Haiti: women’s groups protest UN troops, Duvalier impunity

Hundreds of Haitians marked International Women’s Day on March 8 with a march in downtown Port-au-Prince to demand justice for the women who were victims of the 1957-1986 Duvalier family dictatorship and to call for the departure of the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH), a 11,200-member international police and military force.

“[Former dictator Jean-Claude] Duvalier and his accomplices must be judged,” “Impunity can’t be Haiti’s destiny,” “Down with the occupation, down with those who sell the country out,” “Good working conditions for women,” and “Women won’t step back” were among the main signs at the march, which was organized by Haitian Women’s Solidarity (SOFA) and the labor organizing group Batay Ouvriye (“Workers’ Struggle”), with support from the Women’s Network of the Bureau of International Lawyers (BAI), the Mobilization Collective for Compensation for the Cholera Victims (Komodevik) and other groups.

One focus of the demonstration was a Jan. 30 decision by investigative judge Carvès Jean that one-time “president for life” Duvalier (1971-1986) should face trial for corruption but not for the brutal crimes committed by his government. Another focus was the refusal by the United Nations (UN) to take responsibility for the cholera epidemic that started in October 2010 because of poor sanitary practices at a MINUSTAH base. (AlterPresse, Haiti, March 9)

On March 7, the day before the march, former US president Bill Clinton (1993-2001), now the UN special envoy for Haiti, admitted during a visit to the country that MINUSTAH troops brought the epidemic. “I don’t know that the person who introduced cholera into Haiti, the UN peacekeeping soldier from South Asia, was aware that he was carrying the virus,” Clinton said, in response to a question from independent US journalist Ansel Herz. “It was the proximate cause of cholera, that is, he was carrying the cholera strain,” Clinton went on, but then added that “what really caused it is that you don’t have a sanitation system.” Rather than blame the soldiers, he said, “it’s better to focus on fixing it.”

This is the first time a UN official has acknowledged that the disease, which has killed 7,000 Haitians so far, came from the UN troops. (Center for Economic and Policy Research Relief and Reconstruction Watch, March 7; ABC News, March 9) [Note: cholera is a bacterial disease; it is not caused by a virus.]

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, March 11.

See our last post on Haiti.

    1. Batay Ouvriye came out against Aristide long before 2004
      In fact, disaffection with Aristide has been fairly widespread among Haitian leftists at least since his 1994 restoration to power by 20,000 U.S. troops in exchange for a commitment to implement neoliberal economic policies in Haiti.

      What’s really interesting about the International Women’s Day march is that it shows anti-Aristide groups like Batay Ouvriye and SOFA working together with traditionally pro-Aristide groups like the Bureau of International Lawyers. This sort of collaboration dates back to the minimum wage struggle in 2009, when many Aristide supporters joined with groups to their left to back a higher wage for factory workers–while some politicians in Aristide’s Lavalas Family were reportedly siding with the US and the sweatshop owners.