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Protests against UN mission in Haiti grow

The demonstrations in Haiti are aimed at the MINUSTAH troops under the command of the Brazilian army. On October 15, the UN Security Council votes on the future of the stabilization mission in the country.

Residents scream at policemen during a protest against the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti

On a regular basis, Haitian residents take to the streets in protest

October 15 is approaching, and tension is rising in Haiti. On that day, the United Nations' Security Council is expected to vote on the future of the United Nations Stabilization Mission MINUSTAH in the Carribean state, which is under the command of the Brazilian army.

The past months have seen regular protests in Port-au-Prince against the blue-helmet soldiers. The demonstrators are demanding an immediate end of the UN mission in Haiti. "We strongly oppose MINUSTAH. We don't want the soldiers here. We want to break this spiral of dependence which has been going on for eight years," Joseph Jacques Hebreux, one of the organizers of the protests, told Deutsche Welle.

Hebreux is one of the founders of the group Bri Kouri Nouvèl Gaye, which emerged after the devastating earthquake in January last year, comprising several grassroots movements of students and the rural population. With the help of donors, the initiative addresses the government once a month with a critical manifesto. On October 15, 2010, the group published the first manifesto against MINUSTAH. This marked the beginning of organized opposition in Haiti.

Brazilian command

Brazilian UN soldier

Brazil has the command of the UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti

According to the Brazilian MINUSTAH commanders, the protest movement is mainly organized by students from the Language Department at the University in Port au Prince. "We have the impression that the population as a whole supports MINUSTAH - not just for security reasons but also because of the good relationship the troops have with the people," said Mauricio Cruz, spokesperson of the mission's military arm.

The operation was launched on June 1, 2004, and has been under Brazilian command since the start. The Security Council had approved the mission earlier the same year, in February, just after an armed uprising forced Haiti's President at the time, Jean Bertrand Aristide, to flee the country.

Brazil commits the biggest number of troops. 2,400 of the mission's 8,700 soldiers and 3,300 policemen belong to the Brazilian army. "So far, there's not been a single incident where our troops have been attacked while simply patrolling the streets," says Cruz. "The President has asked MINUSTAH to make an organized retreat, step by step. He doesn't want them to leave just yet, however, because he's not convinced that the national Haitian police force are capable of guaranteeing stability and security."

The President's voice

A man installs a giant portrait of Haitian president Michel Martelly as another one paints a mural

Haitian President Michel Martelly wants the UN troops to stay

Michel Martelly, President of Haiti since May this year, spoke out in favor of keeping the troops in his country, when he addressed the National Assembly of the United Nations on September 23. "The mission cannot be reduced to a simple intervention unit or to the role of a more or less neutral observer," he said.

"I'm aware of the unacceptable mistakes which have tarnished the mission's prestige, but we mustn't not see the wood for the trees. And I believe that political stabilization requires going through various phases," said Martelly.

With his reference to the "unacceptable mistakes," the President was hinting at a video which spread over the Internet, which showed two Uruguayan soldiers raping a Haitian youth. The images were circulated earlier this month and triggered another series of protests in the capital Port au Prince.

"Not everybody was aware that the soldiers' work here was not benefiting our country - and that on the contrary, Haiti is losing all of its sovereignty. Awareness increased when the incident with the Uruguayan soldiers happened. Every week now, we see a peaceful demonstration against the UN," said Joseph Jacques Hebreux.

Rubble

Almost two years after the earthquake, Haiti is still recovering

Security for Haiti

"Overall, the population is convinced that MINUSTAH hasn't benefited the country when you see their achievements in relation with how much the mission costs. Only recently, $150 billion (110 billion euros) were requested to extend the mission's mandate, while Haiti's national security forces and the police didn't receive any money," explained Meena Jagannath from the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti.

According to Jagannath, a lawyer by trade, Haitian policemen barely get any salary at all, and yet they're the ones responsible for guaranteeing civilians' security. "To give you an example: MINUSTAH doesn't have a mandate that would allow soldiers to investigate an offense and to arrest a criminal - unless the crime happens right under their nose," she added.

Joseph Jacques Hebreux from Bri Kouri Nouvèl Gaye expects tension in Haiti to rise even further. "The social movements are against the presence of the foreign troops, and the President is against us," he said.

"We would like to take part in the debate, but there are never any representatives of the population present when the government decides over a possible extension of the mission. That happens in talks between representatives of the Haitian government and other countries."

Report: Nádia Pontes (nh)
Editor: Rob Mudge

DW.DE