Uruguayan President José Mujica announced at the Council of Ministers on Monday his decision to withdraw Uruguayan troops from the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH). The Mission was installed by the UN Security Council in 2004 following the coup d’état against former Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, and was reinforced in early 2010 when a devastating earthquake resulted in more than 220,000 deaths, according to government figures.
The UN has encouraged a progressive reduction of MINUSTAH’s troops as the peacekeeping mission’s mandate is coming to an end in June 2014. The latest Security Council resolution established that troops must be reduced to 5,021 soldiers and 2,601 police agents—down from the 8,690 officials who are currently on the island.
According to Uruguayan Defense Minister Eleuterio Fernández Huidobro, Mujica ordered the early withdrawal of the Uruguayan troops, which must be done in coordination with the Security Council and other countries from the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR). The president stated that the process should not be postponed any further, since other countries like Brazil have already decided to leave.
With 950 officials in Haiti, Uruguay is second only to Brazil as the country that provides the greatest number of military officials to MINUSTAH. Besides Uruguay, other nations with peacekeeping troops in Haiti include Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Ecuador, Paraguay, Guatemala, El Salvador and Peru.
The presence of peacekeepers has been the target of popular protests and a source of controversy in Haiti because of the peacekeepers’ role in re-introducing cholera to the country, numerous cases of sexual exploitation and abuse involving MINUSTAH personnel—including the sexual assault of a young Haitian man by Uruguayan troops—and other abuses.
A 19-year old Haitian man who accused six Uruguayan UN peacekeepers of sexually assaulting him testified in a closed Uruguayan civilian court on Thursday. According to the victim, Johnny Jean, the six marines who were serving with the UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) raped him on a UN base in Port Salut last September.
The peacekeepers involved, including one who recorded the incident with his cell phone, were recalled to Uruguay and imprisoned shortly after the case began making headlines. A preliminary investigation conducted by the UN and the Uruguayan Navy concluded that the peacekeepers had acted indecently but had not raped the Haitian man. As a result, the peacekeepers were released in late 2011, pending the outcome of the current investigation. According to Uruguayan Supreme Court spokesman Raul Oxandabarat, next steps in the case will depend on how Judge Alejandro Guido received Mr. Jean’s testimony
Tensions between UN peacekeepers and the local Haitian population have run high since Nepalese peacekeepers were found to be the source of the 2010 cholera outbreak. Less than two years later, the disease has spread across the country and spilled into the Dominican Republic, killing over 7,000 Haitians and infecting 530,000 more—roughly 5 percent of the total population. To make matters worse, the Centers for Disease Control report published last week shows that the cholera strain is evolving to circumvent immunity, igniting fears of a potential second wave of the epidemic.
Despite rising antagonism toward the UN presence in Haiti—and the potential for violence if the accused Uruguayans are found not guilty—newly confirmed Haitian Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe ruled out the possibility of a hasty removal of UN troops. "Once we increase our security forces, the number of MINUSTAH troops will gradually fall," Lamothe said.
Last week, a United Nations Security Council delegation visited Haiti to assess the 10,500-member peacekeeping force, known as the UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti or MINUSTAH. The visit was to assess security needs in Haiti before the UN Security Council makes a decision about whether to reduce the number of forces stationed in the country.
In a complete departure from past assessment missions, this trip included minimal assessment of actual peacekeeping, the reason MINUSTAH was sent to Haiti in the first place. Instead, the Security Council focused primarily on two major afflictions caused by MINUSTAH: Their admitted introduction of cholera to Haiti and corresponding failure to respond adequately despite ongoing death and illness, as well as reports of sexual abuse by peacekeeping troops, some of which were even recorded on film. Both of these crimes, very distinct in nature, have made it nearly impossible for the UN peacekeeping mission to be successful in its mandate to “keep the peace,” if there is even a peace to keep. Indeed, if anything, MINUSTAH is responsible for much of the unrest and instability.
Recent protests in Haiti have largely focused on the problems brought by the peacekeepers. Not surprisingly, the Security Council visit last week brought on a new wave of such protests—one of the ways Haitian people have expressed their ongoing frustration with the UN “occupiers” as they are called. One in ten MINUSTAH peacekeepers worldwide are currently stationed in a country the size of Massachusetts, a country where there is no war. Even so, the UN continues to spend more than $2 million a day on the peacekeeping operation. In my own conversations with MINUSTAH personnel, they expressed boredom and difficulty communicating with Haitians, but never mentioned war or peace. They admitted that it is unclear how much security forces can do for Haiti. Haitians, for their part, are calling for justice. They are demanding accountability. They know the UN is responsible for so much pain they have suffered, and they are asking for compensation.
The peacekeeping mission in Haiti (UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti or MINUSTAH) is the only peacekeeping operation in the Western Hemisphere. It is the third largest mission and about 12.5 percent of the world’s peacekeepers are concentrated on the island. Several Western hemisphere countries contribute to the forces including Brazil, Uruguay, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Peru, El Salvador, Jamaica, Ecuador, Guatemala, and even the United States. Yet, over the past years MINUSTAH has received a lot of negative publicity.
Originally, the mission was established in 2004 after President Bertrand Aristide departed Haiti for exile in the aftermath of an armed conflict, which spread to several cities across the country. Then in 2010, the January earthquake struck the island, killing over 220,000 people including 96 UN peacekeepers. This led to a dramatic setback to the mission and the UN Security Council increased the overall force to support the immediate recovery, reconstruction and stability efforts in the country. Today, there are about 12,438 UN personnel in Haiti with 167 having been killed.
From Americas Society/Council of the Americas. AS/COA Online's news brief examines the major—as well as some of the overlooked—events and stories occurring across the Americas. Check back every Wednesday for the weekly roundup.
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No es fácil realmente conocer la realidad de Haití y no precisamente porque los haitianos sean desconfiados o no quieran contar su historia. No es fácil conocer Haití porque nadie que no sea haitiano pone un pie en el día a día de la calle.
Hasta mil organizaciones no gubernamentales (ONGs) están trabajando en el país, una gran mayoría internacionales, pero los expatriados no pasean por Puerto Príncipe, no compran en los supermercados haitianos, ni se paran a adquirir siquiera una tarjeta para recargar el móvil en la pequeña tienda de la esquina. Al extranjero los haitianos lo ven montados en pick ups nuevas, circulando con los pestillos de seguridad echados y con la clara directriz de no bajarse del vehículo a hacer ninguna foto o tomar imágenes. El riesgo de secuestro es lo primero que a uno le advierten al llegar al país.
De vez en cuando por la carretera se cruza algún camión de la MINUSTAH presente en el país desde el 2004. Los cascos azules patrullan bajo el capítulo siete del Consejo de Seguridad, toda una operación de paz. Su presencia apoya el trabajo de los 10.000 policías del país garantizando la seguridad de un país de cerca de diez millones de habitantes. El toque de queda para el extranjero es de 11 de la noche a 6 de la mañana, tiempo en que la policía de Naciones Unidas no patrulla.
Cartel del candidato para la presidencia Jude Célestin. Photo by Tábata Peregrín.
Pero, es real la inseguridad que nos venden a los visitantes? Reniteau Ojean, profesor de comunicación de la Universidad de Puerto Prince lo pone en duda. “No nos podemos comparar con un país como Afganistán. El problema es que los mismos haitianos sobreprotegemos al extranjero”.
Cité Soleil is a flat, dense slum built out of cardboard and tin on Port-au-Prince's western shore. Children play in the sewage; working-age men and women sit in the shade, escaping the searing midday sun, waiting for something to happen; young boys catch seagulls and pigeons with nets, and bring them home for dinner.
Since the mid-1990s, armed gangs terrorized the local population and even drove the local police out, making the slum an absolute no-go zone for officials and development aid workers. Taming Cité Soleil was vital to stability in the capital. That made it a priority for the country's largest international aid donors—the U.S., Canada, and France—who focused on security to lay the groundwork for development.
Shortly after Jean-Bertrand Aristide was ousted in 2004 (under pressure from the U.S. and Canada due to a sharp rise in organized violence) the United Nations created its Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) under Security Council resolution 1542, with a mandate to restore Haitian civil society and to rebuild government institutions like the Haitian National Police, among other goals. So far its most notable success has been reducing kidnappings in Port-au-Prince and disbanding many of the gangs operating out of Cité Soleil.
“The problem of public security was dealt with solely as a security problem, not as a political problem. We believe in imposing control over criminals, even by force” said Carlos Alberto Dos Santos, who was MINUSTAH's Force Commander until this spring. His troops targeted the gangs from poor slums like Cité Soleil, which had been used and bought off by political rivals over the last decade.