Concerns voiced over foreign troops in Haiti

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      The world’s response to the earthquake that struck Haiti on January 12 has been massive. But, according to a local advocate for the country, just as significant are some governments’ subsequent troop buildups there, mainly, those of the United States and Canada.

      Stuart Hammond recently returned from a two-week trip to Haiti that had the Mount Pleasant resident working with a U.S. human-rights delegation. Since then, he has maintained close ties with locals on the ground in Port-au-Prince.

      “For the past five years, Haiti has been occupied by a 9,000-person strong UN force,” the Haiti Solidarity B.C. member told the Georgia Straight in a phone interview. “Now, within the past week, combined U.S. and Canadian forces exceed those UN forces.”

      According to a UN backgrounder on MINUSTAH—the UN’s mission in Haiti—in June 2005, the decision was made to send up to 7,500 UN troops and 1,897 police officers to the island nation. Since the magnitude-7.3 quake struck near the capital city, the UN has bolstered its numbers there by some 2,000 additional troops. But, as various news sources have reported, as many as 11,000 U.S. and 2,000 Canadian soldiers have also been deployed to Haiti.

      “It’s an issue that has me very, very concerned,” Hammond said. He noted that the U.S. occupied Haiti from 1915 to 1934, and he said that many Haitians understand the U.S.’s and Canada’s roles in the 2004 ousting of former president Jean-Bertrand Aristide.

      “Kidnapping is definitely the word that Haitians use,” he said, referring to the manner in which Aristide left the country.

      Furthermore, Canada has supported the exclusion of Aristide’s political party, Fanmi Lavalas, from every election since 2004, Hammond continued. “Haitians are very knowledgeable about what Canada is doing in their country, and they are generally not happy about it at all.”

      Dana Cryderman, a spokesperson for Ministry of Foreign Affairs, told the Straight from Ottawa that the government does not to comment on speculative claims such as those that military operations are interfering with aid efforts. She said that Canadian Forces actions in Haiti are coordinated by the UN and are focused on meeting people’s immediate needs.

      Cryderman was not able to provide information on any withdrawal date for Canadian soldiers from Haiti.

      Hammond is not alone with his concern over military deployments. On January 19, France publicly demanded that the UN investigate the U.S. military’s role in Haiti. The same day, Médecins Sans Frontií¨res issued a media release complaining that a number of its airplanes have been denied landing at Port-au-Prince as a result of a failure to give medical supplies priority.

      James Orbinski, a former head of MSF who accepted a Nobel Peace Prize on behalf of the organization in 1999, knows how difficult it can be to run an aid mission effectively. Throughout the 1990s, Orbinski’s work for MSF saw him respond to humanitarian disasters in Afghanistan, Somalia, Rwanda, Democratic Republic of Congo, and Kosovo.

      “The magnitude of what has happened is so overwhelming,” Orbinski said from his office at the University of Toronto. “One of the first requirements for effective delivery of humanitarian assistance is a relative degree of safety and security. And when that is not present, it is completely unrealistic to expect aid workers to take life-threatening risks. Aid workers are not soldiers, nor are they saints. They are ordinary people who are doing their best under extraordinary circumstances.”

      According to Orbinski, a semblance of security is slowly returning to Haiti, which will, hopefully, allow for obvious needs such as water, food, shelter, and effective sanitation to be addressed. The next challenge, he continued, will be to sustain a level of international political interest required to rebuild the country.

      Hammond speculated that the date when foreign troops are going to leave could soon become the overriding concern about Haiti. “As it is clear in Afghanistan and Iraq and everywhere else, it is easier to put troops in than it is to get them out,” he said.

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      Jan 23, 2010 at 6:04am

      There have been teams of international aid workers working in a variety of roles in Haiti since the very moment of the earthquake. Many aid workers were already deployed there from a number of countries and were well established in that country, including a large number of Cuban doctors. Others mobilized immediately and were able to slide in before the US military took control over the only airport and prevented more aid workers and supplies from arriving. I have only read about the effectiveness of the aid workers who were able to mobilize immediately, and nothing about problems they might have encountered with security. The corporate media / propaganda system has deliberately manufactured the impression that security is a huge problem, and that it is unsafe for foreign aid teams to be present on the streets of Haiti. The veracity of this line is questionable. It is clear that the US and Canadian governments and militaries have placed the mobilisation of armed forces into the region the priority in their responses, resulting in a long delay in the arrival and deployment of emergency aid, costing many thousands of Haitian lives. What is not clear is whether this priority can be justified from a humanitarian perspective, or whether the humanitarian crisis is simply being exploited to further a longstanding military / industrial agenda of colonial style political interference, social sabotage, subjugation, control and exploitation of the Haitian people and their resources.

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      Roslyn Cassells

      Jan 23, 2010 at 2:21pm

      I was listening to the international radio broadcasts last night...hearing about starving children, youths, and adults shot to death in Haiti for survival scavenging food and shelter items denied them by the US partial blockade on aid shipments at Port au Prince airport. The Dominican Republic is helping aid groups transport help to Haiti by road, unfortunately too late to help many survive unimaginable conditions. Haiti, how can you ever forgive us?

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      Jan 24, 2010 at 4:07am

      A heartwrenching account written by one of only a handful of medical workers trying to treat thousands of injured and dying Haitians without any assistance, anaesthetics, antibiotics or other supplies for the first 5 days following the disaster, while news crews buzzed around and tens of thousands of internationals were being airlifted out and thirteen thousand Canadian and US soldiers and equipment were being airlifted in.....

      "Today is day seven. The major question
      circulating through my mind is "where is the aid?". Two days ago was the first time that any aid was evident. Prior to that, three doctors, five other teachers, and myself were the only ones providing triage treatment to hundreds, if not thousands, of patients at the largest hospital in Port-au-Prince; L'Ho?pital ge?ne?ral.....Amputations were being carried out outside on the ground, as the aftershocks continued to threaten the stability of the hospital. All patients were without antibiotics, painkillers, or anesthetic.......Not a single helicopter was heard until day three. At this point, wounds were becoming greatly infected with gangrene, and the smell of the city became nauseating. From the point of view of our small team, it seemed as though no one cared about the people of Haiti. We could not understand why it was taking so long to get supplies, yet evacuations of wealthy residents were taking place on a large scale. Furthermore, there were plenty of reporters, but no doctors and inadequate supplies. ....Many were lost that could have been saved had relief come earlier, however the aid from NGOs, as well as several Haitian people, provide tinges of hope throughout this devastation.....

      Agreed - shame on those in charge, who placed the convenience of the rich and foreigners, and the military / political agenda of the colonial states, above the lives and suffering of the victims of this horrible tragedy.

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      peace nick

      Jan 26, 2010 at 7:09pm

      The Canadian Peace Alliance has issued a statement about this militarization:

      'Patrick Elie, a social activist and former Haitian Defense Minister, stated, "We don't need soldiers as such. There's no war here." Elie noted the importance of Haitian sovereignty, "The choice of what lands and what doesn't... should be determined by the Haitians. Otherwise it's a takeover." Even the French government, which has long partnered with the U.S. in subjugating Haiti, complained that the U.S. operation looks more like an "occupation" than a relief mission.'

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      Jan 28, 2010 at 2:08pm

      Damn those Canadian and American troops, handing out supplies and giving medical aid to the Haitians. How could they ?.

      Seriously folks. Can you imaging what would happen if the troops all left and were replaced with peace activists ?. I'm sure the looters would be most impressed. Who would you replace the trops with ?. There simply isn't a volunteer group large enough or organized enough to take their place.

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      Jan 28, 2010 at 2:53pm

      Can you sing Kumbaya in Creole?

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      Jan 28, 2010 at 3:46pm

      Bert, don't worry about replacing troops with peace activists. They are all too busy wringing their hands to do anything remotely productive.

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      Jan 28, 2010 at 6:42pm

      The left never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity do they?

      A simple, thank you Canada and USA for having the ability and the desire to help out would have been nice.

      Lefties are just pissed that the presence of democratic countries and their militaries thwart their efforts to preach Marxism to vulnerable people.

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      Jan 29, 2010 at 7:58am

      The following comment from another Haiti thread on this site demonstrates the fallacy of the uninformed comments by the three semi-literate neocons above:

      Sat, 2010-01-23 14:49
      I just got back form walking around Cite Militar, Cite Simon, and other parts of Cite Soley--which, fortunately, since they are getting zero aid, are not as destroyed as other parts of the city. And I hung out at the old airport talking to people who were standing in a 400 meter line waiting for food (when they got to the end of the line they were given a liter of oil and a little radio--that in itself would be enough to cause Americans to riot).

      I have literally touched every part of the destroyed downtown. I am white, blan... and I am on foot and motorcycle and am still trying to figure out what the security issue is. Everyone I meet is as pleasant as they always are, and less demanding than usual, something perplexing in itself. Exactly what is it that the military and aid agencies are supposed to be afraid of? The escaped prisoners? That in itself is absurd. Why would escaped prisoners try to start firefights when there are 10,000 heavily armed foreign soldiers two miles away? When I mention that the Americans and aid agencies are afraid for their security I am met with universal disbelief.

      For those who want the solutions, the Haitians I spoke with, all of them, said why don't they just pass the stuff out to each tent.... The problem is not the Haitians, its that the aid agencies are distributing in only a few places, drawing literally tens of thousands of people into single lines or crowds.
      - Tim Schwartz

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      Pierre F. Lherisson

      Feb 11, 2010 at 8:00pm

      Those troops are in Haiti to protect the interest of the multinational corporations and the Haitian bourgeois.

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