The Prensa Latina news agency reports that anti-UN protests have reached Haiti’s capital city Port au Prince, and that there is danger of the protests spreading further if the Nepalese contingent of the UN – which is accused of bringing the cholera into the country – is not withdrawn.
Hundreds of young people marched peacefully last Wednesday in the Square Champ de Mars, near the collapsed presidential palace; another group concentrated in the slums of Cité Soleil, which is particularly vulnerable to the cholera outbreak. To disperse the protest police used tear gas. The Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) claimed that the protests themselves threaten the healthcare needed to halt the epidemic, and called for a halt to the violence.
The protests against the UN lasted several days and left four dead, scores injured and dozens detained by the Haitian police.
PAHO reported that it has suspended the delivery of supplies to Port au Prince because of blocked roads. UN representatives and the Haitian government are calling the riots political, saying that they are being organized by ‘those who do not want the presidential and legislative elections of 28 November to elapse as normally as possible.’
The battalion of the United Nations Mission for Stabilization in Haiti (MINUSTAH) arrived in Haiti days before the onset of the epidemic and following an outbreak in Nepal, where the disease is endemic. The protesters have been specifically blaming the Nepalese battalion, saying that it has been disposing of its waste near the Artibonite River. The UN mission has denied this on several occasions, insisting that sanitation is being handled appropriately. The department of Artibonite is the most affected by the cholera epidemic – 655 people have died. Tony Banbury, the UN’s Assistant Secretary General for field-planning, told AFP that there were no plans to withdraw the Nepalese contingent.
The government has reported that there are now 57,000 cholera patients and that 1,344 Haitians have so far lost their lives. Four of the presidential candidates have called for the elections to be postponed.
But the country’s problems did not start with cholera or the earthquake in January. Haiti is the poorest country in the Americas. Over 70 per cent of its population lives in poverty and 35 per cent are illiterate. Only half of Haiti’s children are vaccinated and only 40 per cent have access to basic healthcare.
On the eve of the elections, we must now wait to see whether Haiti is allowed to start down a path of progress, independence and justice for all its inhabitants, or whether foreign exploitation, forged with blood and pain at the hands of local butchers, will continue to deny Haitians the future they deserve.