In the lead-up to the one-year anniversary of Haiti’s January 12, 2010 earthquake, a brutally frank account of the plight of its people was delivered by a highly placed diplomat.
Ricardo Seitenfus, the representative to Haiti of the Organization of American States, delivered a hard-hitting assessment of the foreign role in that country in an interview in the December 20 Swiss daily Le Temps.
Seitenfus, a Brazilian, was immediately recalled from his posting.
The truths pronounced by Seitenfus are not unique; they have been voiced by many Haitians and their allies abroad. But to be uttered by someone of his standing is a sign of the unravelling of a miserably-failed foreign military and political occupation force in Haiti.
Seitenfus questioned the legitimacy and utility of the UN Security Council occupation force known as Minustah. It numbers 13,000 military and police (an increase of 50% since the earthquake) along with several thousand political officers.
“Haiti is not an international threat,” he said. “We are not experiencing a civil war.”
The diplomat traced the 200-year history of foreign subjugation of Haiti. He drew a line of continuity to the present.
“The world has never known how to treat Haiti, so it has ignored it,” Seitenfus said.
He said Haiti has experienced a “low intensity war” since 1986, the year of the overthrow of the Duvalier tyranny.
“We want to turn Haiti into a capitalist country, an export platform for the U.S. market, it’s absurd.”
Noting that nearly half of Haiti’s people — 4 million — live abroad, Seitenfus said the foreign intervention runs contrary to the country’s interests and needs.
“The problem is socio-economic,” he said. “When the level of unemployment is 80%, it is unacceptable to deploy a stabilization mission.
“There is nothing to stabilize and everything to build.”
On aid and earthquake relief, Seitenfus said: “If there is proof of the failure of international aid, it is Haiti.” Charity and aid to Haiti have enfeebled the Haitian state.
“Emergency aid is effective. But when it becomes structural, when it replaces the state in all its duties, collective responsibilities in society end up abandoned.”
Seitenfus had harsh words for charities and NGOs. Haiti, he said, has become a “Mecca” for them, a “laboratory”, a “go-to” destination, and worse — a stage in their professional development.
The existence of many NGOs, he said, is dependent on Haiti’s failings.
The dismissed ambassador’s comments came after the electoral exercise staged in Haiti on November 28. By any measure, the vote was a violation of the democratic will of the Haitian people.
• It was financed by foreign powers, with at least US$30 million.
• The country’s most representative political party, the pro-poor Fanmi Lavalas of exiled, former president Jean-Bertrand Aristide, was ruled off the ballot.
• The list of registered voters that was used by the country’s electoral commission predated the January 12 earthquake and therefore contained the names of the more than 250,000 dead people.
• It was difficult, if not impossible, for voters to register and cast their ballots. In the last genuinely democratic election in Haiti, in 2000, there were about 12,000 polling stations. This time, there were less than 1000.
• Widespread violations and irregularities at polling stations on election day were observed and reported.
None of this has slowed the international powers in Haiti from pressing ahead to a second-round presidential vote in what many Haitians term a “selection”, not an election.
Haitians will end up with a foregone result — a “president” whose extreme-right political leanings are at odds with the political sentiments of the vast majority of the people, but perfectly suited to the interests of the foreign powers that installed them.
Perhaps the most tragic calamity to have struck Haiti is the introduction of cholera into the country by the very occupation force criticised so heavily by Seitenfus.
After weeks of denying any responsibility for introducing cholera, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon announced on December 15 that the organisation would conduct an inquiry into its possible role.
AFP reported on November 29 that French epidemiologist Renaud Piarroux said “no other hypothesis” could explain his findings that cases of the diarrheal disease first appeared near a Nepalese-staffed Minustah base in central Haiti.
Debora MacKenzie wrote in the December 7 New Scientist: “UN peacekeepers around the world are largely supplied by poor countries, and of the top 15 contributors, which supply 71 per cent of UN troops, 12 harbor cholera.
“If Haiti’s cholera did indeed come from Nepal, it was a foreseeable accident. More caution is called for.”
MacKenzie’s column slammed the UN for stalling an inquiry and the World Health Organisation for stating that finding the source of the disease was “not important”.
Another startling element to the cholera saga was brought to light by Joia Mukherjee, the executive director of the grassroots Partners In Health, in an October 22 PIH.org article written shortly after the outbreak.
Mukherjee said that among the victims of the aid embargo put in place by the US, Canada and Europe after Aristide won the 2000 elections were the water treatment facilities in the region where cholera first appeared.
His views reflect the concerns of growing numbers of people in Latin American and the Caribbean over Haiti’s treatment.
Seitenfus said that as a Latin American, he is shamed by Haiti’s treatment. It’s an “offense to our conscience”, he said.
Mark Weisbrot of the Centre for Economic Policy Research warned in a December 17 British Guardian article that the continued participation of Latin American countries in the Minustah military mission is increasingly untenable as the mission’s predatory role becomes more evident.
Referring to the attempted coup d’etat against the elected government in Venezuela in 2002, he asked whether any Latin American government would have dared to take part in an occupation mission had the coup succeeded.
Weisbrot explained the stakes for Latin America and the Caribbean in Haiti: “People who do not understand US foreign policy think that control over Haiti does not matter to Washington, because it is so poor and has no strategic minerals or resources.
“But that is not how Washington operates … Left governments will be removed or prevented from taking power where it is possible to do so.”
In his interview, Seitenfus described a vision for Haiti based on true international solidarity. “Enough of playing with Haiti!” he said.
He paid tribute to the outpouring of solidarity and compassion following the earthquake, but said charity cannot be the driving force of international relations.
What is needed, he says, is autonomy and sovereignty of peoples, fair and equitable commerce, and respect by human beings towards each other.
Seitenfus said in Haiti: “We must build roads, hydroelectric dams, assist in building government structures, including a judiciary system.
“The UN says it is not mandated to do that. Its mandate in Haiti is to maintain the peace of the graveyard.”
Seitenfus may have been removed, but his words gave voice to countless Haitians still living in miserable conditions in camps for the internally displaced — or still waiting for the promised “reconstruction”.
They will not wait forever. They will continue to assert their rights.
The longer the elites of Haiti and the world fail to offer a vision for the future of the country, the more certain become social explosions through which the people reassert their dignity and their rightful claim to social justice.
[A longer version of this article can be found at www.socialistvoice.ca. Roger Annis is a coordinator of the Canada Haiti Action Network. He can be reached at email@example.com ]