Interview Edmond Mulet

Edmond Mulet

Chief of the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti, MINUSTAH. This is the edited transcript of an interview conducted in early October 2010.

If the U.N. peacekeeping mission (MINUSTAH) rushed out of Haiti, what would happen?

If we left, the whole country would just fall apart, because the mission is really the backbone in the whole structure of the country.

“If we do not address the issue of rule of law, everything else will be in vain.”

We have to put this country into the context of, I will not use the word "failed state," but certainly a weak state, and a society, community, a nation that has committed collective suicide, because those institutions that existed in Haiti ... for the last 25, 30 years, all that collapsed. ...

We would not have elections if this U.N. mission was not on the ground. We would not be training the police forces; we would not be addressing the issue of rule of law; we would not be providing the adequate circumstances for other development agencies, NGOs [non-governmental organizations], international aid to come in and do their work. ...

What do you mean by "collective suicide"?

Before I came to Haiti some years ago, I never thought of that concept of collective suicide. But when you come to Haiti, and maybe other countries around the world, you can see that it is possible.

In Haiti, on these dirt roads everywhere, you see these tidbits of asphalt. I ask, "What is that asphalt doing there?," and they tell me, "All these roads were paved in the past."

You see these very important cities, departments in Haiti, beautiful buildings and city halls and courthouses and police stations and national hospitals and schools and things built in the 1920s, '30s, '40s or early '50s. They had a civil registry in all of these towns which doesn't exist anymore. They had a land registry which doesn't exist anymore. And they had institutions and the rule of law and ministries, and that doesn't exist anymore. ...

In a nutshell, why did that collective suicide take place?

Many reasons why a collective suicide happens. In Haiti, you have 86 percent of Haitians that receive secondary school, midlevel education, that left. They brought their future somewhere else. Eighty-six percent of the best prepared, the best educated people are in Montreal or New Jersey or New York and Miami, somewhere else, but not in Haiti.

... After the earthquake, ... you see those queues of people, only young people. What they want is a visa to go somewhere else. So I think we have to create the conditions for people to stay and that unless we address the issue of rule of law in Haiti, all the efforts that the international community is doing now on reconstruction, on rebuilding, on development, the U.N. peacekeeping mission here on the ground, [if] we do not address the issue of rule of law, everything else will be in vain.

Why is Haiti so fragile on the issue of rule of law?

The fragility of the security situation in Haiti is due to this absence of state, this absence of institutions, this collective suicide that was committed by the country sometime ago. Building those institutions and that capacity again to face this situation is going to take some time.

They lost their army; they didn't have a police force at some point. And that is what the U.N. mission is doing here, building that capacity. We started from zero some years ago, and now we have around 10,000 police, well trained, and I think it's a very efficient, very good force. I also believe they would need a second force, a gendarme type and others, in order to cover most of the country.

But if you see the numbers of violent acts or criminal activities or even the murders in the region, Central America and Caribbean, Haiti has one of the lowest rates in the region. Is that because we have a peacekeeping mission here? In Haiti we have one, two murders a day. In my own country, Guatemala, we have 20 murders a day. So in many other countries in the region, it's the same situation. ...

Is the perception of fragility because of institutional weakness?

... We've had eight international interventions in Haiti in the last 20 years -- multinational forces, U.S. Marines, the United Nations and the Organization of American States -- all possible combinations of these organizations in and out, in and out.

So political instability has also helped to create this kind of perception of a country in need of something different. All this has added up to this perception, and also the lack of rule of law in the country. No guarantee for investors to come and for people to develop businesses.

Were things improving before Jan. 12, [2010]?

Before Jan. 12, we could see the light at the end of the tunnel in Haiti. The Security Council in October 2009 was already debating the downsizing of the peacekeeping mission in Haiti. Investments were coming, and President Bill Clinton had been appointed by the [U.N.] secretary-general Ban Ki-moon as his special envoy for job creation and investment in Haiti.

They were going to have parliamentary elections in February 2010 in Haiti, and they were preparing for presidential elections in 2010 also [in] November. So all this political stability and economic stability was there; the building blocks in order to build the country were there.

Of course, with the earthquake, ... all that changed, and we are not thinking of downsizing the mission right now. On the contrary, the Security Council gave us the authority to have a surge in military and police forces to respond to this situation. By mid-2011, we will have an assessment of the security and political situation here in Haiti, and then we will probably go down to the levels we had just before the earthquake.

What are your priorities at the moment?

Our goal right now is to address the problem of insecurity in the camps. Now the city has extended itself with these additional neighborhoods and camps. We have around 1,300 different settlements or camps affected by the earthquake.

That has almost doubled the size ... of the areas we have to cover for security purposes, and we are addressing the issue of kidnappings, rape, common banditry.

One has to be reminded that the day of the earthquake, from the National Penitentiary that was destroyed or affected by the earthquake, 5,200 inmates escaped. Most of them were not carpenters or mechanics; they were criminals. We know they are trying to reorganize themselves in many of these neighborhoods and camps, and they are trying to impose this reign of terror again in the population, the same as they had in 2006, 2007, when the U.N. mission addressed that problem.

So we have to go back again to zero, to where we started some years ago, and we are trying to arrest them, trying to identify where they are.

The population has been extremely supportive, and they work closely with us and the Haitian National Police and the U.N. mission in order to identify where they are hiding, where they are hiding weapons and arms, where things happen. So that has been a good tool for us in order to address that problem. ...

Is it true that the mission has gang activity in the slums under control, and that gangs have now moved to the camps?

Yes, indeed. It's much more difficult [for us] to operate in these camps. As you've seen, many of these improvised camps don't have streets or avenues or spaces; tents or tarps are just one on top of each other, so it's very difficult to patrol in there.

In the traditional neighborhoods, people knew each other. They had the sense of community, and they knew which one didn't belong there. In these new tent cities and displaced persons camps, you are in a tent, and you don't know the neighbor because that neighbor came from another neighborhood. So that community has to be rebuilt in the way of connections and knowing who is who, and that is taking some time.

Now these different camps have identified their own leadership, and we are working with the leadership of these camps in order to address that, but it is a problem. It is something of enormous concern for the secretary-general, for myself, for the Security Council, for the United Nations at large. The levels of rape have been going up, and kidnappings also. But we are doing everything we can in order to address that. ...

Tell me about the prisons here. How effective are they?

In Haiti they have around 10 prisons, they say, "functioning." Many of them were affected or destroyed by the earthquake, and thousands of prisoners escaped.

The conditions in the jails and prisons and detention centers are more than appalling, and it really is a human rights violation to have people in those conditions. I believe right now they have 58 [centimeters] per inmate, and they can't even sit down or lie down. They have to stand up like sardines in those cells, and they have to take turns in order for them to sit. Because of security concerns, sometimes they are not even allowed in some places to leave the cells, not even to go to the toilet, never.

That is something horrible, and our human rights section and our corrections section in the U.N. mission have been working with the Haitian authorities in order to address that. But again, when you have a weak state with no funds, with no capacity, these are the consequences.

One big concern, of course, is the issue of the pretrial detention. Eighty percent of inmates have never seen a judge, and someone who stole a chicken four years ago is now in the same cell as the murderer, and the one that stole the chicken will probably be in jail longer than the one that killed someone -- those kinds of issues.

It also has to do with the problem of the judicial system in Haiti. All that is part of this rule-of-law approach that the Haitians themselves should be addressing. It's very difficult for the international community, for the United Nations, for foreigners to come into a country and say, "You should do this; you should do that." We can recommend, we can help, we can accompany them in doing these things, but the leadership ... should come from the Haitians themselves. ...

Could you tell me about the link between gangs and politicians?

In the past you would see armed groups that were funded, armed and created by people in power. During the [François "Papa Doc"] Duvalier regime, you had the [Tonton Macoutes]. During the [Jean-Bertrand] Aristide regime you had the chimères, but very early on they lost that political identity. They became mercenaries, and they were at the service of anyone that would be interested in funding them. ...

That was true until I would say 2005, 2006. Since then, that kind of organization of these gang leaders is not as good as before, not as effective as before. And since we arrested most of the gang leaders in 2006, 2007, that structure had been almost -- not completely but almost -- dismantled.

Right now what we have is more like criminal activities and banditry in the slum areas, and you don't have a clear leadership in these areas. ...

Presumably the gang leaders that were put in jail in 2005, 2006 have escaped?

All of these gang leaders did escape. The more important and more criminal ones escaped, and they are back on the streets. They are trying to reassert some kind of control and leadership, but they have not done so completely because we are after them; we are identifying them. ...

I don't see any political groups trying to work with them directly at this point at the same level as happened in the past.

It still happens?

I'm sure it still happens, and we have rumors about arms trafficking, etc., but nothing confirmed so far. But I'm sure some of these candidates at all levels would be interested in hiring some of these people who supposedly have some kind of leadership in some neighborhoods and camps in order to bring votes for this next election. ...

... We've seen in opinion polls -- very recent, until last week, for example, in Cité Soleil -- that it's divided into four or maybe five presidential candidates. Five years ago, the whole Cité Soleil would be behind one single candidate. Right now that is much more divided, so you see that not one single leadership is controlling an area or a neighborhood, which is good.

What are the implications of drug trading?

... It is believed that more or less 15 percent of the cocaine that arrives in the United States not only comes through Haiti but also through the Dominican Republic, the whole island of Hispaniola. But in Haiti you see these illegal landing strips in some areas of the country. I send my military to dig trenches [in order for] these landing strips not to be used anymore, and two weeks later these have been filled in. ...

And then many islands are just a couple of hours away by speedboat, so there is some trafficking going on, and also money laundering. There is that kind of presence of cash dollars in the country, and it has been in their interest to be low-key, not to be involved in any political activities or official activities, because as soon as they arrive and their profile is known, it is more difficult for these kinds of actors and traffickers.

But they are there. It is happening, and it would be irresponsible for us if we said it wasn't the case. And when that happens, it doesn't take too long for that to seep into the justice system, political sector at all levels. ...

Why is it so difficult to change institutions here?

... A state that doesn't have enough resources or income, they don't have enough taxes in order to pay public servants and to build those institutions. The weakness of the whole system is there, so it is going to take time.

There is resistance also because some individuals within institutions benefit within this current situation; they oppose any kinds of changes and reforms that are really necessary. Of course they only think about their own benefit. They are not thinking about the well-being of the country and Haitians in general.

Many people have told us there is no government and there is no presence of the state in any way.

... Almost one-third of public servants died during the earthquake, 18,000 of them. Even before the earthquake, the fragility of the institutions and the state was there, and now it is much worse. So it's not overnight that that can be overcome.

I also believe that the international community -- the United States and Canada, the European Union, and France and Spain and the United Nations and the Organization of American States -- all of us have also been co-responsible for the weakness of the Haitian state. For the last 30 years, because we didn't like the ideology of one government, we didn't like the ideology of another government, because there was corruption, we had been building parallel structures and institutions in Haiti instead of working with the state or through the state.

We have created those parallel structures, the republic of NGOs. Almost 10,000 NGOs work in Haiti, which is fine, which is great; they are doing their work and providing assistance and help and aid. But is it really good for the Haitian state? For institutions?

So I think this is time for the international community to work in a different way, and work through Haitian institutions to strengthen them. Of course it's going to take more time, it's going to be more complicated, but we have to break this vicious circle where we have been involved in the last 30 years. Now we have to do things differently if we want to have a Haitian state built eventually in this country.

How do you reconcile immediate needs with the need to build institutions for the future?

... The emergency response six months, seven months after the earthquake -- we're there. Everybody that needed a tent got a tent, water, food, sanitation, vaccination programs, latrines. All that was there on time, and I think that kind of support has to continue.

At the same time, we should not forget those institutions that should be assuming their own responsibilities, and Haitians themselves delivering those kinds of services and assistance.

But when a state doesn't have resources, they don't have income, they don't collect taxes, that has also to be addressed somehow in order to build those Haitian capacities, for Haiti not to depend on direct budget support.

Before the earthquake, 66 or 67 percent of the functioning budget came from international aid. I'm not talking about investment budget, only for the functional budget. For investment budget, 100 percent came from abroad.

Since the earthquake, that has, of course, risen a lot. That has to change, and that's why I think the rule-of-law concept is not only justice; it's not only police. It has to do with border management; it has to do with customs; it has to do with civil registry, for people to have an identity; it has to do with land registry.

Who in his right mind is coming to invest in Haiti and create jobs in Haiti, open a factory or develop tourism, when there are no guarantees, no functioning courts, no commercial courts? You rent a piece of land, you don't have the guarantee of renting it from the right owner. Those kinds of issues have to be tackled urgently. If not, everything else will be in vain.

Do you believe this can really be sorted out?

... We have to be optimistic. We saw how Haitians responded after the earthquake in a very dignified, in a very responsible way. Of course they've suffered so much for so many decades now, the earthquake was just in addition to that, but I'm always in admiration of the way the Haitians react to these really difficult moments and situations.

You see, the future of Haiti, the potential for the development of the country is there. The largest consumer market in the world is only an hour and a half from Port-au-Prince. They have 1,700 kilometers of beautiful coastline, pristine beaches and gulfs and bays. The potential for the development of tourism is there, and that will create jobs and services and agriculture.

The potential is there for exports. They have incredible fruits and vegetables and coffee and you name it. So everything is there. It's only a matter of putting all that together in order to develop that and to benefit the people. ...

And when you see the character of the Haitian people, that they are really willing to face these challenges and overcome these kinds of problems, all the elements in order for a country to be successful are there.

I think that with these elections, a new leadership will emerge in the country, and I do hope that at all levels -- at a municipal level, especially at a parliamentary and at a presidential level -- they will be up to the task, and they will assume these responsibilities.

What do you think was the tipping point for the disintegration of these institutions?

... I do believe that the centralization of power and the dictatorship of Papa Doc, François Duvalier, and then Jean-Claude Duvalier, Baby Doc, and those 30 years were really the beginning of the problem.

Then, in my own personal, non-official assessment, also the presence of Jean-Bertrand Aristide in power, going to the other extreme and populism and the demagogy also created this polarization that Haiti didn't need.

... In the very beginning, Aristide did represent what everybody in Haiti wanted: democracy, development, advancement. But in the end, he was not there to respond to that challenge.

I do believe that since 2006, that polarization has been avoided, and I must recognize and really see in President René Préval -- the man coming from the populist base of [Fanmi] Lavalas and Aristide -- was the one who brought these extremes together and created this political and social stability in the country. He avoided that polarization, and history will recognize that in President René Préval. ...

How did Préval do that?

... He was not very well understood by his peers at the time when he was elected, because he was calling on the popular base. Then he was criticized by the bourgeoisie or the conservative groups in Haiti, because he was working with those criminals and those bandits. But he was also calling on traditional sectors and private sector and civil society, and then he was criticized by his popular base, saying, "You're selling off to these other interests."

But he did bring these two groups together, many political parties. He asked them to appoint ministers and officials and his government advisers to the presidency. The way he appointed his different ministers also was working always with Parliament.

So he de-antagonized, depolarized the political scene in Haiti, and that, I think, has been an enormous success in order to bring stability in the country. ...

Why does kidnapping create such a terror here?

Kidnapping has been a phenomenon in Haiti for many years and a source of income for criminals and bandits. There have been some cases of victims that have been murdered or killed, ... but most of them are kidnapped and then released in two or three days after ransoms are paid.

When kidnappings happen at a market level in these IDP [internally displaced people] camps, in Cité Soleil and these neighborhoods, yes, it's part of the "normal" situation in Haiti. But when kidnappings happen up in the hills, where the bourgeoisie live, then the effects are completely different.

So everybody is of course very nervous and scared, because they feel that this kind of problem that lies below in the city is coming up in the hills, and this is where a big reaction happens.

It is a problem indeed, and in our operations we are trying to address that right now by doubling or tripling or quadrupling our patrols day and night, coordinating with our military, United Nations police, Haitian National Police and others in order to have a better presence.

But it is very difficult to stop a kidnapping that happens at 3:00 in the morning in a neighborhood. You can't have police in every single house.

The issue right now is to go to the source, and we have been working with people who have been providing information. ... We have been arresting some of these criminals, including Haitian National Police officers who have been involved in kidnapping. Two weeks ago we arrested seven of them because they were involved in a kidnapping ring. ...

How does working with the Haitian police work practically?

... Our mandate is to support the Haitian authorities and the Haitian National Police. We don't have an executive mandate. We cannot go and arrest people like that. We have to help the Haitian police to do its job.

This is part of the capacity-building effort we are making in Haiti, not to do things for them. They should do things on their own, and we are helping, advising, supervising, assisting. But at the end, it's their country and their responsibility, and they should be doing these, in this case, arrests.

Of course the Haitian National Police doesn't have all the tools or the capacity or the information to provide that. For the United Nations, it's impossible because of the language barriers, cultural barriers really to be in the community. ...

This creates some kinds of problems, ... the presence of our work in the field. But I would be the last one to propose that we should change our mandate and do things differently. I do believe that this has to be done with Haitian institutions, even if it's more difficult or more complicated.

Do the Haitian police support the collaboration?

Yes, we have a very good relationship with them at all levels. In the past we were more co-located in police stations and patrols, and then we've been moving away from that in order for them to do more and more things on their own. ...

So far the United Nations have formed and trained 10,000 Haitian National Police, and the goal is to go up to 14,000 or 15,000 in the next two or three years. Now we are building capacities in specific areas like border management or border patrols, in maritime issues, or corrections also.

Right now, at the police academy, we are training 300 corrections officers that will be working in prisons here. We've been working with the judiciary police, with the anti-kidnapping unit in the National Police. So we are trying to help them be better and perfect those kinds of specialties within the police force.

There has been some reconstruction work in the national penitentiaries as well.

... The U.N. is involved now in rebuilding some of the sectors in the National Penitentiary, and our corrections unit is also working there and training, advising, mentoring Haitian corrections officers.

But the issue remains on space. Some member states, notably Canada, is building a big prison and rebuilding some of the other ones that were destroyed, but that's going to take some time.

By the end of 2010, beginning of 2011, we will have larger capacity -- not enough, because taxpayers from some member states would rather support building schools and hospitals than prisons. So it's not that easy for member states to get the funds to build prisons, but it is important, because that's part of building this concept of rule of law in a country like Haiti.

Do you find that generally it's difficult to get support for these kinds of activities?

We have a division of labor within the United Nations. A peacekeeping mission like this one in Haiti will be dealing with security, stability, creating those capacities in the police and rule of law, but then you have other partners and funders, programs, agencies that will be dealing with feeding the children and providing shelter and sanitation and vaccination. Of course we work in a very coordinated way.

Sometimes I do hear some objections from some member states that are financing, paying for the peacekeeping mission here, and they say, "Your assets should not be used to do things that other agencies should be doing and we are also paying for." That debate is there.

But I think there is more and more of an understanding in the General Assembly, member states, the Security Council, that every peacekeeping mission is completely different from each other, and we have to adapt to the different circumstances in order to make a difference in each different country. ...

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Posted January 11, 2011

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