January 9, 2011 -- Socialist Voice -- Of all the commentaries and interviews coinciding with the
anniversary of Haiti’s earthquake, none are likely to exceed in
significance the interview granted by Organization of American States representative to Haiti,
Ricardo Seitenfus, to the Swiss daily Le Temps on December 20, 2010.
The critique he delivered to the
newspaper is especially significant for Latin America and the Caribbean
because Seitenfus is Brazilian. Sensitivity is running high in the
region over the evident failure of the international relief effort led
by the big powers – the United States, Canada and Europe – whose
interventionist policies had already done so much harm to Haiti before
this latest catastrophe.
Brazil is the leading country of the UN Security
Council’s military occupation force known as MINUSTAH. Eight other
countries from Latin America provide foot soldiers to the force, including
Chile, Argentina and Bolivia. Brazil has also supplied important
humanitarian assistance, but Cuba and Venezuela have distinguished
themselves by providing massive effective aid that is unsullied by
participation in an imperialist-initiated military occupation force -- Roger Annis.
* * *
By Roger Annis
[This slightly revised version of the original first published on Upside Down World on December 28, 2010, was published by Canada's Socialist Voice on January 9, 2011, with the above introduction.]
As the one-year anniversary of Haiti’s earthquake approached, a
brutally frank account of the plight of its people was delivered by
a highly placed foreign diplomat. Ricardo Seitenfus, the representative
to Haiti of the Organization of American States, delivered a
hard-hitting assessment of the foreign role in that country in an
interview published in the December 20 edition of the Swiss daily Le Temps.
The interview also appeared in the right-wing, Haitian daily Le Nouvelliste. For his words, the diplomat was immediately recalled from his posting.
Seitenfus is Brazilian and a graduate of the Institute of Advanced
International Studies in Geneva. The truths he pronounced in the
now-famous interview are not unique; they have been voiced by many
Haitians and their allies abroad. But to hear them uttered by someone of
his standing is a sign of the unraveling of a miserably failed foreign
military and political occupation force in Haiti.
The failings in Haiti
Seitenfus questions the legitimacy and utility of the UN Security
Council occupation force known as MINUSTAH. It numbers 13,000 military
and police (an increase of 50 per cent since the earthquake) along with
several thousand political officers. “Haiti is not an international
threat”, he says. “We are not experiencing a civil war.”
He is asked, is it a counter-productive presence? His answer is, yes.
The diplomat traces the 200-year history of foreign subjugation of
Haiti. He draws a line of continuity to the present. “The world has
never known how to treat Haiti, so it has ignored it.”
He says the country has lived a “low intensity war” since 1986, the
year of the overthrow of the Duvalier tyranny. “We want to turn Haiti
into a capitalist country, an export platform for the US market, it’s
absurd. Haiti must return to what it is, that is to say, a predominantly
agricultural country still fundamentally imbued with customary law.”
Noting the large number of Haiti’s people living abroad (a
high-sounding estimate of four million), Seitenfus says he does not pine
for a return to a quaint rural past as a solution to Haiti’s present
crisis. But he believes that the foreign intervention runs contrary to
the country’s interests and needs. “The problem is socioeconomic. When
the level of unemployment is 80%, it is unacceptable to deploy a
stabilisation mission. There is nothing to stabilise and everything to
When the interview turns to questions of aid and earthquake relief,
Seitenfus drops a bomb in declaring, “If there is proof of the failure
of international aid, it is Haiti.” Charity and aid to Haiti have
enfeebled the Haitian state.
“Emergency aid is effective. But when it becomes structural, when it
replaces the state in all its duties, collective responsibilities in
society end up abandoned.”
His words for the world of charities and NGOs are harsh. Haiti, he
says, has become a “Mecca” for them, a “laboratory”, a “go-to”
destination, and worse – a stage in their professional development. For
these NGOs to exist, he says, Haiti must fail.
“Haiti is ground zero of humanity’s tragedy and the failings of its international solidarity.”
A disastrous election
The dismissed ambassador does not comment on the electoral exercise
that was staged in Haiti on November 28. It’s not difficult to imagine
that, like many others in the world, he was aghast at what took place.
By any measure, the vote was a violation of the democratic will of the
- It was financed by foreign powers, to the tune of at least US$30 million.
- The country’s most representative political party, the Fanmi Lavalas
of exiled, former president Jean-Bertrand Aristide, was ruled off the
- The list of registered voters that was used by the country’s
electoral commission predated the January 12, 2010, earthquake and therefore
contained the names of the more than 250,000 people no longer alive.
- It was difficult, if not impossible, for voters to register and cast
their ballots. In the last genuinely democratic election in Haiti, the
year 2000, there were some 12,000 polling stations. This time, there
were less than a thousand.
- Widespread violations and irregularities at polling stations on election day were observed and reported.
But none of this has slowed the international powers in Haiti from
pressing ahead to a second-round presidential vote in what many Haitians
term not an election but a “selection”. Haitians will end up with a
foregone result – a “president” whose extreme-right political leanings
will be at odds with the political sentiments of the vast majority of
the people but perfectly suited to the interests of the foreign powers.
The cholera tragedy
Perhaps the most tragic of the calamities that have befallen Haiti is
the introduction of cholera into the country by the very occupation
force criticized so heavily by Ricardo Seitenfus. The disease has taken a
heavy toll with more than 2000 killed and tens of thousands fallen
ill. Its economic consequences, especially on Haiti’s vital agriculture,
will be costly and long lasting.
After weeks of denying any responsibility for introducing cholera, UN
Secretary General Ban Ki-moon announced on December 15 that the
organisation would conduct an inquiry into its possible role. French
epidemiologist Renaud Piarroux says “no other hypothesis” could explain
his findings that cases of the diarrheal disease first appeared near a
Nepalese-staffed MINUSTAH base in central Haiti.
The inquiry will need to look not only at where and how cholera was
introduced, but also what measures, if any, were taken by the UN to
prevent its occurence. For as New Scientist writer Debora MacKenzie wrote in the December 7 issue of the prestigious weekly magazine:
UN peacekeepers around the world are largely supplied by poor
countries, and of the top 15 contributors, which supply 71 per cent of
UN troops, 12 harbor cholera. If Haiti’s cholera did indeed come from
Nepal, it was a foreseeable accident. More caution is called for.
MacKenzie’s column slammed the UN for stalling an inquiry and the
World Health Organization for stating that finding the source of the
disease was “not important.”
Another startling element to the cholera saga was brought to light by
Joia Mukherjee, Executive Director of Partners In Health, in an article
written shortly after the outbreak. She reminded the world that among
the victims of the aid embargo against the government of President
Jean-Bertrand Aristide instituted by the US, Europe and Canada
following the 2000 election were water treatment facilities in the very
region where cholera first appeared.
A challenge to Latin America
Seitenfus’ views reflect the concerns of growing numbers of people in
Latin American and the Caribbean over Haiti’s treatment. These concerns
were underscored when CARICOM decided to lend legitimacy to the
November 28 election by sending a delegation of monitors and then
endorse the outcome as regrettable but legitimate.
This writer and co-author Kevin Edmonds published an article on November 15 that argued,
The decision by CARICOM to participate in this deeply flawed
election constitutes a significant reversal of the position it took in
February 2004 when Haiti’s elected president and government were
overthrown by a paramilitary revolt with key backing from the U.S.,
Canada, France and the UN Security Council. At that time, CARICOM
condemned the overthrow.
Ricardo Seitenfus says that as a Latin American, Haiti’s treatment shames him. It’s an “offense to our conscience”.
Mark Weisbrot of the Center for Economic Policy Research warns in a
recent article that the continued participation of Latin American
countries in the MINUSTAH military mission is increasingly untenable as
the mission’s predatory role becomes more and more evident.
Referring to the attempted coup d’état against the elected government
in Venezuela in 2002, he asks rhetorically whether any Latin American
government would have dared to participate in an occupation mission had
the coup succeeded.
Weisbrot explains the stakes for Latin America and the Caribbean in Haiti thus:
People who do not understand U.S. foreign policy think that control
over Haiti does not matter to Washington, because it is so poor and has
no strategic minerals or resources. But that is not how Washington
operates.… Left governments will be removed or prevented from taking
power where it is possible to do so.
‘Enough of playing with Haiti’
In his damning interview, Ricardo Seitenfus describes a vision for
Haiti that would see true international solidarity come into play.
“Enough of playing with Haiti!”, he declares.
While paying tribute to the outpouring of solidarity and compassion
following the earthquake, he says that charity cannot be the driving
force of international relations. What is needed, he argues, is autonomy
and sovereignty of peoples, fair and equitable commerce, and respect by
human beings towards each other.
In Haiti, “We must build roads, hydroelectric dams, assist in building government structures, including a judiciary system.”
“The UN says it is not mandated to do that”, he laments. “It’s mandate in Haiti is to maintain the peace of the graveyard.”
His prophetic words may no longer grace the offices of the OAS in
Haiti. But they have given voice to countless Haitians still living in
the miserable conditions of the camps of internally displaced or still
waiting for the promised “reconstruction”.
They will not wait forever. They will continue to assert their
rights. The longer the elites of Haiti and the world fail to offer a
vision for the future of the country, the more certain become social
explosions through which the people reassert their dignity and their
rightful claim to social justice.
[Roger Annis is a coordinator of the Canada Haiti Action Network.
He resides in Vancouver and can be reached at rogerannis(at)hotmail.com.]
 "Haiti is Proof of the Failings of International Aid" (in French), interview with Ricardo Seitenfus, Le Temps, December 20, 2010.
 "Impact du cholera sur l’agriculture haïtienne" (in French), by William Michel, November 26, 2010.
 "Haiti cholera outbreak ‘came from UN camp’", by Deborah Pasmantier, Agence France Presse, November 29, 2010.
 "Haiti: Epidemics of Denial Must End", by Debora MacKenzie, New Scientist, December 7, 2010.
 "Cholera in Haiti: Another Disease of Poverty in a Traumatized Land", by Joia Mukherjee, October 22, 2010.
 "With Friends Like These…CARICOM and the Flawed Election in Haiti", by Roger Annis and Kevin Edmonds, November 15, 2010.
 "Wikileaks Cables Show Why Washington Won’t Allow Democracy in Haiti", by Mark Weisbrot, The Guardian, December 17, 2010.
Recommended reading on Haiti and Latin America/the Caribbean: