Bolivia: What Are We Doing in Haiti?

La Paz — In recent days the Haitians have gone into the streets to protest against the brutal increase in the cost of food.  The response of the police — with the support of the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) — was repression that cost the life of at least five demonstrators and wounded about fifty others.

Haiti is not only the poorest nation in Latin America — it was the first country in America to declare its independence under the leadership of a heroic slave rebellion.  But its economy was ruthlessly pillaged by the long-lasting dictatorship of the Duvaliers (1957-1986), first the father then his son, supported by France and the United States.

In 1991, the former priest and popular leader Jean-Bertrand Aristide was elected president.  But after the first overthrow of his government and then his return to power — now much distant from his initial progressive positions — he was overthrown for the second time, kidnapped by a military coup supported, once again, by France and the United States.

Although it is located in the midst of the Caribbean, Haiti is a great desert, a product of criminal deforestation, and its mass barrios have become huge garbage dumps.  Twenty years ago, according to a report by Serpaj [a human rights organization], Haiti was producing 95% of the rice it consumed; today it imports 80% from the United States.  Up to this point, this could be the history of any small impoverished nation occupied by international peacekeepers, accomplices in the interventionism of great powers.  However, there is a difference: this time, the mission is led by a government of the Left, Brazil, with the participation of various other progressive governments — Uruguay, Argentina, Ecuador . . . and Bolivia.

Which raises the question: Should our troops be in Haiti shoulder to shoulder with the occupation armies of the United States and France firing on mass demonstrations with the excuse that they are just criminal gangs (which some obviously are)?  Shouldn’t there be some other form of support by progressive governments to our fellow peoples of the continent?  Haven’t we rightly praised Cuba for sending doctors to save lives and not soldiers to end them?  Finally, is it the role of the Left to “humanize” the international missions designed by the great powers?

So far the only response to these questions has been silence.

Pablo Stefanoni, a former advisor to Bolivian President Evo Morales, is currently Director of Le Monde Diplomatique-Bolivia.  The original essay in Spanish was published in La Razon on 21 April 2008.  Translation by Richard Fidler.

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