of colonialism, slavery and racism that based its wealth on the exploitation of conquered lands. So the Haitian revolutionary model scared the superpowers. The United States did not recognize Haiti's independence until 1865. And France required the payment of a ransom to accept this liberation. From the beginning, its independence was compromised and the development of the country obstructed. The world has never known how to deal with Haiti, so it ended up ignoring it. Thus began 200 years of solitude on the international stage."

While the interview by Seitenfus has yet to receive much media attention in the English language, we can only hope that his courage will become contagious amongst his fellow colleagues at the OAS, and more insiders step forward in such an honest way. Seitenfus stated that he spoke out because "I wanted to express my profound doubts and tell the world that is enough is enough." Without a doubt he is correct. The Haitian people fought and earned their right to self determination over 200 years ago. The fact that the Haitian people have been continually punished for simply demanding their right to exercise the ideals our nations claim to represent is an ongoing insult to any conception of liberty, democracy and equality. It is time for the international community to be held accountable for their self serving actions and hypocritical intentions in Haiti. While Seitenfus' interview may simply be ignored within the wider misguided discussion on Haiti, it is no doubt a step in the right direction.

Kevin Edmonds is a freelance journalist and graduate student at McMaster University's Globalization Institute in Hamilton, Ontario.

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