Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti

Fearing the Victims, Some Aid Givers Use Helicopters and Guns

By Kim Ives

Haiti Liberte: This Week in Haiti

The small white helicopter had landed in a field just behind the Léogane
police station. Hundreds of Haitians had gathered around with a mixture of
curiosity and anticipation. This was the first helicopter to land, despite
many flying over the town in the previous days. But shortly after landing,
the helicopter lifted off again and began to circle above the field at about
150 feet. Then a door popped open and someone inside began throwing out
small bags.

One of the bags fluttered down and landed high up in a tall tree’s branches.
Another bag plopped down in the police station’s backyard, where dozens of
young community leaders were hovering around a cluster of bigwigs meeting
with Léogane’s Mayor Alexis Santos and an official from Haiti’s Interior

The bag contained brown bread rolls. When the young community leaders saw
this, they erupted.

“This is a complete outrage,” said Alex Estimé, a young man who had spent
the last week organizing his neighborhood to dig out bodies from the rubble
of the town where an estimated 80% of the buildings have been destroyed.
“This is pure humiliation. An earthquake is a misfortune which could befall
any country. Would they treat other people like this? No. It is like they
are throwing bones to dogs. We don’t want their stinking bread.” With that
he stamped on the bag. Other men around him also kicked it.

The men shook their fists and hurled invective at the small white helicopter
which continued to circle in the sky, raining down the small bags of bread.
Miguel Joseph, a community leader and director of a town radio station, said
the aid delivery was the work of the Mormon Church.

“This type of aid distribution is totally unacceptable,” said Max Mathurin,
the former head of the Provisional Electoral Council that carried out the
2006 elections. Born and raised in Léogane, he was one of those meeting with
the mayor.

“Over the past week, I petitioned repeatedly for a backhoe that could have
helped excavate people from under rubble and saved lives,” he lamented. “I
couldn’t even get something as simple as that from our government or the UN.
That was the injury. Now this helicopter is the insult.”

In many ways, the allegedly Mormon helicopter dropping food was emblematic
of the way the United States and United Nations are carrying out relief to
the Haitian people. Léogane was only five miles from the epicenter of the
7.0 magnitude quake and probably had the most extensive damage of any
Haitian city. But earlier that day, the United Nations had announced that it
could not bring relief to Léogane until it had established security.

“I don’t know what security they need to establish,” responded Roland St.
Fort, 32, another one of the town’s neighborhood leaders. “There have been
no riots here. The people have been very disciplined. They set up their own
security around their outdoor camps.”

Throughout the capital, where security is presumably being established,
thousands of troops from the U.N. Mission to Stabilize Haiti (MINUSTAH)
continue to ride around the capital in armored vehicles, pointing their guns
at Haitians, just as they did before the quake. U.N. Secretary General Ban
Ki-moon announced the deployment of another 3,500 to complement the 9,000
already in Haiti.

In addition, 12,000 U.S. soldiers were deployed in Haiti this week. The 82nd
Airborne put the General Hospital (HUEH) in lock-down when they arrived on
Jan. 19, turning away victims, family members and journalists for about an
hour until hospital administrators intervened to have them relax their
conduct. Wielding M-16s in front of the hospital gates, they managed to
increase chaos rather than diminish it by yelling orders in English at
Haitians trying to enter the state hospital they theoretically own. Many
were people in need of care or family members bringing food for hospital
patients. The hospital’s kitchen, located next door to the stench-emitting
morgue, is still closed.

In counter-point, many of the 500 Cuban doctors working in Haiti have fanned
out throughout Port-au-Prince, particularly in the massive refugee camp that
now covers the Champ de Mars, the downtown square. There they have set up
small clinics, identified by a Cuban flag, to tend to the earthquake’s many
victims. According to Dr. Evan Lyon of Partners in Health, who is presently
administering the HUEH, some 40,000 to 50,000 people living in the square
benefit greatly from this aid. The Cuban doctors carry out their work,
without having to be guarded by helmeted men with guns. “The Cuban doctors
are an intense resource,” he said.

Meanwhile, at the Matthew 25 Hospitality House in Delmas 33, an anecdote
made the rounds among a group of recently arrived North American doctors
caring for some 500 quake refugees camped out in a soccer field next door.
They too manage to deliver life-saving operations and medical care without
military guard. Sister Mary Finnick, who runs the house, told of an incoming
doctor remarking that he saw huge quantities of guns being brought in
through the Mais Gaté Airport, which the U.S. military has taken over and

“They should be bringing more gauze, not more guns,” quipped one of the
doctors on hearing the news.

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