Haiti needs solidarity, not soldiers: First-hand account from a Brazilian peasant leader



João Pedro Stedile visited Haiti last month during the 40th anniversary of Haiti’s Peasant Movement of Papaye (MPP). He is a member of the National Coordination of the Brazilian Landless Workers Movement (MST) and the Via Campesina International (both Grassroots’ partners, along with the MPP). The MST has led the Via Campesina’s Dessalines Brigade that has been working with Haitian peasants in different projects, including seed saving, construction of cisterns to storage rainwater, and the rehabilitation of a training center of the Haitian peasant movement Tet Kole. Grassroots International has supported the Dessalines Brigade since 2007.
 
While in Haiti, Stedile saw many other Brazilian faces. They were not there on a mission of learning or exchange, however. Rather, they served as soldiers in the UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH), dominant presence in the small island nation since 2004. MINUSTAH police and military personnel patrol the cities, Forces have been cited in several scandals in Haiti, including allegations of sexual abuse in refugee camps as well as introducing cholera.
 
In the article below from Caros Amigos, a Brazilian magazine (translation by Ana Amorim) Stedile offers his analysis of what he saw and heard in Haiti, particularly Brazil’s participation in MINUSTAH.
 
Throughout the article, Stedile refers to things related to Brazil, including names of states (Alagoas and Minas Gerais, for instance). Also, the acronym of ALBA mentioned in the beginning of the article refers to the Bolivarian Alliance of Our Americas, an alternative to free trade agreements. Currently, seven nations from Latin America and the Caribbean region participate as ALBA members and observers. Haiti is currently a participating member of PetroCaribe, a Venezuela-led initiative of subsidizing energy resources with developing nations in Central America and the Caribbean region. ALBA nations were the first ones to respond to 2010 Earthquake in Haiti. 
 
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Dear Friends,
 
I just returned from a trip to Haiti. I went there to participate in one congress of the Haitian peasant movement and used the opportunity to visit several regions of the country and the projects that La Via Campesina/ALBA brigade is developing in solidarity with the Haitian people.
 
I would like to start my letter commenting on the main characteristics of that nation. The country is the size of Alagoas (27,000 km2), all of it mountainous, as we see in Minas Gerais, but the mountains have been completely deforested, and were left without any green coverage. Peasant farmers for decades have had to resort to charcoal as their only source of energy and income. All food in Haiti is cooked using charcoal. There are no gas stoves in the country, except for the wealthy neighborhoods of Port-au-Prince. The climate is semi-arid throughout the country. It rains for only three months a year, and after that they get our well known northeastern drought ... There are ten million people, in this overpopulated territory, composed of 95% of African descents and 5% mulatto.
 
They are the heirs of the first great social revolution in Latin America, when in 1804, they rebelled against the French colonialists who exploited them as slaves, sentencing them to an average life span of 35 years. They threw out the settlers, eliminated slavery and distributed the land. And because they knew the colonialists could come back, even more armed, they climbed the mountains, where they live to this day.
 
The colonialists returned, but they were no longer French, they were capitalists from the United States who occupied the country for the first decades of the twentieth century. And when they departed, they left behind the pro-American Duvalier dictatorship which terrorized the population from 1957 to 1986, which was followed by provisional governments.
 
In 1990, they elected Father Aristides, from the liberation theology. But it didn´t work, the Americans overthrew him and took him to Washington to give him some lessons on neoliberalism. He returned tamed for another mandate.
 
Later they elected President Preval, who managed to finish his term, but without implementing any democratic change. Now, they have elected puppet government for the Americans, which spent US$ 25 million on the electoral campaign. Everyone knows in Haiti that he was not elected by the people.
 
There should be elections for parliament; their mandate expired more than six months ago. But nobody talks about it. Therefore, there is no legally constituted parliament, although it is active. In practice, the real power is exercised by the United Nations troops called MINUSTAH!
 
Therefore, although free from slavery, the Haitian people have lived very few years of democracy, however bourgeois.
 
People live in extreme poverty, lacking food and material goods. Things were made worse after the earthquake on January 2010, which killed thousands of people and destroyed almost the entire city of Port Principe. But the people stand tall with dignity, united by their culture, the Creole language, which is only spoken there, and Vudu (equivalent to our Candomblé), practiced by almost everyone, while maintaining a religious syncretism, in style: Catholic Mass on Sundays and Thursdays in the yard.
 
In rural areas, there are no schools. 70% of the population lives in rural areas. Illiteracy reaches 65% of the population. There is no electricity in the countryside. Only in Port-au-Prince. There are only three paved national motorways. And there is no drinking water. Everyone needs to buy clean water, at international prices.
 
Last year, for the first time in its history, there was a cholera epidemic which killed hundreds of people. The medieval disease was brought over by [UN] troops from Nepal, who dumped their sewage in the main river of the country. Would any international tribunal be prepared to sue the United Nations for those deaths?
 
Over 65% of all food is imported or come in the form of donations, which suits a black business bourgeoisie, who exploits the population.
 
The families that still manage to have some resources to purchase goods coming from the neighboring Dominican Republic, can do so because they receive money from relatives working in the United States.
 
[Venezuelan President] Chavez saved the Haitian people from chaos, providing oil through Petrocaribe and proposed for the local government to invest the budget in social projects. The fuel is sold at petrol stations; however the government has never explained where the surplus revenue is going.
 
In such scenario, it is not difficult to wonder, when the next popular uprising will emerge. But don´t be alarmed, there are 12,000 soldiers there from many countries in the world, coordinated by the Brazilian Army, wearing the UN emblem, in order to contain any potential unrest. They parade in heavily armed convoys, simply to tell people: “Do not forget, we are here to maintain the order! The order of poverty and slavery. There is no war there, not even violence (homicide rates are the lowest in Latin America) soldiers are there simply acting as policemen.
 
I asked Brazilian soldiers why they were there, since they do not even speak Creole, in order to communicate with people. The only answer I got was that if they leave, Americans will come in, and they will be much more violent!
 
People in Haiti do not need armed soldiers. People in Haiti need solidarity in order to develop the productive forces in their territory and produce the goods they need to overcome their immense challenges.
 
The people of Haiti need support in order to have electricity, a pipeline of cooking gas and to avoid deforestation. They need a drinking water system and schools at all levels, in all villages. They need seeds and tools. They know very well how to do everything else. They have been there since 1804, as a free people, surviving and multiplying in spite of so many foreign plunderers.
 
Fortunately, there are other views in the relationship with the Haitian people. The government of Bahia sent them cisterns for them to store rain water. The people there are very grateful for that. Petrobras helped us bring 77 young peasants to study agroecology in Brazil. The Catholic church of Minas Gerais made a special collection in all parishes and the money is now financing agricultural development projects, ranging from vegetable gardens, to raising goats, chickens and multiplying seeds.
 
And the social movements of Via Campesina Brazil, with very limited resources, have maintained a permanent brigade of volunteers for more than 6 years in Haiti, which are developing projects in agriculture, cisterns and education.
 
Write it down, Haitian people are angry at MINUSTAH troops. If the United Nations wanted to send troops, they could have followed the example of Ecuador and Venezuela: their soldiers do not carry guns; they are there building houses, roads and warehouses. Or perhaps follow the example of Cuba that maintains more than 5,000 volunteer doctors there. As a matter of fact, that is the only public health service in the country, and it is maintained by humanist doctors, who are giving an example of the practice of socialism.
 
I think our duty as brothers and sisters of Haitians is to carry on protesting and demanding the withdrawal of the troops from Haiti, in the same way as we would not like to have them in Brazil or any other country. And we need to carry on supporting them with economic and social development projects.