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2010-11-18

Haitians Barricading Streets with Coffins as Protests against U.N. Continue over Cholera Outbreak

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Protests are continuing in Haiti over the cholera outbreak that has now killed more than 1,100 people and infected some 17,000. On Wednesday, residents in the city of Cap-Haïtien clashed with U.N. troops for the third consecutive day. Crowds have taken to the streets expressing anger at the Haitian government and the United Nations for failing to contain the disease. We go to Cap-Haïtien to speak with independent journalist Ansel Herz. [includes rush transcript]

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Protests are continuing in Haiti over the cholera outbreak that has now killed over 1,100 people and infected more than 17,000. On Wednesday, residents in the city of Cap-Haïtien clashed with U.N. troops for the third consecutive day. Crowds have taken to the streets expressing anger at the Haitian government and the U.N. for failing to contain the disease. Nepalese U.N. troops stationed in Cap-Haïtien have been accused of inadvertently bringing cholera to Haiti.

The protests reportedly started at a cemetery where cholera victims were being placed in mass graves. At least two people have been killed in clashes between demonstrators and U.N. troops. On Tuesday, the U.N. Mission in Haiti, known as MINUSTAH, said aid flights have been canceled and water purification and training projects curtailed, while food at a warehouse has been looted and burned.

AMY GOODMAN: The Pan-American Health Organization told Agence France-Presse that the cholera outbreak could kill as many as 10,000 people and cause 200,000 infections in the coming year.

Meanwhile, the disease has spread beyond Haiti’s borders. The Dominican Republic confirmed it had detected its first case of cholera, and officials in Florida have confirmed the first case in the United States.

For more, we go to Haiti right now to speak with independent journalist Ansel Herz. He’s in the city of Cap-Haïtien, where the protests are taking place.

Ansel, welcome to Democracy Now! Tell us what’s happening in Cap-Haïtien.

ANSEL HERZ: Right now, I’m stationed in the downtown public square here in Cap-Haïtien. It’s the second-largest city here in Haiti on the northern coast. And things are — appear to be pretty calm here in the downtown. Today is actually a holiday. It’s National Flag Day, and it commemorates a huge battle that was waged in 1803 in Haiti’s independence struggle.

But as I came into the city yesterday, there were barricades almost every couple hundred of yards on the main highway coming into Cap-Haïtien. There were young men, as well as women, around a lot of these barricades. I had a few rocks thrown at me. But as I got closer, I flashed my press badge, and I tried to make clear that I wasn’t with the U.N. peacekeeping mission, and immediately I was sort of hustled through a lot of these barricades. And they’re actually still in the streets. A lot of them are not manned at the moment. But people are saying that because today is this national holiday commemorating Haiti’s independence struggle, they expect the protesters to come out again in the next few hours.

And I’ll add, too, that, reportedly, a third person has been killed by U.N. troops here in the city. That happened yesterday. I actually went by a back street here in Cap-Haïtien, where protesters had dug a trench as a barricade, basically, and a MINUSTAH vehicle, a peacekeeping vehicle, fell into the trench. And I’m told by witnesses and by Haitian journalists here that when the vehicle fell in, Chilean peacekeepers sort of came under attack, I guess, or a barrage of bottles, rocks — the population — and that the troops responded with gunfire and shot an innocent young man just in his house. And so, reportedly, they took his body over to the mayor’s office, actually, and left it there. And again, meanwhile, there are still barricades here in the street, and some of them are actually made of coffins, and protesters told me that there are cholera victims inside.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re asking listeners and viewers to bear with the phone sound, but we just think it’s absolutely critical to get this information out of Cape Haitian, or Cap-Haïtien. Juan?

JUAN GONZALEZ: Well, Ansel, I’d like to ask you, in terms of — it’s clear that the U.N. peacekeepers, if they were the source, and likely were, of the outbreak of the cholera, didn’t do it deliberately, but there has been a growing resentment for years now among the Haitian people to U.N. — the presence of U.N. peacekeepers. Can you talk about the roots of this animosity?

ANSEL HERZ: Sure. I mean, it’s been interesting to see how the U.N. here has responded to these riots, because they — and protests, because they’ve actually claimed that people are sort of being manipulated and that it’s not a legitimate sort of spontaneous political movement. But, of course, I was here in this city a year ago, actually, and I was interviewing people on the street, and they were telling — there were protests at that time, peaceful protests, against U.N. peacekeepers. And they were telling me that they were tired of an occupation in their country, that the peacekeepers have an enormous budget, but very little of it is spent on, you know, concrete humanitarian activity that could actually improve education and healthcare in this country.

And, of course, also, back in August, a young boy, a 16-year-old boy, was found hanging from a tree inside a U.N. peacekeeping base here in Cap-Haïtien. That’s a story that’s been totally ignored by basically the entire U.S. media. And U.N. troops claim that he committed suicide. But people just across from the base at a hotel said that they heard his screams. They heard that he was being strangled. And there’s a lot of suspicion that he was, in fact, murdered by peacekeepers for maybe stealing a small amount of money. And then recently a group of civil society organizations wrote a letter to the U.N. peacekeepers demanding an independent investigation and condemning what they called the U.N.'s obstruction into justice for that case. And after that death, there were weeks of protests, peaceful protests, here in Cap-Haïtien. So, the idea that these are sort of manipulated protests, that people are being used, I think, doesn't hold water. There have been longstanding accusations against the peacekeeping mission here for abusing Haitians and for lacking transparent investigations into any of these alleged human rights violations.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And what about the upcoming elections and the difficulty of holding an election, given the calamities that have befallen Haiti in the past year?

ANSEL HERZ: I mean, there was a recent report from CARICOM that thousands and thousands of people who died in the earthquake are still on the voter rolls. Of course, the cholera epidemic is spreading. It’s been epidemic, basically, throughout the country. It was allowed to spread out of the central region where it began and is now in all ten of the provinces. And, you know, even before the cholera outbreak began, you had very regular protests in Port-au-Prince by people in the tent camps, people who have been displaced for the past ten months, who lost their homes in the earthquake and have not been given any kind of new housing. And their rallying cry, again and again, has been "We are not going to vote while we’re under tents and tarps." And so, I think the prospects for holding credible election, where you have a considerable participation, are pretty low.

Of course, one of the largest parties in the country, Fanmi Lavalas, the party of the ousted president Jean-Bertrand Aristide, who was overturned in a 2004 coup, that party is being totally excluded from the election on what would appear to be just political grounds. And it’s been part of excluding that entire movement since Aristide was ousted. And so, I just think this election is likely to be a sham affair. And yet, the candidates, as well as the Haitian government itself, are insisting — and the United Nations, as well — are insisting that this election is going to go forward on November 28th.

AMY GOODMAN: Finally, again, the United States holding back more than — the U.S. Congress holding back more than a billion dollars in aid to Haiti. What is the effect of this, Ansel?

ANSEL HERZ: Well, the effect is that you have at least 1.3 million people still living in these — in tent camps, where independent studies by the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti, as well as others, have found that, you know, 30 or 40 percent of these camps don’t have any regular clean water, don’t have toilets. And so, you know, I’ve heard people say that Haiti is unlucky to be hit by cholera, that it’s somehow sort of a tragedy it couldn’t have been prevented. But the fact is, you know, NGOs, private charity groups raised billions of dollars in relief funds for earthquake victims after the January 12th earthquake, and very little of it has been sent.

Just one example is the Clinton Bush Haiti Fund, headed by Presidents Clinton and Bush. It was inaugurated by President Obama right after the earthquake. They dispersed only $6 million out of around $50 million that they raised. And so, the continuing effect is that you just have a exacerbated humanitarian crisis on top of Haiti’s decades of poverty. And it doesn’t seem likely to end anytime soon, unless there’s a really serious reevaluation of the way NGOs, in tandem with the United Nations, operate in this country.

AMY GOODMAN: Ansel Herz, we want to thank you very much for being with us, independent journalist, has lived in Haiti for more than a year. He’s speaking to us from Cap-Haïtien, from Cape Haitian, in Haiti.

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