The name Haiti conjures images of earthquake damage, people struggling to survive or memories of a service trip to help build houses or bring medical care. Most do not associate it with military occupation.
Haitians know better. They remember a tumultuous history as an enslaved colony and infant nation undermined by repeated attempts at recolonization and foreign occupation. In the last century, Haiti has endured three military occupations: two by the U.S. (1915-34 and 1990-94) and the most recent under the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti, known by its French acronym, MINUSTAH.
MINUSTAH has been in Haiti since 2004, invited by Haiti’s transitional government to quell violence after a coup against former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide. The U.N. Security Council decides annually whether to renew MINUSTAH’s mandate, and each year it has done so with broad support from the international community, many citing civil unrest.
Mennonite Central Committee’s civil society partners in Haiti share a different view, saying MINUSTAH should leave immediately.
Camille Chalmers, director of the Haitian Advocacy Platform for Alternative Development, said all other U.N. peacekeeping missions exist because of an armed conflict resulting in an enforceable peace treaty. Not so for Haiti.
Pierre Esperance, director of the National Network for the Defense of Human Rights, said Haiti is “not at war. We can live without [MINUSTAH].” The U.N. Stabilization Mission has only served to destabilize Haiti. MINUSTAH troops and associated actors have been implicated or involved with killing innocent people, sexual abuse, abandoning children and, most notoriously, importing cholera.
The 2010 cholera epidemic began when MINUSTAH negligently introduced waste water from Nepalese troops infected by cholera in their home country into Haiti’s main water source. The U.N. continues to deny responsibility for the contamination, which has claimed the lives of 8,584 people and infected 706,291 others. As earthquake reconstruction funds in Haiti diminish, the annual budget for MINUSTAH in 2014-15 is set at $500 million, an amount that could pay for nearly a quarter of the U.N.’s fledgling $2.2 billion Cholera Elimination Plan.
Not only is MINUSTAH’s occupation unnecessary, it is an egregious waste. MCC’s partner organizations point out that machine gun-toting troops and roving armed vehicles run counter to Haiti’s true needs: the construction of durable and decentralized housing, community-based economic development, and water and sanitation infrastructure improvements. MCC collaborates on these projects with Haitian partners. According to the Platform for Human Rights Organizers in Haiti, MCC is the only international organization that completely supports their exact position on MINUSTAH presence — a complete and immediate withdrawal.
Our Anabaptist faith calls us to oppose military intervention and to work for a peaceful and just resolution. As the U.N. Security Council considers MINUSTAH’s mandate again this month, our advocacy offices are working and praying for such a resolution.
Charissa Zehr and Vanessa Hershberger work at the MCC U.S. Washington Office and the MCC United Nations Office, respectively. Article written with contributions from Jenn Wiebe of MCC Canada’s Ottawa Office and Ted Oswald of MCC Haiti.