HIP – Haiti â€” Pressure from the elite sector of Haitian society has been mounting against the U.N. Mission in Haiti during the past several weeks. As the on again, off again elections approach the renewed deadline of Feb. 7, the United Nations Stabilization Mission (MINUSTAH) in Haiti has been led to believe in and listen to Haiti’s most reactionary voices. The U.N. is being pressured to crack down hard on poor neighborhoods that remain loyal to ousted president Jean-Bertrand Aristide and who have recently staged large rallies in support of Rene Garcia Preval. MINUSTAH attacks on Cite Soleil have been frequent and deadly. Lobbying in the form of outright disinformation and lies by the likes of sweatshop owner Andy Apaid, presidential candidate Charles Henry Baker and the president of Haiti’s Chamber of Commerce Dr. Reginald Boulos, have had dire consequences for MINUSTAH. General Urano Bacellar, the Brazilian head of MINUSTAH, apparently took his own life on January 7th after a tense meeting with Boulos and Apaid. Bacellar reportedly disagreed with plans to invade Cite Soleil upon viewing footage of the collateral damage and deaths following a previous raid into Cite Soleil on July 6, 2005.
Andy Apaid leads the Group 184 representing a U.S. foreign policy vision that dropped the zero from Haiti’s year of independence, 1804, to create a civil society organization named Group 184 that was heavily funded by the United States, France and Canada. The Group 184 helped to build opposition to Aristide’s government and Apaid was among the first to refer to paramilitary forces that invaded Haiti from the Dominican Republic as freedom fighters as they killed police officers and Lavalas officials in their bid to oust Aristide. Late in 2003, Apaid led demonstrations by the so-called student movement and right-wing sectors of Haitian society to oust democratically elected president Jean-Bertrand Aristide.
The right-wing presidential candidates supported by the group 184 were anything but happy when they held a demonstration January 16th in front of the UN headquarters in Port-au-Prince. Their stated aim was to force the UN to guarantee security in the country, put an end to the recent wave of kidnappings for ransom, and root out ‘terrorists’ and chimeres in poor areas of the capital. Supporters of Aristide regard these very terms as code words; the electoral campaigners of his successor Rene Preval see the language as a virtual invitation to renewed attacks upon the community. The demonstration by Haiti’s reactionary elite came exactly one week after the Haitian Chamber of Commerce and the Group 184 called for a nationwide strike for Jan. 9 with the same intended goal. The Jan.16 rally in front of the headquarters of the U.N. was pure theater. Andy Apaid and presidential candidate Charles Henry Baker addressed a crowd of approximately 300 people from atop a truck with a powerful sound system. Lively music played before and after speeches. The stage was set as people below danced through the crowd and held up signs saying “Down with MINUSTAH, Long Live the PNH (Haitian Police), Long Live Haiti”, and chanted, “Stop-Stop Kidnappings, Stop-Stop Bandits!”
Jackson Desrivieres, a former member of the so-called student movement that helped to oust Aristide, was escorted away from the demonstration by Haitian police after challenging the organizers: “You guys are with the former military! I can’t be with you any more! The people of Cite Soleil can’t eat, the people of Bel Air can’t eat! You guys are paying people to be here, meanwhile people can’t eat. They don’t have money to send their kids to school. Life has gotten worse since you did that thing [took power]”
Apaid, who was the MC of the demonstration, introduced the speakers, many of them competing for President, by stating that unity amongst Haiti’s political class was needed in order to solve the country’s problems. This ‘united political class’ includes many of the country’s wealthiest, and leaves out Lavalas, the most popular political party in Haiti.
However, shortly after Apaid began his speech, an armed UN jeep approached the demo and began slowly driving through the crowd on its way to the UN headquarters. This immediately distracted all the attention away from Apaid, as the angry crowd began to throw garbage and water bottles, and bang on the sides of the jeep. Apaid pleaded with the crowd to keep calm and let the jeep through. Had the same incident happened at a demonstration in Cite Soleil (and indeed it has), the UN troops would have opened fire in a second, killing indiscriminately. These demonstrators were much more fortunate, having the big guns behind them, and all the protection of Haiti’s elite.
The rhetoric that numerous speakers were putting forth about this being a peaceful demonstration is in fact completely false. This demonstration was meant to be anything but peaceful. The Group 184 had achieved what they’re so good at – cloaking their actions in a veneer of credibility and appeal to liberal concerns of ‘peace’ and ‘democracy’, while at the same time putting pressure on MINUSTAH to up the ante and open fire on the poor.
While the Group 184 is calling on intensified security to solve the problem of ‘lawlessness’ in Haiti, the end result of their pressure can only be described as collective punishment for the country’s poor. This logic exists in many occupied zones throughout the world. One need not even condemn a whole population as being ‘insurgents’, ‘terrorists’, or in Haiti’s case, ‘chimeres’ or ‘bandits,’ but conveniently find a few amongst the many, and that’s justification enough for a slaughter. Referring to Cite Soleil, Baker said, “Basically, Haitian people see these zones as being protected by the UN, and terrorists can exit these areas, commit crimes, and go back in. The UN can’t even go into these zones without their tanks.”
Baker continued, “We have to understand that Cite Soleil has 300 000 residents, and maybe 200 terrorists. These terrorists are terrorizing the other 300 000…. We are asking that Cite Soleil residents be given the right to circulate freely, without being attacked by ‘chimeres’ or terrorists.”
Baker’s perceived benevolence to Cite Soleil is, in reality, paper-thin. Jean-Joseph Joel, a resident Cite Soleil had a completely different account of MINUSTAH’s actions: “…people who live in Cite Soleil can’t go out into the street to go about any activities. We can not circulate, we can not work.”
The Group 184 demonstration seemed to have achieved the desired results. A report came in later in the day from Cite Soleil residents that MINUSTAH forces there had killed another 4 people only hours after the demonstration.
The Group 184 demonstration came days after a demonstration held in Cite Soleil against MINUSTAH repression, human rights abuses and killings of civilians. In a country where people on both sides of the political spectrum have serious grievances with MINUSTAH , it is worth asking whose interests are really being served by the UN presence here.
As things stand now, support for popular candidate Rene Preval among the poor majority of Haitians is enough to guarantee his victory. The Group 184′s cries for security in Haiti are no more than a softened way of saying that anyone even remotely associated with Lavalas will not be allowed to win the presidential elections, and if they try, their supporters will pay with their lives.