HAITI: UN “Peacekeepers” in the Gaza Strip of the Caribbean
The original article on this topic, “Haiti, the Gaza Strip of the Caribbean,” was written just after a July 6, 2005, UN massacre in Cite Soleil, one of poorest neighborhoods in Port-au-Prince. The following article has much of the same information as the original with some updates. In this article, the terms “UN” and “MINUSTAH,” which is the French acronym for the UN “peacekeeping” mission, are used interchangeably.
At the end of the article is a video which shows another massive UN attack on Cite Soleil that took place on December 22, 2006. The narrator is Kevin Pina, journalist, documentary filmmaker, and special correspondent for KPFA’s Flashpoints program, who lived and reported from Haiti for many years. As you can see, the July 2005 attack, you will read about in this article is not an isolated incident.
January 20, 2010
Haiti: UN “Peacekeepers” in the Gaza Strip of the Caribbean
by Shirley Pate
“Two helicopters flew overhead. At 4:30 a.m., UN forces launched the offensive, shooting into houses, shacks, a church and a school with machine guns, tank fire and tear gas. Eyewitnesses reported that when people fled to escape the tear gas, UN troops gunned them down from the back.”
-– from a report by a San Francisco-based labor/human rights delegation that was in Haiti on Wednesday, July 6, 2005, when UN forces committed a massacre in the neighborhood of Cité Soleil.
Cite Soleil is one of the poorest and most densely populated neighborhoods in Port-au-Prince. The houses form a huge maze of metal and cardboard. While it lacks many things, including running water and electricity, it has abundant support for the democratically-elected president, Jean-Bertrand Aristide. And, because of this, its residents became targets.
The UN’s attack in the wee hours of the morning on July 6, 2005, in Cite Soleil, was unlike anything MINUSTAH “peacekeepers” had done in Haiti before. Approximately, 300-400 troops with high-powered weapons, including tank fire, killed close to fifty residents and twice that many were wounded. Of the 26 injured who showed up at Medecins Sans Frontieres’ clinic, 23 were women and children. The flimsy houses offered no protection for the residents. Witnesses reported that the “peacekeepers” walked up and down the narrow streets and allies shooting indiscriminately through doors, killing many while they slept. When you think about how vulnerable the poor residents of Cite Soleil are, the number of soldiers that participated in the attack, the high-caliber weaponry used, combined with unrestrained arrogance, it was a bloodletting worthy of the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) and, on that day, Haiti began to look like the Gaza Strip of the Caribbean.
What was this attack all about? There were two targets – one stated, one not. First, a young man by the name of Dred Wilme, who grew up in an orphanage run by Aristide (when he was a priest), had become a leader in Cite Soleil, organizing resistance to the UN occupation. The UN understood early on that Wilme was capable of mobilizing the entire sprawling neighborhood of Cite Soleil, teeming with Aristide supporters. Unfortunately for Wilme, he was too successful at his mission and the UN labelled him a “bandit” and placed him at the top of its most wanted list. During the US Marine occupation from 1915-1934, Marines collectively referred to Haitian as “bandits.” This made killing a Haitian a defensible act. And this is what happened to Wilme – he was killed by UN “peacekeepers” in the July 6 attack. Getting rid of Wilme was a major UN goal, but it also provided the cover for an attack on the whole neighborhood. Not only did the UN want Wilme dead, it wanted to teach the citizens of Cite Soleil a lesson — end the resistance to the occupation and quit agitating for the return of Aristide.
To fully understand the dynamics between MINUSTAH and the Haitian population, one must first understand MINUSTAH’s relationship to the US. On Feb. 29, 2004, the lives of most Haitians changed forever when a U.S.-inspired coup d’état deprived them of their democratically-elected president, Jean-Bertrand Aristide. A cabal of the US, France and Canada masterminded and supervised the coup. Each of these countries (as well as Chile) contributed soldiers to form a multi-national interim force and had boots on the ground in Haiti BEFORE the coup. Even before Aristide left the country, his fellow citizens were under foreign occupation. Three months later, in June, this force was replaced by UN peacekeepers. The US, not wanting to spend its military muscle in Haiti as it was already up to its eyeballs in Iraq, pushed a resolution through the UN Security Council authorizing a “peacekeeping” force in Haiti.
The most important thing to know about MINUSTAH is that it is the only force in UN peacekeeping history to be deployed without a specific peacekeeping enforcement mandate. Normally, peacekeepers are deployed, as neutral actors, to enforce previously agreed upon peace agreements between warring factions. There were no “warring” factions in Haiti, only a population completely outraged by the US kidnapping and exile of their president and replacement of him by an illegal, unconstitutional government of the US’ choosing. The coup against Aristide had NO public support. In the first few months after the coup, the Haitian National Police (HNP) ratcheted up the violence against Aristide supporters and assassinations were commonplace. Yet, the people of Haiti kept hitting the streets in massive numbers to protest against the occupation and for Aristide’s return. When MINUSTAH showed up and saw this political tsunami, there was only one word in the “peacekeepers'” job description: containment.
Lacking a true “peacekeeping” mandate, MINUSTAH’s primary responsibility is to support the Government of Haiti. What this really means is “riding shotgun” with the Haitian National Police. And,it was the HNP that showed MINUSTAH how best to “contain” the people. The UN’s first collaboration with the HNP involved serving as “lookouts” while the HNP conducted summary executions in the streets. Then, MINUSTAH graduated to deadly raids of their own and conducted illegal, mass arrests filling the jails and prison with hundreds of people thought to be supporters of Aristide. Actually, the detainees were lucky if they landed in prison. Part of MINUSTAH’s “cooperation” with the HNP was handing detainees over to the Haitian death squads.
No wonder the “peacekeepers” didn’t bat an eye as they conducted the July 6 massacre in Cite Soleil. The UN Security Council created a “peacekeeping” operation in Haiti that has, by all standards, mutated into an occupying IDF-like assault force. And, just like the citizens of Gaza, the residents of Cite Soleil are sitting ducks for one massacre after another. MINUSTAH is the US’ proxy army and it is busy doing its master’s dirty work.
When told of the tragedy of Cite Soleil, most people are incredulous that “peacekeepers” or blue hats (for the Haitians, “casques bleus”) could be capable of such heinous crimes. Most people think of UN peacekeeping as protecting people and making sure that violence comes to an end.
One of the toughest things about doing solidarity work on Haiti is convincing people that peacekeeping missions are often used as political tools to cater to the policy goals of the permanent members of the UN Security Council, especially the US.
And this is the genius of the cabal’s decision to bring the UN to Haiti. With the general belief that peacekeepers are non-belligerent, neutral actors in conflict situations, the Haitian population and Haiti activists around the world applauded the deployment. But, before long, the Haitian people realized that MINUSTAH was THE warring faction and that nothing about its mission is neutral. MINUSTAH’s lack of a traditional peacekeeping enforcement mandate was not a mistake on the part of the UN Security Council, it was purposeful. As permanent members of the Security Council, the U.S. and France have become masters at designing peacekeeping operations to serve their own foreign policy interests. As a result, peacekeeping missions, regardless of mandate, are more insidious and deadly than people realize.
In 1961, UN peacekeepers betrayed the first prime minister of the Democratic Republic of Congo, Patrice Lumumba when they failed to maintain neutrality in the conflict between the central government and Lumumba’s Western-supported opponents. Lumumba was later kidnapped and murdered, leaving the Congolese, for the next 32 years, in the vicious grip of Sese Seko Mobutu, the U.S.’ main man in Africa.
In Bosnia, thousands of Muslims sought safe haven with Dutch-led UN peacekeepers. The peacekeepers yielded to Bosnian Serbs, who kidnapped the Muslims and killed them.
The anemic nature of the UN peacekeeping mandate in Rwanda was intended and resulted in an indescribable genocide that has soiled forever the legacy of UN peacekeeping. Yet, amid the presumed “failures” of each of these UN peacekeeping efforts, powerful interests benefited from the outcomes.
Throughout its occupation of Haiti, MINUSTAH has maintained that its primary goal is to bring peace to Haiti especially in preparation for elections. The problem is that a lot of lousy things are done in the name of “peace.” Not unlike the lousy things that are done in the name of “democracy.”
The same tactics used against the residents of Cite Soleil are the same ones used by the IDF to kill, maim and wreck the lives of Palestinians: aerial attacks, massive use of firepower in dense residential areas, huge numbers of troops, destruction of homes by firebombs and grenades, indiscriminate shooting into homes and not so indiscriminate assassination of residents shot in the back trying to flee the horror.
The July 6 raid in Cite Soleil was not the first raid on the Haitian population, but it was in another class altogether. The arrogance, massive nature and sheer audacity of the operation signaled that, for UN forces, killing Haitians had become sport.
Khan Younis is one of the most god-forsaken refugee camps in the Gaza Strip. In the late afternoon, when the children play outside, the Israeli soldiers have been known to taunt them, through a loud- speaker, with disgusting sexual innuendo about their mothers. The children, incensed, climb the highest hill, perch themselves atop like sitting ducks at the carnival, and engage in their own mini intifada of rocks. The soldiers, having lured the children to the designated target area, play a game of maiming them by calling out the body part they are aiming at before they shoot – sort of like calling out your shot in billiards. Sometimes, a soldier calls for a head shot and the kids are executed on the spot.
This kind of hatred and cruelty is a distinct problem within MINUSTAH and is largely grounded in racism. The make-up of the force in Haiti is mostly Latin American. To the outside world it might seem that.through the UN, brown brother goes to Haiti to help his black brother in a Latin American-Caribbean knot of solidarity. Yet, the unifying theme belies an ugly reality.
Brazil’s populist-seeming president, its overwhelmingly multiracial society and desperate ambition to win a permanent seat on the UN Security Council made it the perfect choice to lead the UN “peacekeeping” effort in Haiti. Yet, this is a country that has over 30 different descriptions used by Brazilians to differentiate themselves from one another based on skin color. This is a country, where an Afro-Brazilian, after attaining a certain level of success, might start referring to himself as white. Racism in Latin America is pervasive and deadly and directed at both Indians and African descendants of slaves. It is much like crabs in a barrel. A crab may find himself close to the bottom of the barrel and will wrestle viciously, perhaps to his own death, to stay on top of the crab just below. This social structure was created and perpetuated by colonial powers in Latin America because they knew they had everything to lose if black, brown, and red ever got together. Like most conflicts of imperial intent, manipulating racial tensions is key to ensuring that people of color stay engaged in the dirty business of fighting one another. And, for the UN “peacekeepers” in Haiti, belief in the inherent inferiority of those whose land you occupy is an essential element of occupation.
Haiti is Gaza and Gaza is Haiti because occupation always yields the same things: relentless provocations of the population, murder on a massive scale, oppression, persecution, incarceration, disenfranchisement, joblessness, homelessness, starvation and, thankfully, resistance.
It’s a wicked, purposeful merry-go-round of peace through provocation : profess peace, provoke those whose land you occupy until they resist, label the resistance a criminal, gang mongering, raping, murdering “threat to peace” and then it’s open season for the occupier. This method has worked quite well for the IDF.
Just like the meaningless UN resolutions demanding an end to the slaughter in Palestine, it is doubtful that we will see any sanctions against the coup plotters or the UN “peacekeepers” for their crimes against humanity. No doubt the UN will issue its cheerful press releases re-emphasizing its commitment to peace and democracy in Haiti and the incursions into the popular neighborhoods for a night of sport will continue.
But this will not go on forever. How will it stop? The UN would do well to check out the Haitian history books for an answer to this question. There, they might learn they are occupying the land of the sons and daughters of Dessalines. If the UN is unable to grasp the significance of this, they should seek clarification from the French.
Shirley Pate is a Haiti solidarity activist in Washington, D.C. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org
MINUSTAH – UN PEACEKEEPING FORCE ATTACK ON CITE SOLEIL, DECEMBER 22, 2006