MINUSTAH in Cite Soleil

Haiti news

ZNet | Haiti  <http://www.zmag.org/lam/haitiwatch.cfm>

December 1, 2005

MINUSTAH in Cite Soleil
by Isabel MacDonald

PORT AU PRINCE - Luckson Docius, a 48-year old metalworker who supported his family of seven by making saucepans was at work on November 24 when a bullet fired by a UN “peacekeeper’ working with the UN Mission for Stabilization in Haiti (MINUSTAH) ripped through the metal wall of his studio and killed him. The bullet, which a MINUSTAH soldier in a tank-like armoured personnel carrier (APC) fired from an automatic gun, blasted through his right arm, tore into the right side of his abdomen and came out the other side, to lodge itself in his left arm; moments later, Docius was lying dead in a pool of blood before his co-workers´ eyes.

A few days later, Harold, a youth from the Port-au-Prince slum of Cité Soleil (or Site Soley, as it is known in Krèyol), was strolling up the main road into his neighbourhood on a Sunday afternoon when a MINUSTAH “peacekeeper’ shot him in the stomach.

Speaking from a hospital bed two days later, where he was strapped up to an IV machine, the bullet hole in his stomach visible through a transparent plastic cover taped over it, Harold said that he had been walking along the main street into the Site when MINUSTAH shot him. He had been passing by MINUSTAH´s largest base in the Site, which is located at the entrance to the shantytown, when he heard gunfire off in the distance. The Jordanian soldiers manning the MINUSTAH´s tank-like APCs outside the base responded by opening fire with automatic weapons in the general direction of the distant shooting. One of MINUSTAH´s bullets tore through Harold´s abdomen and lodged near his back.

I visited Harold with a Haitian law school student and journalist who is a friend of his. Harold had been on his way to a meeting organized by this law school student-- a youth meeting focused on strategies for promoting progressive community development and education through neighbourhood associations—when he was shot.

The Associated Press (AP) has reported that 15 residents of Site Soley have been killed, and Doctors Without Borders has confirmed that 28 more have been shot, amidst heavy firing by MINUSTAH in the last week. Site Soley is a Port au Prince slum with a strong base of support for Fanmi Lavalas (FL), the popular Haitian political party; the Lavalas leaders are either in exile or imprisoned by the defacto Haitian government without charges in the wake of the US, France and Canada-backed February 29, 2004 coup d´état that overthrew the FL government of Jean Bertrand Aristide.

Since MINUSTAH was established by the UN Security Council four months after the coup to support the de facto Haitian government, its troops and police have had a strong presence in the shantytown, and in another poor Lavalas-supporting neighbourhood, Belair, where they have joined forces with the Haitian National Police, allegedly in the name of stamping out “gang violence’. MINUSTAH controls the movements of residents through checkpoints established at each main entry point to Site Soley, and the UN forces have established military bases in many of the rare multi-storey buildings in the neighbourhood of tiny low-lying corrugated tin and stone dwellings.

At a press conference on November 28, Juan Gabriel Valdes, the head of the UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti, denounced the journalists and critics who have represented  MINUSTAH as a repressive force that is killing civilians. However, regardless of MINUSTAH´s stated official intentions, the killing of civilians seems an almost inevitable by-product of the military strategy MINUSTAH is using—namely going with tank-like machines and automatic weapons into a densely populated civilian neighbourhood and opening fire.

I witnessed the MINUSTAH open fire among civilians in two other parts of the Site on the Sunday that Harold was shot. In the Site Soley neighbourhood of Pele, Brazilian “peacekeeping’ troops opened fire shortly after 2 pm on the corner of a main throroughfare and the main Pele road, which is lined with street vendors, and filled with women and children. Standing only four feet away from the street corner where about five of the soldiers were stationed—close enough to hear the orders blasting over their radios, I neither saw nor heard any bullets coming at them. Yet they opened fire, blasting consecutive rounds of automatic gunfire across the road, as people carrying heavy loads of produce tried to walk by. After a few minutes, about twenty more Brazilian MINUSTAH soldiers arrived on the scene, with one of MINUSTAH´s tank-like APCs, and the UN gunfire intensified. After a full twenty minutes of firing, the troops did a 180, swiveling around to open fire in the opposite direction—in the direction where a dozen street vendors, and bystanders civilians had taken cover, pressed up against a wall behind MINUSTAH´s original line of fire. Again, I had heard no gunfire coming from this direction before MINUSTAH opened fire. When MINUSTAH finally stopped shooting and moved away, a heap of women and children streamed out from behind a barber´s shop. They looked at me, a blanc with a press pass across the street, and started to yell “Gen problem!’ There is a problem.

Less than an hour later, we were passing through Bwa Nèf in the heart of Site Soley, near Route 9, where MINUSTAH had killed the metal worker just a few days earlier; journalist Jean Ristil and I walked through the sea of tiny homes made of corrugated tin and stone, along the long, straight alleyways which separate the huts, which provide routes for foot-travel within the neighbourhood as well as spaces where people congregate to talk, wash clothes, and children play. Suddenly, we saw four UN APCs—also manned by Brazilians--drive slowly up along the largest road in the vicinity. MINUSTAH bullets were suddenly whizzing by our heads. In the street alley we were in, people frantically flew in all directions, ducking into doorways, hiding behind ledges of the long concrete walls lining the alleyway. I took cover with a half dozen residents hiding behind a ledge of the wall that jutted out about six inches. The MINUSTAH APCs continued to fire rounds in our direction for about ten minutes.

The emergency ward at St. Catherines hospital, the main hospital in the Site, reported that there had been seven people, in addition to Harold, who were hospitalized for gunfire injuries on Sunday. According to the local Red Cross office in Site Soley, this is not unusual—if anything, the number of gun injuries in the Site is now lower than it had been. On July 6, 2004, dozens of Site Soley residents—including women and children--were killed in an early-morning raid by Jordanian MINUSTAH forces, who claimed that they were searching for “gang leaders’, and there have also been many attacks by the Haitian National Police.

Valdes claimed at the November 28 press conference to be promoting dialogue with the community of Site Soley.  The MINUSTAH Director of Political Affairs, John Bevan, told me that MINUSTAH has held a series of meetings with non-violent leaders in Site Soley. However, many ordinary Site Soley residents do not appear to even be aware of the “dialogue’ that MINUSTAH claims to be engaged in with them. “What has MINUSTAH ever done for us?’ demanded Luckson Docius´ brother. He told me that he thinks Site Soley does need security (which is what MINUSTAH is after all supposed to provide). However, the forces have only increased the insecurity of his family. Luckson has left behind five children, including a six year old. Luckson´s brother approached MINUSTAH to demand that something be done for the family but has had no response.

I recall one elderly woman leaning out of her doorway as I passed down an alley in Bwa Nèf ; “Are you not scared of MINUSTAH?’, she asked me. I saw people of all ages cheering for a young guy running by with a large gun. Harassment at checkpoints and unexplained firing on neighbourhoods by troops, most of whom—at least in the case of the “peacekeepers’ and police that I have encountered in the Site--do not speak Kreyol is, to say the least, unconducive to dialogue. Moreover, a popular Haitian radio station, Radio Ginen, recently reported that women in a part of Site Soley close to the Jordanian MINUSTAH base were complaining about rapes and harassment by the MINUSTAH troops.

At the press conference on the 28th, Valdes referred to the Site as “a scar on the body of Haiti’, and stated that the MINUSTAH presence is going to be increased in the Site; MINUSTAH forces will take control and establish order, block by block. According to Valdes, these renewed MINUSTAH forces will be used to stamp out the “gangs’ who they anticipate will seek to disrupt the elections, the first round of which is scheduled for January 8, 2006. However, when I asked people in Site Soley about whether there were any political groups in the neighbourhood who were advocating disrupting the election—the rationale that MINUSTAH is giving for its renewed attention to Site Soley in the lead up to the election--people looked at me blankly. “Of course not. [Former Lavalas President and Lespwa candidate Rene] Preval is going to win’, I heard. Since Preval´s candidacy in the election was accepted, Lavalas supporters have renounced their earlier call for a boycott. I sought in vain for graffiti denouncing the election and calling for a boycott amongst the plethora of political messages scrawled on the walls of Site Soley. Instead, I found a myriad of calls to “Vote Preval’. Perhaps this should not be surprising; Site Soley was a strong base of opposition to the coup d´etat that had eliminated the government that the majority of Haitian people had elected; the residents of Site Soley appear to care very much about their right to vote. The apparently erroneous premise of the UN´s actions in Site Soley in the lead-up to the election raises the troubling question--put best by the elder brother of the late Luckson Docius--“What is MINUSTAH doing in Site Soley?’ As a citizen of Canada, a country that has played a leading role in the replacement of Haitian democracy with a sham illegitimate and brutal government backed by the “international community’, I ought to have an answer, he suggested.

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