Haiti A Mire With Raging Cholera Epidemic, Protests Against UN Troops and Pre-Election Unrest
"People are going to take the body to MINUSTAH to show them what they did," Jean-Luc Surfin told IPS by phone as riots erupted against Haiti's U.N. peacekeeping force on Monday in the northern city of Cap-Haitien.
Surfin, a 24-year-old bank teller, said he walked by a young man lying dead in the street blocks away from his home, who bystanders said was shot by peacekeeping troops.
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.
"I think the people are frustrated right now. That's why they're all over the street. They say they're going to fight to the death," Surfin told IPS.
He said 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. Radio Levekanpe in Hinche reported that protesters tried to leave the coffin of a man who died of cholera in front of the city's U.N. peacekeeping base.
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.
Authorities are struggling to contain an outbreak that has killed over 900 people, just two weeks before scheduled elections.
"It's a tradition in Haiti to have violence before the elections," MINUSTAH spokesman Vincenzo Pugliese told IPS. "People are confused, scared, and I think at this time people can be manipulated in one direction or another."
"Basically MINUSTAH and cholera are in politics now, it's being exploited," he said, but declined to name any individual or group responsible.
"Someone is behind it. The population doesn't have the means to communicate with each other and set up something this way. There's someone behind this to motivate people to do this. Clearly, it's part of a plan," Pugliese said.
Anger at U.N. troops has simmered and boiled over into protests several times since the body of teenaged Gerard Jean Gilles was found hanging from a tree inside a Cap-Haitien peacekeeping base in late August.
Days later, a peacekeeping patrol responded to student protests with tear gas after being bombarded with stones. One soldier was injured, according to an internal U.N. report.
Seventeen civil society organisations authored an open letter to the head of MINUSTAH requesting an independent inquiry and condemning what they called "your decision to obstruct Haitian justice in this case".
MINUSTAH spokesperson Pugliese told IPS the peacekeeping force's internal investigation found that Gilles committed suicide.
In the middle of a street in Champs de Mars, a plaza in the capital Port-au-Prince, the faint smell of burnt rubber wafted from the charred remains of two tires. Students at the Faculty of Ethnology said they burned the tires and threw rocks at MINUSTAH vehicles in a solidarity protest.
IPS reported in May that MINUSTAH troops responded with warning shots, rubber bullets, and over 30 canisters of tear gas that caused injuries in the tent camps in the plaza. But this time, according to students, the peacekeeping patrol "took off". Pugliese could not confirm or deny.
Students said more protests against UN peacekeepers are being planned for the near future.
"We protested for the same reason that people in Cap [Haitien] and Hinche are protesting. They say MINUSTAH are the ones who gave us cholera. It's the government that's irresponsible," Lucien Joseph told IPS.
"Until now so many people have died. There's been no serious response… All of them, the whole country, is going to stand up and demand MINUSTAH leave," he said.