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Haiti: TOURISTAH in Jeremie

posted by Nik Barry-Shaw Geography: Latin America Haiti Topics: haiti

June 4, 2007

Haiti: TOURISTAH in Jeremie

On our way from the airport to the center of Jeremie, a town on the tip of Haiti’s southern peninsula, we pass a contingent of UN soldiers decked out in shorts and Oakley shades going for a jog along the road. Our driver informs us that this is part of their usual routine: down to the beach for some swimming or volleyball in the day, jogging in the afternoon, a little game of soccer in the evening. In other words, a military man’s Club Med. It’s deployments like these that have earned MINUSTAH the popular nickname of “TOURISTAH” among Haitians.

That’s not to say there isn’t an effort made by the UN to look like they have something to do here. 200 Uruguayan troops are stationed in two large bases, complete with high walls, razor wire and sandbagged machine gun points manned at all hours. The setup is enough to leave the causal observer with the impression that Jeremie is another one of Haiti’s dangerous “hotspots”.

Yet Jeremie, like the rest of the Grand Anse department, never saw the fighting between rebels and pro-government forces that the North, Central Plateau and West departments were witness to in the lead-up to the February 2004 coup. Nor did Jeremie suffer from the subsequent explosion of violent crime and political repression that until recently wracked the capital of Port-au-Prince. According to one Jeremie resident, at the time of the coup, potential clashes between supporters of the government and the opposition were defused by the local police chief. Since then, the town of 10,000 has been quite calm.

Which begs the larger question of why MINUSTAH’s deployment was primarily military in the first place, when establishing security was manifestly better served by police methods. (MINUSTAH declined to take up the one task that could have conceivably benefited from military force, namely disarming the rebels)

One major reason is that the initiators of MINUSTAH, Canada and the US, viewed the situation in Haiti as a pro-Aristide “insurgency” (albeit “criminally-based”, to use the words of Canada’s draft counterinsurgency manual) centered in the popular neighborhoods of Port-au-Prince. Thus, with Canada and the US urging the use of more Chapter VII force, i.e. deadly force, MINUSTAH launched into military counterinsurgency operations against the slums, with all their usual indiscriminate brutality. The UN massacres of July 6, 2005 and December 22, 2006 were a natural result of these tactics.

Meanwhile, the ordinary residents of Jeremie get to watch foreign soldiers lounging on their beaches and enjoying basic services such as clean drinking water and 24-hour electricity that remain unavailable to them, an insulting spectacle that is paid for by the international community. The show, it bears noting, doesn’t come cheap: MINUSTAH has an annual budget of more than $500 million, about equivalent to the amount of aid Canada has pledged for the next FIVE years.

And people wonder why Haitians aren’t more grateful.

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Jeremies needs

Hmmm This gets me thinking. I wondered at the time when I drove by this military post what exactly are these soldiers doing?
I witnessed this one day as I took my family down to a beach in the local area, and sure nuff all the soldiers were playing soccer and voleyball havivg a good ole time.
I was with my wife kids and father in-law who are all locals to the area, my father in-law who was once the mayor of Jeremie was visibbly unimpressed with there presence.
I thought that they were there to protect the people but as time went by it seemed that they were in fact on vacation.
Some of the daily chores I observed the soldiers doing were going to retrieve fresh water in there tanker trucks but other than that I never experienced them within the community helping the people who really needed help.
There was so much that needed to be done. The town square was at one time a grand center with a beatiful church and gezzebo the park was well maintained, but now the square is in shambles and what was once a playground for the children is now a rusted broken scrap yard of ghostly memories yet the children still play. I wonderered at the time why these soldiers were not trying to improve the lives of the people they were policing? I soon realized that they were there for themselves and not the people of Jeremie. We need to press this issue more and put these soldiers to work so they can make the people of Jeremie feel good again and so they can feel good for themselves. To be continued.