I literally thought cholera ended with westward expansion.
And now, of all places it is here in Haiti.
So far 138 dead.
The outbreak has turned into an epidemic, with the death toll rising every day. Haiti, already poorly equipped to deal with this level of public health threat, has been grappling more than usual to contain its spread in the aftermath of the January 12 earthquake – nearly a year later, people are still living in tent cities.
Adding insult to injury – or, in this case, anger to anguish – have been reports claiming that the epidemic was caused by “excrement from Nepalese peacekeepers.” It is no secret that the occupying UN forces, known as MINUSTAH, have a troubled history in Haiti; bloggers have been quite outspoken on the subject, asking whether stabilization is actually a euphemism for subordination.
Against this backdrop, the mere possibility that the cause of the cholera outbreak could be traced back to MINUSTAH (a claim which the UN denies) is proving to be the final straw. As the disease spread to the capital, Port-au-Prince, so have the anti-UN protests.
At the beginning of the week, as the disease claimed close to one thousand lives, Mediahacker republished a report from Inter-Press Service:
At least two protesters have been reported killed, one shot in the back, a local official told the media. U.N. troops say they acted in self-defence.
Demonstrators erected barricades in the street and pelted troops with stones and bottles. Two police stations were set on fire.
Protests were reported in the cities of Hinche and Gonaives in Haiti’s cholera-ravaged central region as well.
Demonstrators blame foreign peacekeepers for introducing the infectious disease into the country. The U.S. Centres for Disease Control and Prevention says the strain of cholera bacteria spreading in Haiti matches the one endemic in South Asia.
An estimated 200,000 people could be sickened before the epidemic is brought under control, an effort that could take up to six months.
The outbreak has killed over 900 people, just two weeks before scheduled elections.
The country's pending elections, of course, further complicate an already complex issue. The UN and the Haitian government are chalking the protests up to politically motivated disruptions. To counter this claim, HaitiAnalysis.com republishes an interview with exiled former President (and Fanmi Lavalas leader) Jean Bertrand Aristide:
President Aristide first speculated about the origin of the cholera and then blamed those who organized the Feb. 29 coup d’état against him. “Concerning the cholera incident, if yes or no it was imported – as critiques strongly suggested. Before all, those who organized the 2004 coup d’état /kidnapping paving the way for the invaders, now accused of being the cause of the recent cholera epidemic, must also share the blame,” said former President Aristide.
Mediahacker continues to be a reliable source for updates about the ongoing clashes:
It was the third day of so-called “cholera riots” against foreign troops blamed for introducing the disease into the country.
Someone said the protesters are violent “chimere,” a word for political gangs.
As we arrived on the outskirts of Cap Haitien proper, the streets were deserted except for people gathered around barricades. One was still flaming. At another, dozens of men milled around a burnt out car.
I was glad when an elderly man walking in the street stopped me. He was Amos Ordena, the local section’s elected Kazek – an official dispute mediator.
Asked if the protests are by a single group or the general population, he said all elements of society are participating in “the movement.” He said MINUSTAH are not firing weapons in self-defense, in the air to disperse protesters, but firing at people. He heard that at least one person had died earlier in the day.
I’m asking everyone I meet here – from local journalists, vendors, men at the barricades, to a local magistrate – if these protests were organized by a gang or political group.
The unanimous answer is no – people are fed up with UN peacekeepers and the cholera outbreak is the straw that broke the camel’s back.
Are protests against the UN meant to destabilize the country? Are Haitians who’ve taken to the streets being used, like puppets, by powerful politicians for their own ends? Are the protests violent?
The foreigners I’ve talked to say yes. But most Haitians I’ve spoken with say no. They say this is the inevitable outcome when troops who operate in Haiti with seeming impunity may have introduced a deadly, misery-multiplying disease into the country. It’s an angry, popular movement – protesting however they can, emotions running high – against a five-year-old foreign occupation.
The anti-UN cholera demonstration timeline is here.