April 9, 2008
Protests erupted in cities across Haiti on Monday in response to rising poverty and hunger and to the seeming indifference of the large United Nations mission in that country.
In the capital city, Port-au-Prince, thousands protested in front of the presidential palace. As BBC News reported, “Witnesses say the protesters used metal bins to try to smash down the palace gates before UN troops fired rubber bullets and tear gas to disperse them.”
“The demonstrators outside the presidential palace said the rising cost of living in Haiti meant they were struggling to feed themselves. ‘We are hungry,’ they shouted, before attempting to smash open the palace gates.”
Protests spread across the country
The countrywide demonstrations started with two days of protest in Les Cayes, Haiti’s third largest city. According to a Haiti Information Project report, on April 2, “More than 3000 demonstrators surrounded a UN compound that houses Uruguayan troops who reportedly opened fire on the crowd.”
The next day, over 5000 protesters set up flaming barricades throughout the main downtown area of the city and paralyzed traffic for several hours. They attacked the fence of the headquarters of United Nations forces in the area.
Uruguayan troops with the United Nations Stabilization Mission, known by its French acronym MINUSTAH, opened fire on the crowd and witnesses claim that five people were wounded. News agencies report that at least four Haitians have been killed by UN forces since protests erupted.
Mounting protests throughout Haiti stand in stark contrast to recent press releases and interviews by UN and Canadian officials claiming that the situation in Haiti continues to improve following the overthrow of the country’s elected president, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, in 2004. A foreign-sponsored election in February 2006 saw René Préval, a former colleague of Aristide, chosen as president.
Where has the “aid” money gone?
Foreign countries, principally Canada, the U.S. and France, have pumped several billion dollars into Haiti since 2004 while the average Haitian has seen no improvement in their living conditions. The price of staples such as rice and beans, whose importation is controlled by a few wealthy families, has nearly doubled while unemployment remains at close to 80 per cent.
There is great resentment, among the Haitian people, against the UN-sponsored police and military presence in their country. The UN spends $600 million per year there, twice the national budget of the Haitian government. Most of the UN money is spent on police and military, while the country is mired in a profound economic, social and environmental calamity.
Canada sent 500 soldiers to Haiti in February/March 2004 to participate in the overthrow of Aristide’s government, along with troops from the U.S. and France. Since then, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police has headed up a 100-plus member Canadian training mission of the Haitian National Police, a notorious human rights-violating agency. Unknown numbers of Canadian military advisers are in the country. There are also Canadian-appointed advisers playing key roles in the ministries of the Haitian government.
Following Aristide’s ouster in 2004, several thousand of his supporters were killed, and thousands were jailed or exiled. Haiti’s prison population has doubled since 2004. Prisoners are held in horrific conditions. The April 7, 2008 issue of Maclean’s described the conditions in Haiti’s main national penitentiary as follows: “Words cannot describe the horror, the stench and the despair inside.”
The Canadian government says that one of its contributions to Haiti in the past four years has been improvement to the prison and criminal justice system.