November 2010, Week 5


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Tue, 30 Nov 2010 21:59:27 -0500
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Haiti Elections: A Sham in the Time of Cholera

By Isabel MacDonald
November 29, 2010 


In the midst of a cholera epidemic that has killed a reported
1,300 Haitians, the U.S., Canada and the United Nations
insisted that Haiti's elections go ahead yesterday, as

However elections might not be the most accurate term for the
process by which a new Haitian president and lawmakers will
be selected at the polls.

The ruling party's hand-picked electoral council has banned
the most popular Haitian political party, Fanmi Lavalas (FL),
from the presidential election. FL leader Jean Bertrand
Aristide, who was elected as Haiti's president in 2000, has
been exiled in Africa since a coup d'etat in 2004, when he
was removed by the U.S., and warned, in the words of Donald
Rumsfeld, not to "come back into the hemisphere."

Meanwhile, the Institute for Justice & Democracy in Haiti is
warning that the presence of troops from the UN
"stabilization" mission in Haiti (also known as MINUSTAH) at
polling stations "is more likely to trigger violence than
prevent it."

UN troops and Haitian National Police killed two
demonstrators at anti-MINUSTAH protests in the city of Cap
Haitien on November 15 and 16. And over the following two
days, they tear-gassed Haitians participating in a march in
Port-au-Prince, which as journalist Kim Ives reported for
Haiti Liberte, "seriously sickened many women and children in
the tent camps on the Champ de Mars in front of the collapsed
National Palace."

Calls for the withdrawal of the UN troops have been
escalating amidst accusations that UN soldiers' fecal matter,
dumped into a waterway that feeds into Haiti's Artibonite
river, was the likely source of the cholera.

Prior to last month, there had never been a documented case
of cholera in Haiti, and as late as March the U.S. Centers
for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) was saying that the
illness was "extremely unlikely" to occur in Haiti. Today,
the Pan-American Health Organization is projecting that
200,000 people may be infected within a year, and that "we
may have 10,000 dead."

On October 27, Associated Press reporter Jonathan Katz broke
the story of the suspected source of the cholera--an
overflowing septic tank behind a UN base housing the Nepalese
peacekeeping troops, who had arrived in Haiti just after a
summer of cholera outbreaks in Nepal.

After visiting the site of the UN base, Katz reported that

    a tank was clearly overflowing. The back of the base
    smelled like a toilet had exploded. Reeking, dark liquid
    flowed out of a broken pipe, toward the river, from next
    to what the soldiers said were latrines. U.N. military
    police were taking samples in clear jars with sky-blue
    U.N. lids, clearly horrified.

    At the shovel-dug waste pits across the street sat
    yellow-brown pools of feces where ducks and pigs swam in
    the overflow. The path to the river ran straight

According to Harvard University microbiology chair John
Mekalanos, the cholera "very much likely did come either with
peacekeepers or other relief personnel." "I don't see there
is any way to avoid the conclusion that an unfortunate and
presumably accidental introduction of the organism occurred,"
he recently told AP.

However the cholera epidemic sweeping the country raises a
bigger question about the role of countries such as the U.S.,
Canada and France, that have boasted for years about all the
"aid" they've provided to Haiti.

I mean, with all this international "help," why on earth
doesn't Haiti have the basic infrastructure that could have
prevented the cholera outbreak?

Independent journalist Isabeau Doucet recently offered some
very relevant context in a commentary for the Guardian,
pointing out that

    A decade ago, money was in place to address the country's
    failing water system. In 2000, a $54m (£34m) loan from
    the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) should have
    given the Haitian government means to rehabilitate its
    urban and rural water systems."

However, "US foreign policy objectives of destabilising the
democratically elected Aristide government got in the way,"
Doucet stated.

In a 2004 article for the London Review of Books, Harvard
medical professor Paul Farmer, who is now the UN's Deputy
Special Envoy for Haiti, specified that "Haitian and American
sources have confirmed to me that the US asked the bank to
block the loans."

At a UN donors' conference in March 2010, the international
community promised $5.3 billion to rebuild Haiti after the
January 12 earthquake. (A sum that is considerably less than
the tens of billions of dollars Haiti is owed for the
illegitimate debts that have been extorted from Haitians by
Western governments and financial institutions since 1825.)

Nearly eight months after these pledges, an estimated 1.7
million people are still living under tarps in unsafe
makeshift camps.

MINUSTAH recently issued a statement calling the organizers
of recent protests in Haiti "the enemies of stability and

But protest seems the most reasonable response to the present

Not least for those of us whose governments promised a bright
future for a "New Haiti" just nine months ago.

[Isabel MacDonald is a Montreal-based freelance journalist.
She can be reached at isabelmacdonald1 at gmail.co. Follow
her on Twitter: www.twitter.com/isabelmacdo]


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