Lula’s Troops in Haiti
Since the February 29 ouster of democratically-elected Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, the UN has repeatedly stood by while the U.S.-backed regime detains, arrests, and even murders members of Aristide’s Lavalas party. At odds with its reputation as a "progressive" government, Brazil has been one of the key players in UN complicity with the de facto government.
On June 1, the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH), began placing troops from Brazil, Chile, Argentina and other nations on the ground as "peacekeepers." (They took over this role from U.S., Canadian and French troops.) A July report by a Haiti Accompaniment Project delegation described "a multilateral occupation of Haiti under the aegis of the United Nations." The report notes, "While [the UN presence] does nothing to change the illegality of the occupation, it gives it an aura of legitimacy. From all reports we have received, the UN Military Command works in close coordination with the Haitian National Police, which has already integrated many former military into their ranks. While sending thousands of troops to Haiti, the United Nations has so far sent only one human rights officer to Haiti; he must receive permission from the post-coup Justice Minister, Bernard Gousse, before he is able to visit a prison."
In an interview broadcast October 8 on Haiti’s Radio Metropole, UN Commander General Augusto Heleno Ribero Pereira of Brazil showed his true colors. Discussing police raids in poor neighborhoods, he declared, "we must kill the bandits [i.e. Aristide supporters] but it will have to be the bandits only, not everybody." The general ignored the killers and thugs freed by anti-Aristide paramilitaries who broke open jails as they took over a number of towns in the winter of 2004. UN forces cooperate with these paramilitaries, many of whom helped overthrow Aristide in 1991. The Haiti Accompaniment Project cited "numerous reports that the UN military command in the North coordinates its activities with Guy Philippe, the rebel leader who is responsible for major human rights violations including assassinations in the period preceding the coup."
UN troops have done nothing to stop shootings of unarmed demonstrators. One salient example is the September 30 demonstration in the pro-Aristide neighborhood Bel Air, described by the Oregon-based Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti: "Police interrupted a legal demonstration commemorating the anniversary of Haiti’s September 30, 1991 coup d’etat. Human rights observers accompanying the demonstration reported that police fired on the march, after several attempts to disperse it failed." The commander of the Jordanian riot police present refused to comment when asked why the UN did not intervene to stop Haitian police from firing on protestors.
On an October 1 radio interview, interim Prime Minister Latortue conceded that police had shot and killed protesters, and indicated authorities would continue to attack dissidents. Nonetheless, UN Special Representative Juan Gabriel Valdès reiterated, "the U.S.-backed UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti will continue to work in support of the Haitian police in maintaining public order, thereby helping to ensure the security of Haiti’s citizens and respect for the rule of law."
In early October, UN forces using Armored Personnel Vehicles (APVs) and attack dogs took up positions around Bel Air, alongside heavily armed units of the Haitian police. Independent journalist Kevin Pina reported that soon after, members of the former military were openly patrolling with Chilean forces assigned to the United Nations.
On October 18, international human rights attorney Brian Concannon condemned the UN role in arresting nonviolent Lavalas figures, noting that international peacekeepers "do not have the stomach to confront the rebels or anybody with a gun, but are very courageous in surrounding radio stations to help the arrest of three unarmed legislators."
Concannon further blasted the UN for backing up police actions in poor neighborhoods: "They’re very courageous about going into poor neighborhoods and shooting people. And this is obviously an illegal situation for the UN to be in. This is an illegal situation for the Haitian police to be doing this. The UN involvement in this is not merely allowing things to happen; they are affirmatively supporting it; they are providing back-up to people when they go into these poor neighborhoods, they secured the perimeter of the radio station when they made that [October 2] arrest. They’re much more than negligently letting these things happen. They are playing an active role."
Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva recently commented, "Our solidarity is being tested by the Caribbean crisis in Haiti." In truth, it is the solidarity of international activists with Lula’s government that is being tested. As Brazil angles for a permanent seat on the UN Security Council, many progressives around the world cannot help but wonder how much complicity with brutal repression Lula will countenance in order to look "credible" to Washington.
BEN TERRALL is a writer and activist who works with the Haiti Action Committee