Haiti: anti-UN protest marks anniversary of cholera outbreak

Haitian activists marched in Port-au-Prince on Oct. 19 to demand the immediate withdrawal of the thousands of foreign soldiers and police agents in the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH); they also called for the United Nations to pay compensation for the country’s current cholera epidemic. The organizers chose Oct. 19 for the protest to mark one year since the outbreak started, apparently because of poor sanitary conditions among Nepalese troops at a MINUSTAH base near Mirebalais in the Central Plateau.

The disease, unknown in Haiti for at least a half century, has sickened hundreds of thousands of Haitians in the past year and has killed 6,559, according to government figures. The international health organization Doctors Without Borders (known by its initials in French, MSF) estimated that 75-80% of cholera cases reported in the world so far in 2011 have been in Haiti. The United Nations continues to deny responsibility despite overwhelming scientific evidence that the disease came from its troops.

“MINUSTAH must leave,” the protesters chanted as they marched towards the capital’s main cemetery, where they burned a small coffin representing the mission. More than 100 people took part, according to the on-line Haitian news service AlterPresse; the leftist group Batay Ouvriye, which participated, estimated the crowd at 400. This was the third sizeable demonstration against MINUSTAH in the past two months; protests have increased since evidence became public that Uruguayan troops had sexually abused Haitian youths in the southern coastal town of Port-Salut. (AlterPresse Oct. 20, 21)

The United Nations Security Council voted unanimously on Oct. 15 to extend MINUSTAH’s mandate for another year; the force, led by Brazilian officers, has been occupying Haiti since June 2004. The 15 nations on the council voted to reduce the mission by some 2,750, leaving 7,340 soldiers and 3,241 police agents, about the same number as before a January 2010 earthquake devastated much of southern Haiti. The Security Council also called for Secretary General Ban Ki-moon “to continue to take the necessary measures to ensure full compliance of all…personnel with the United Nations zero-tolerance policy on sexual exploitation and abuse.” (AFP Oct. 15, via Montreal Gazette)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, Oct. 23.

See our last post on Haiti.