Yesterday, one day before its current mandate expired, the United Nations peacekeeping mission in Haiti was extended for another year, by unanimous vote of the UN Security Council.
The UN “Stabilization Mission,” also known as MINUSTAH, was deployed in June 2004 to restore order following the bloody ouster of former president Jean-Bertrand Aristide. Its 7,000 troops and 2,000 police are now authorized to remain in Haiti until October 15, 2009. Future renewal of the mission is likely.
The news has not been greeted favorably by all Haitians. In a front page article titled “MINUSTAH Outdated – Go away!” the independent paper Haïti Progrés rails against what it sees as UN occupation: “Despite meager results on the ground, those responsible for the occupation force want to remain another year in order to further their plans to fully control [Haiti] for the profit of well-off countries.”
Several members of parliament have also expressed their disappointment, criticizing the executive branch of the Haitian government for not acting to bring about a “retreat of foreign soldiers from the country.”
Haiti is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, and U.N. envoy Hedi Annabi warned last week that ignoring the plight of the Caribbean nation could lead to a new wave of social unrest there. UN peacekeepers have been instrumental in rescue and relief efforts since mid-August, when Haiti was ravaged by the first of four back-to-back tropical storms which left close to 800 dead and thousands homeless. Earlier this week, a New York Times editorial urged the global community to help Haiti as it struggles to recover from the havoc caused by Fay, Gustav, Hanna, and Ike.
Environmental degradation in Haiti has exacerbated the destruction wreaked by the storms. Unrestricted logging and slash-and-burn agriculture have eliminated trees from over 97% of its land, resulting in massive problems of erosion, flash flooding, and mudslides. A photo gallery brings home the severity of the hurricane devastation.
WIDE ANGLE’s Unfinished Country follows MINUSTAH’s efforts to organize Haiti’s 2006 presidential elections, and profiles a businessman valiantly lobbying to protect a state park from deforestation.