Secret cables reveal US concerns for post-quake militant occupation of Haiti


Debris in the streets of the Port-au-Prince ne...

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Washington began deploying 22,000 troops to Haiti after the January 12, 2010 earthquake despite there being no serious security problem, according to secret US cables released by Wikileaks and provided to Haiti Liberte.

After the 7.0 earthquake struck, decimating the Haitian capital and surrounding areas, the capital Port-au-Prince “resembled a wazone”, Haiti Liberte reports. “Bodies lay strewn, collapsed buildings spilled into dust-filled streets, while Haitians frantically rushed to dig out survivors crying out from under hills of rubble.

“But the one element missing from this apocalyptic scene was an actual war or widespread violence. Instead, families sat down on the street, huddled around flickering candles with their belongings.”

Washington responded by sending thousands of armed troops in what would be the third US military intervention in Haiti in the last 20 years. The decision drew criticism from aid workers and government officials from around the world. The militarised response to a humanitarian crisis was not looked upon kindly by many in the international community, who seemed to view such a response as being inappropriate and counterproductive.

French Cooperation Minister Alain Joyandet stated that international aid efforts should be “about helping Haiti, not about occupying Haiti.”

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez similarly denounced the decision to send “Marines armed as if they were going to war. There is no shortage of guns there, my God. Doctors, medicine, fuel, field hospitals, that is what the United States should send. They are occupying Haiti in an undercover manner.”

The UN had already claimed that its own 9,000 troops and policemen were sufficient to ensure security, but the Obama administration was not satisfied.

In the aftermath of the disaster, President Preval stated the main priorities including: Re-establishing telephone communications; clearing the streets of debris and bodies; providing food and water to the population; treating the injured amongst groups, a January 26, 2009 cable explains. There is no indication that Preval asked for military troops, nor did he mention security as a major concern.

The US nevertheless acted on its own accord, dispatching armed troops to Haiti – at its peak the response included 22,000 soldiers. Haitians were already looking on “in disbelief as heavily armed UN soldiers, after rushing to rescue their own personnel, resumed driving through the devastated capital and its suburbs in armoured troop carriers, bristling with guns”, Haiti Liberte writes.

“Many Haitians have long resented and denounced the MINUSTAH (UN Mission to Stabilize Haiti) as a flagrant violation of Haiti’s 1987 Constitution and an affront to Haitian sovereignty. The UN troops brandishing guns in front of devastated earthquake victims added insult to injury.”

President Preval had called on the UN to change it’s counterproductive, costly, and sometimes repressive military patrols to building much-needed infrastructure. UN and US officials repeatedly ignored this request.

Meanwhile, armed US troops were pouring into the devastated country, eventually outnumbering UN troops by 2:1. They remained for 6 months despite the leaked cables suggesting no marked increase in violence or looting around that time. Remarkably, a Jan.19 cable states that Cheryl Mills, Hillary Clinton’s Chief of Staff, “assured Preval… that the [US] military was here for humanitarian relief and not as a security force”.

Despite Mill’s “assurance” that the troops were not there as a security force, journalists saw a different picture in front of their eyes. On January 19 (ironically the same date that the previously mentioned cable is dated), Democracy Now’s crew, alongside Haiti Liberte’s Kim Ives, arrived at the General Hospital around 1pm. With their own eyes, they saw armed soldiers standing behind the hospital’s closed gates.

The troops had orders to provide security by denying entrance to hundreds of injured earthquake victims and family members of patients.

“Watching the scene in front of the General Hospital yesterday said it all,” said Ives in a Democracy Now! interview the next day. “Here were people who were going in and out of the hospital bringing food to their loved ones in there or needing to go to the hospital, and there were a bunch of… U.S. 82nd Airborne soldiers in front yelling in English at this crowd. They didn’t know what they were doing. They were creating more chaos rather than diminishing it. It was a comedy, if it weren’t so tragic… They had no business being there.”

The journalists alerted the Dr. Evan Lyon, the hospital’s interim director, who immediately told the soldiers to stand down and open the main gate. They relented, although they allegedly continued to stand in positions as some sort of unwanted, unnecessary security force.

Despite alleging to be occupying Haiti for “humanitarian” reasons, the US military presence seemed to actually be hindering humanitarian efforts. As Haiti Liberte reports: “The enormous influx of U.S. military personnel, weapons and equipment into the airport prompted a chorus of protest from mid-level French, Italian, and Brazilian officials, as well as the aid group Doctors Without Borders. They were outraged that planes carrying vital humanitarian supplies were prevented from landing, or delayed, sometimes for days.”

“We had a whole freaking plane full of the friggin’ medicine!” Douglas Copp, an American rescue worker, exclaimed outside a UN base not long after the quake. The U.S. military, which had taken over the Port-au-Prince airport, would not give clearance for the Peruvian military plane to land. It had to divert to the Dominican capital, 150 miles away. “In Santo Domingo, we got a bus, and we came into Haiti with just the things we could fit in the bus,” he said.

Hillary Clinton would not accept any criticism of the militant US occupation of Haiti, however. “I am deeply concerned by instances of inaccurate and unfavorable international media coverage of America’s role and intentions in Haiti,” she wrote in a Jan. 20 message to embassies across the globe. “It is imperative to get the narrative right over the long term.”

She asked that Embassies report back to her, “citing specific examples of irresponsible journalism in your host countries, and what action you have taken in response.”

And action was indeed taken. According to Haiti Liberte, one Jan.26 cable reports how in Columbia, negative coverage of the US occupation comprised of a newspaper cartoonist who drew “a colonial spider planting a US flag on the island of Haiti,” the Bogata Embassy wrote. “Post will meet with the cartoonist this week to discuss the cartoon with him and provide information refuting its inference, as well as engage will El Espectador’s editor to express our strong concerns.”

During this time, US media appeared to be describing escalating, imaginary violence in Haiti’s streets. CBS reported the day after the earthquake: “Gangs Rule Streets of Haiti”. CNN.com’s lead headling on January 19 was “Security Fears Grow in Haiti’s Tent Cities” with the subsequent caption: “with 4,000 convicted criminals on the loose, nothing and no one is safe.”

On the same day (Jan.19) that CBS was reporting such rampant violence, the US embassy was reporting that the “security situation in Haiti remains calm”. Another Jan.19 cable reports: “Despite hardships in devasted neighbourhoods, residents appear calm and civil”

It is clear that US and UN troops in Haiti did help many earthquake victims during their occupation, including the setting up of well-equipped camps and medical surgeries. Similarly, Cuban aid also resulted in impressive action; the 800 doctors and the Henry Reeve Medical Brigade (a 1,500 member contingent of Cuban doctors and other graduates of Cuba’s medical school) treated over 70,300 patients and performed over 2,500 operations, without the use of armed soldiers.

Haitian political activist Ray Laforest, a member of the International Support Haiti Network, said: “It is certain that one important reason for the U.S. troop deployment to Haiti after the quake was to bar any revolutionary uprising that might have emerged due to the Haitian government’s near collapse.

“Also the perception of Haitians in Washington, since the time of its 1915 occupation, is that they are savage, undisciplined and violent. In fact, the 2010 earthquake proved the opposite: Haitians came together in an exemplary display of heroism, resilience and solidarity. Washington’s military response to the earthquake indicates how deeply it misunderstands, mistrusts and mistreats Haiti.”

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