Yes: Its troops brought the disease there through negligence

WASHINGTON — Haitians have had a long and arduous struggle just to achieve the rights that most people in the rest of the hemisphere have enjoyed.

From the revolution of Haitian slaves that won independence from the French in 1804, through the U.S. occupation from 1915 to1934, the Duvalier family dictatorship that stretched from 1957 to 1986, and the past 20 years of devastating foreign intervention, the "international community" just hasn't seen Haitians as having the same basic human rights as people in other countries.

They still don't, perhaps because Haitians are too poor and black. While the horrific earthquake of January 2010 brought international sympathy and aid — much more pledged than delivered — it didn't bring a change of attitude toward Haiti.

This is perhaps most clear in the failure of the United Nations to take responsibility for the devastation it has brought to Haiti with the deadly disease cholera.

Since the outbreak began in October 2010, more than 7,445 Haitians have died and more than 580,000 infected, and these official numbers almost surely are an underestimate.

It is now firmly established, by a number of scientific studies, that U.N. troops brought cholera to Haiti by dumping their human waste into the country's water supply.

This is gross negligence that would have landed them a multibillion-dollar lawsuit if they were a private corporation, or even criminal prosecution. But the United Nations has so far refused to even admit responsibility, although Bill Clinton, who is the U.N.'s special envoy for Haiti, acknowledged in March that the U.N. brought cholera to Haiti.

"As cholera was brought to Haiti due to the actions of the U.N., we believe that it is imperative for the U.N. to now act decisively to control the cholera epidemic," congressional Democrats said in their appeal to Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, a few weeks ago.

Despite the fact that the letter was signed by the majority of Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives, it was ignored by the media in the United States. And Rice has yet to respond.

But controlling and putting an end to the epidemic is the least that the U.N. can do for Haiti, having caused this disaster. We know that it can be done, too — as it has in many other countries — by building the necessary infrastructure so that Haitians can have access to clean drinking water. The cost has been estimated at $800 million — or the amount that the U.N. spends on keeping its soldiers there for a year.

Haiti has no civil conflict or peacekeeping agreement. The U.N. military mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) therefore has no legal or legitimate basis — on the contrary, it was sent there in 2004 to occupy the country after Washington and its allies organized the overthrow of the country's democratically elected president.

Besides bringing the cholera epidemic to Haiti and wasting billions of dollars, MINUSTAH troops have committed serious abuses, from killings of civilians to sexual abuse.

Last September Urugayan troops were caught on video sexually assaulting a young 18-year-old Haitian man. In the latest MINUSTAH sexual abuse scandal, Pakistani troops were found guilty of raping a 14-year-old boy; they received a year in prison from a Pakistani military court. Perhaps more damning for the U.N. in this case is that higher U.N. officials have been implicated by Haitian authorities as having attempted to cover-up the crime.

No wonder more than 70 percent of Haitians responding to a recent poll said they wanted MINUSTAH to leave within a year. The U.N. can use the money currently wasted on its military force to rid the country of cholera. Then, at least, they will have cleaned up one of their biggest crimes in the country.

Mark Weisbrot is codirector of the Center for Economic and Policy Research.

By Wayne Madsen

No: send in a team of experts to help battle the illness effectively

WASHINGTON — The United Nations wastes billions of dollars every year on what its apologists cynically call "humanitarian efforts." The most egregious of these — unfortunately for a world in turmoil — are its far-flung peacekeeping missions, which often do great harm and seldom do much good.

The most glaring case of this — which inexplicably has received scant media attention — is in Haiti where U.N. peacekeeping troops introduced the plague of cholera in 2010 and have done almost nothing to combat it since.

Officials acknowledge that more than 7,445 Haitians have died and as many as 600,000 Haitians have contracted the dread disease, which infects the intestines and causes diarrhea so acute it can kill even a healthy adult in a matter of hours.

The actual number of dead may be much larger because so many Haitians remain in poorly organized tent cities where accurate head counts are few and far between. By some estimates, the death toll already has topped 10,000 and, under the circumstances, even that estimate probably falls far short of the actual total.

Despite its squalid poverty, Haiti had not recorded a case of cholera in 50 years until hundreds of Nepalese peacekeeping troops began arriving in early October of 2010. Although Nepal was in the grip of a major cholera epidemic at the time, none of those troops had been tested for the disease.

In December 2010, Nepali Brig. Gen. Dr. Kishore Rana told the BBC that the U.N. did not require such a test unless a soldier had clearly visible cholera symptoms.

A 37-page complaint filed by Haiti's Institute of Democracy charges the epidemic there began when the new Nepalese troops established a base on the banks of the Artibonite River, directly downriver from the small village of Meille. The river, the nation's largest, serves as a prime source of drinking water.

With hours of the base's establishment, many people in Meille became ill — all with an unknown intestinal disease later identified as cholera. Within weeks dozens had died.

A study published later by the respected British medical journal Lancet, found that all the evidence pointed to the presence of Nepalese U.N. troops.

"There was an exact correlation in time and places between the arrival of a Nepalese battalion from an area experiencing a cholera outbreak and the appearance of the first cases in Meille a few days after," said the study by renowned French epidemiologist Renaud Piarroux. "The remoteness of Meille in central Haiti and the absence of report of other incomers make it unlikely that a cholera strain might have been brought there another way."

Those who now call for the U.S. — and particularly Secretary of State Hillary Clinton — to exert strong pressure on the U.N. to clean up a mess of its own making are indulging in pipe dreams.

Some skeptics believe the president's advisers have no interest in shining a media spotlight on the horrendous plight of Haiti's nearly 10 million blacks as this fall's election approaches.

Comment on this story

Rather than prod the ineffectual U.N. to take more forceful action, the U.S. should push for an immediate withdrawal of the body's blue-helmeted peacekeepers from Haiti and their replacement with teams of expert volunteers — physicians, public health workers and urban planners — from caring rich nations like Norway, Kuwait, Austria, Australia and Canada.

Dividing Haiti into sectors, each country's team could take one sector and coordinate efforts to quash cholera with the construction of viable new housing, fresh water plants, schools and clinics.

Such a project, with nations competing with each other for the good of humanity, might well establish Haiti as a global showcase for an emerging democracy.

Wayne Madsen is a contributing writer to www.onlinejournal.com.