Friday, September 23, 2011


(Miami Herald) - By Jacqueline Charles

Haitian President Michel Martelly makes his U.N. debut as pressure mounts in Haiti to oust a U.N. peacekeeping force.

UNITED NATIONS -- In his first appearance at the United Nations General Assembly on Friday, Haitian President Michel Martelly finds himself stepping onto the world stage at a time when relations between Haiti and the global body are particularly delicate.

Back home in quake-ravaged Haiti, an alleged rape scandal now involving five Uruguayan peacekeepers has renewed small but violent protests calling for all U.N. peacekeepers to leave. The mission that was supposed to bring peace is accused of bringing a deadly cholera epidemic and critics charge it has fallen short of its goal of helping the weak Haitian National Police keep criminality down and Haiti’s borders free from illicit trafficking.

To add fuel to the fire, Haiti’s Senate passed a resolution Tuesday demanding the withdrawal of the U.N. Stabilization Mission in Haiti, known by its French acronym MINUSTAH, over the next three years.

Martelly, who campaigned on a promise to get rid of the peacekeeping force, has tried to calm things down.

Amid rock throwing last week and nationalistic rhetoric over peacekeepers being an “occupying force,’’ he told Haitians, “MINUSTAH should not be cornered.’’ Still, he has seized on the public’s mounting dissatisfaction to push another campaign promise, creating a second security force — a new army.

The contradictory options have everyone wondering what Martelly will say when he addresses U.N. leaders in New York. Also of concern is a future roadmap for Haiti’s stabilization as Martelly marks 132 days into his mandate with no functioning government.

In recent days the final steps in the confirmation of Martelly’s prime minister pick, Dr. Garry Conille, have been plagued with uncertainty.

“[Martelly] is in a very difficult position,’’ said Robert Fatton, a Haiti expert at the University of Virginia. “On the one hand, MINUSTAH is so unpopular that he needs to distance himself from it. On the other hand, there is no viable replacement for the U.N. at the moment…. I do not know if he can navigate these waters easily.’’

On Monday, Martelly and U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki Moon met to discuss the peacekeeping force’s future. Ban acknowledged it’s time to begin thinking of a gradual drawdown of the 8,700 soldiers and 3,500 police deployed in Haiti. He also informed Martelly of his support for a reduction to pre-earthquake levels, according to a U.N. communiqué.

Haiti faces the same challenges today as it did seven years ago when peacekeepers arrived to stabilize a nation in political chaos following the ouster of then-President Jean-Bertrand Aristide.

“There is no question that if Haitians felt their Haitian National Police was capable of providing full security and safety, they would want to see MINUSTAH leave quickly,’’ said Mark Schneider, senior vice president with the International Crisis Group. “But Haitian businessmen, Haitian politicians, members of the Assembly and President Michel Martelly all know that right now the [police] cannot do it and therefore MINUSTAH is still required to guarantee the peace’’ and offer support in enforcing the law.

Schneider said the answer is not an army. “There is not money for that,’’ he said.

A recent report by the International Crisis Group accuses donor nations of sending mixed signals after having unanimously supported the disbanding of the Haitian army in 1994.

Already stretched thin before the Jan. 12, 2010, earthquake, Haiti’s police force only has 10,200-members for a nation of 10 million people. And it has problems: police officers on bodyguard duty for politicians — diverting them from fighting crime, and a partial embargo against the purchase of weapons arms and ammunition that forces officers to use guns confiscated from criminals.

The force itself is not just battling rising kidnappings, homicides and other crimes, according to both the U.N. and the International Crisis Group report, but also faces a number of unsolved murders. These include the deaths of several high-profile civilians and at least 14 on-duty officers killed between January and August of this year.

Meanwhile, corruption continues to plague the force. A recent U.N. background check of 3,600 police officers found 137 were unsuitable to serve — including half of the senior police brass. One police inspector general had an unexplained $66,000 deposit in his bank account; another spent the last year cashing the salary of another officer, his brother.

Although there have been strides in police reform over the past five years, the process is far from complete, said the Crisis Group report, which paints a grim picture of security.

But supporters of a Haitian military say the country cannot continue to rely on outsiders.

“MINUSTAH has to go, but it cannot go if you don’t start rebuilding your military,’’ said Georges Michel, a Haitian political analyst who served on two presidential commissions for the reinstatement of the military. “There is money. There is a lot of money that is wasted.’’ Jorge Heine, a former Chilean ambassador who co-edited the recently published, Fixing Haiti: MINUSTAH and Beyond, said “the last thing Haiti needs is a weak police and a weak armed forces.’’

Still, Martelly and his supporters seem undeterred, pressing ahead with plans to create a military even as they get a lukewarm reception from donor nations including the United States.

Last week in Haiti, Martelly met with ambassadors, briefing them on his proposal for a military force within three years. But in New York, the focus of international donors was clear as the U.N. Security Council discussed strengthening the police.

“The Haitian National Police has improved in some respects, but is not yet in a position to assume full responsibility for the provision of internal security,’’ said Ambassador Jeffrey DeLaurentis, U.S. alternate representative to the United Nations. Haiti, he said, needs to commit the necessary resources to build up systems that will allow the police force “to function on its own.’’

Special correspondent Stewart Stogel reported from the United Nations.

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