Haiti: reports of violence, fears of "undercover occupation"
Reports rose Jan. 18 of looting and vigilantism among increasingly desperate earthquake survivors as Port-au-Prince awaits the deployment of more US troops. A 12,000-strong US contingent is expected to arrive by the end of the week, to assist the 3,000 police and some 9,000 troops from the UN force MINUSTAH in the city. The reported lynching of one suspected looter along with shootings have led to an increase in UN patrols. The country's legal system and government are largely non-operational. Some 1,000 US troops have already landed in Haiti, with 3,000 more working from ships. Lt. Gen. Ken Keen of the US Southern Command was cited acknowledging that violence is hindering the aid effort. "We are going to have to address the situation of security," Keen said. (AP, Jurist, Jan. 18; MINUSTAH website)
But Keen downplayed the violence in Port-au-Prince later, saying the incidents were isolated. "I would say these are pockets of violence and we are being very vigilant to watch that closely," he told reporters on a conference call. (Sphere, Jan. 19)
The US has taken control of the Port-au-Prince airport with approval of the Haitian government, and acknowledged that several aid flights have been turned away due to a backlog at the airport. Several complaints have been made about the diverted flights. France and Brazil have reportedly filed specific criticisms to the State Department. (Fox News, Jan. 18)
Alain Joyandet, the French minister in charge of humanitarian relief called on the UN to "clarify" the US role amid claims the military build-up is hampering aid efforts. Joyandet admitted he had been involved in a scuffle with a US commander in the airport's control tower over the flight plan for a French evacuation flight. "This is about helping Haiti, not about occupying Haiti," Joyandet said. (The Telegraph, Jan. 18)
The UN World Food Program reached an agreement Jan. 18 with US military authorities to give aid flights landing priority. The deal that came after the US was criticized for giving priority to military flights. (Canadian Press, June 18)
The Navy hospital ship USNS Comfort, which can accommodate up to 1,000, left its home port of Baltimore for Port-au-Prince Jan. 17. (Gannett) The fact that it left five days after the earthquake led Shirley Pate to comment in Monthly Review that "the US is concentrating on getting military boots on the ground first." Accusing Washington of "disaster imperialism," she charges the media with hyping reports of violence. Pate cites an anonymous report from a Canadian in Haiti with the Canada Haiti Action network of a stark class/race disparity in responding to the injured. The aid worker says rescue teams are refusing to go into popular neighborhoods because they fear "violence."
Venezuela's President Hugo Chávez also raised fears of a new US occupation, saying in his weekly TV broadcast: "I read that 3,000 soldiers are arriving, Marines armed as if they were going to war. There is not a shortage of guns there, my God. Doctors, medicine, fuel, field hospitals, that's what the United States should send. They are occupying Haiti undercover."
He added: "On top of that, you don’t see them in the streets. Are they picking up bodies? ...Are they looking for the injured? You don't see them. I haven't seen them. Where are they?" (Reuters, Jan. 17)
See our last posts on Haiti.