By Nicole Phillips and Kevin Edmonds, The Fresh Outlook
Nicole Phillips, Staff Attorney at the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti and Assistant Director for Haiti Programs at the University of San Francisco School of Law, and Kevin Edmonds, freelance journalist, write about UN peace keeping force, MINUSTAH’s involvement in the forthcoming Haiti elections.
Haiti’s elections planned for November 28, could aggravate the country’s tragedies and inequalities that were brought to the world’s attention after the January 12 earthquake. Highly politicized authorities have illegally excluded all the candidates from the country’s most popular political party, Fanmi Lavalas, and other progressive candidates.
Haitians know a fraudulent election when they see one and took their complaints to the streets. Thousands of Haitians have protested all across the country. The United Nations peace keeping force, MINUSTAH, have assisted the Haitian National Police quell demonstrations and increased security patrols two weeks before the elections to help secure polling stations.
MINUSTAH’s presence at polling stations on November 28 is more likely to trigger violence than prevent it. Since MINUSTAH was sent to Haiti in 2004 to secure a coup d’etat government that overthrew democratically elected President Bertrand Aristide, it has represented an oppressive, occupying force – a significant obstacle to human rights and popular democracy. The protection that MINUSTAH’s presence offers primarily benefits the interests of the Haitian elite and their business partners in the international community, not the country’s poor majority.
Since the coup, MINUSTAH and Haitian police have referred to President Aristide’s party, Fanmi Lavalas, as “bandits”, which they have used to justify illegal arrests and extrajudicial killings. MINUSTAH has killed civilians in Port au Prince’s slums, specifically in the Fanmi Lavalas strongholds of Bel Air and Cité Soleil, silencing the demands of self-determination and socio-economic justice of the people in these neighborhoods. Fanmi Lavalas was strong within these communities because they promoted the widespread building of primary social services such as healthcare and education, attempted to halt the privatization of public utilities, and worked to raise the country’s low minimum wage – all policies that should be resurrected and strengthened by the nation’s next government.
MINUSTAH’s shoot-first tactics have been well documented, most recently with the cholera protests. Haitian grassroots groups and Haitian internal displacement communities organized a protest on November 18 in Port au Prince, which was peaceful until MINUSTAH arrived and drew their weapons out at demonstrators. As the crowd fled for safety, MINUSTAH threw teargas canisters into the crowd and the nearby displacement camp. Several camp residents were taken to the hospital with injuries from the teargas. The United Nations callously referred to the popular resistance as “civil unrest” and the result of a political publicity stunt, not as an expression of grassroots discontent with the fact the same army may have been responsible for introducing an epidemic that has killed over 1,300 people.
MINUSTAH’s commitment to providing security for these elections is ironic, but not a surprise. The outright exclusion of Fanmi Lavalas in every election, since Aristide’s administration, is a testament to the fact that the international community and Haitian elite are bent on suffocating this popular movement with sham elections and outright force. The holding of an illegitimate election is the way to “legitimize” the international community’s reconstruction vision – one that further prioritizes and concentrates profits, property and power into the hands of few.
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