Max A. Joseph
For more than ten years, Haiti, a small and storied Caribbean nation, has been under a United Nations-mandated occupation that not only highlights the unjustly character of the present geo-political order, but also, its total indifference for the well-being of people of color. The brutal tactics used to implement the grotesque policy belie any good intentions of these self-described protectors of humanity.
One troubling question that needs an unambiguous answer is, “Why are UN soldiers patrolling the cities of Haiti in armored personal carriers and pointing their machine guns on unarmed Haitians?”
Presently, the debate in the U.S. over the increasing use of weapons of war by the nation’s law enforcement agencies could not have come at a more opportune time. What prompted this soul-searching was the Aug. 9 shooting death of an unarmed African-American teenager by a white police officer in Ferguson, Missouri and the subsequent riots that unfolded after and the use of weapons of war to quell the unrest.
Some call it the militarization of the police. Given that the U.S. Constitution explicitly forbids the use of the military for policing purposes within the nation’s borders, getting around this centuries-old restriction may require an expansive re-interpretation of the document. However it is not beyond the realm of possibility that the American people could stick to the narrow interpretation despite the ever-changing realities of the modern world.
Meanwhile, whatever is decided by the Americans would have no bearing on the situation in Haiti. Nevertheless, the debate over the militarization of police duties offers Haitians of all political stripes an exceptional opportunity to question the military characteristics of the UN enterprise, which remain at odds with its “stated purpose of building strong civil institutions” in that country, if not the occupation itself.
Haiti is not embroiled in a civil war; the country has a functional government and the lowest crime rate in the Caribbean region, if not the western hemisphere. Yet, its citizens continue to be supervised, humiliated and abused under an occupation force that enjoys unconditional immunity for its actions, which have included beatings, rapes, and summary executions. Why is it that the self-styled crusaders for human rights continue to ignore this simple reality? Where is the outrage?
During the bloodshed in Bosnia-Herzegovina in the 1990s, the UN peacekeepers that acted as a buffer between the combatants (Bosnians, Croats and Serbs) did not have machine guns, tanks or helicopter gunships. In the heavily militarized Golan Heights, the casques bleus that are enforcing a ceasefire between Israelis and Syrians do not have weapons of war at their disposal. It is hard to argue and even harder to figure out that keeping the peace in a non-war situation requires heavy weaponry, while performing the same task in an active conflict does not. Is it because the lives of people of color do not hold the same value as those of Caucasians? Or, is it a necessary rite of passage that people of color must go through before they could be certified as being in conformity with the international community’s norms of expected behavior.
Without a doubt, the sole purpose of these weapons of war and brutal tactics in the inappropriately-named “peacekeeping mission” in Haiti is to frighten the entire nation into submission. Considering the population’s puzzled reaction to the military occupation (a de facto acceptance of the hopelessness of the situation) its architects or occupiers may have achieved their primary objective. On the other hand, this oppression-driven fear or a state of collective apathy, the result of indiscriminate use of force against the population by the MINUSTAH, would ultimately backfire. As has been the case since humans started banding together into social groups. The enduring power of oppression always rested upon the acquiescence of the oppressed. And, like clockwork, the passivity always gave way to resentment that ultimately erupted in indiscriminate violence against the oppressors. No one or entity, history taught us, ever had a monopoly on violence.
Oppression and injustice always coexisted and flourished in the worst imaginable form before any “transformational changes,” the quintessential human aspiration, could take place. The reason being, human social development is still governed by the age-old adage of “trials and errors,” despite their self-described but inappropriately named “most intelligent species” on earth. Indeed the history of these two significant aspects of human development, injustice/oppression and transformational changes, is perpetually entangled; yet, most governments pay little attention to it because of their propensity to using force as a reliable method for hindering the latter, while propping up the former. For instance, the extreme cruelty of the plantation owners in Saint Domingue (present-day Haiti) was the catalyst for the slave insurrection (1791-1803) in the former French colony which, in due course, brought down slavery as a global economic system.
History is replete with instances where repression/injustice ultimately succumbed to transformational changes. However, the correlation continues to be disregarded in ways that tend to validate humans’ inclination toward the use of force and pointed aversion to legitimate social demands they deem at odds with their holds on power. The Haitian government must make a formal request to the UN Security Council demanding that the UN occupation of Haiti ends forthwith because the premise under which it happened was deceitful.
This article was originally published in The Haitian Times.
Max Joseph is a columnist at The Haitian Times. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.