Sunday, December 1, 2013

Bolivian daily reports on its military occupation force in Haiti

LA PAZ ─ The December 1 edition of La Razón, the leading daily newspaper in Bolivia, featured a four-page on-the-spot report (including a page of photos) on Bolivia’s military contingent in the United Nations Stabilization Mission (MINUSTAH) currently occupying Haiti.[1]

Such coverage is rare here; the recent vote in the Plurinational Legislative Assembly to renew Bolivia’s participation in MINUSTAH got only a brief mention, at most, in the country’s media. The motion passed without opposition.

This is Bolivia’s 12th renewal of its military mission in Haiti, an intervention that began in 2004. In one of its first acts the newly elected government of President Evo Morales renewed the force’s mandate in 2006. At the time, only one minister (then Hydrocarbons Minister Andrés Soliz Rada) objected. The mission has been renewed periodically since then, with little public debate.

Bolivia’s contingent numbers 205, most of them soldiers, in a MINUSTAH force that now includes a total of 6,607 soldiers. Brazil’s contingent of 1,200 is the largest among the 19 participating countries.

The articles are completely uncritical of the UN mission and Bolivia’s participation in it. This despite the reporter’s admission that the UN mission originated in a 2004 coup d’état – a fact you might think would provoke some questioning in Bolivia, a country that has probably suffered more coups in its history than any other South American country.

Actually, the reporter refers to “two coups d’état in 2004” and explains he is referring to an action by “irregular militias” as well as to the “deactivation of Haiti’s coercive forces,” although he doesn’t indicate which countries were involved in this “deactivation” – an armed intervention by three imperialist countries (France, the United States and Canada) that removed Haiti’s democratically elected president Jean-Bertrand Aristide and sent him into exile in Africa.

The latter intervention occurred while Aristide was attempting to defend his government against an invasion of the “irregular militias” from the neighboring Dominican Republic. These militias included former officers from the army Aristide had dissolved in 1995 (La Razón misreports as 1993) after it staged a coup against his earlier administration in 1991.

The La Razón report does not explain this sequence of events. But it does claim that there are “still no plans to rebuild the militia.” However, Haitian president Michel Martelly has made no secret of his hopes to reconstitute an army, as he promised to do when he ran for office in 2011.

The report cites the MINUSTAH Force Commander, Brazilian general Edson Leal Pujol, as saying the UN plans to conclude its Haiti mission in 2016. The general says Haiti’s crime rate is now “comparable with that in North America.” But La Razón quotes the Bolivian military commander in Haiti as saying that their specific function is primarily to fight “gangs” in specific localities, and that “there are still red zones like Cité Soleil, considered one of the most dangerous in Port au Prince.”

Among the other tasks of the Bolivian contingent that he cites is “protection of institutions” and the “physical security of important people.”

A separate article in La Razón warns of violence expected in the legislative and municipal elections scheduled for 2014 in Haiti, and quotes a senior Bolivian officer as saying that “special forces” might be brought in to deal with it.

Another article lauds the work of the 12 women in the Bolivian military contingent, “the eyes and ears of MINUSTAH,” who include doctors and nurses working in communities where they attempt to compensate for “the lack of social policies of the present government of Michel Martelly in economy, health and education.”

La Razón reports that the UN contingents from Nepal, Jordan and Uruguay are withdrawing from Haiti during the next year, following similar decisions by Japan and South Korea. But it fails to mention the role of the Nepalese forces in unleashing an unprecedented and devastating cholera epidemic in Haiti or the lawsuit Haitians have launched against the UN as a result.

The newspaper quotes Uruguay’s president José Mujica, however: “If in 10 years we have been unable to solve these issues, it seems obvious to us that there must be another path.”

[1] The three major articles, all by La Razón reporter Luís Mealla, can be accessed here:La ONU prevé concluir la misión de intervención a Haití en 2016; El clima electoral inquieta a las fuerzas de resguardo de la paz; Haití, según los ojos y oídos de la mujer boliviana