By Le Temps interviews Ricardo Seitenfus. Translated for Axis of Logic by Dady Chery.
Soldiers of the heavily armed UN Occupation Force in Haiti
Introduction: Brazilians continue to be the biggest contingent in MINUSTAH (Mission des Nations Unies pour la Stabilisation en Haiti) despite disapproval of this neocolonialist army by the great majority of Brazilians. Here Mr. Ricardo Seitenfus, the departing Brazilian representative to the OAS, speaks his mind about the UN and NGO presence in Haiti. His love for Haiti and Haitians is clear. As many Haitian commenters before me have noted about this interview, it is a shame that these words did not come from someone in the Haitian government.
- Dady Chery, Columnist
Axis of Logic
|UN blue helmets pepper spray hungry Haitians. "A UN trooper, who declined to be named, struggled to hold back the jostling crowd with a hard plastic shield. 'Whatever we do, it doesn’t matter – they are animals,' he cried in Spanish, when asked why the peacekeepers were not trying to explain anything in French or Creole. Troops waved pepper spray into the queue’s front line. Others standing atop a grubby white UN armoured vehicle fired off steady rounds of rubber bullets into the air."
“Haiti is proof of the failure of international aid”
An interview of Ricardo Seitenfus by Arnaud Robert, for Swiss newspaper Le Temps, Monday December 20, 2010
Translated from French by Dady Chery, January 2, 2010
Ricardo Seitenfus holds a degree from the Geneva Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies. He is Brazilian and 62 years old. Since 2008, he has represented the Organization of American States (OAS) in Haiti. Here he provides a real indictment against the international presence in the country.
Le Temps. Ten thousand Blue Helmets in Haiti. In your view, a counterproductive presence....
Ricardo Seitenfus. The UN system currently in place to prevent disputes is inappropriate for Haiti. Haiti is not an international threat. We are not in the midst of a civil war. Haiti is not Iraq or Afghanistan. Nevertheless, the Security Council, lacking for alternatives, has imposed the Blue Helmets (MINUSTAH) since after the departure of President Aristide in 2004. Since the 1990’s, we are now on our eight UN mission. Haiti has existed in what I would call a low-intensity conflict, since Jean-Claude Duvalier’s departure in 1986. We are confronted with power struggles between political actors who do not respect democratic fair play. But it looks to me as if, on the international scene, Haiti is paying mainly for its proximity to the U.S. Haiti has long been an object of negative attention from the international system. It took the UN to coalesce this power and transform Haitians into prisoners of their own island. The anguish of the boat people goes a long way toward explaining international decisions regarding Haiti. One wants at all cost that Haitians stay at home.
Chinese Members of the UN Force that "transforms
Haitians into prisoners of their own island".
Le Temps. What is preventing a resolution to the Haitian case?
Ricardo Seitenfus. For two hundred years, the presence of foreign troops has alternated with that of dictators. It is force that defines international relations with Haiti – never dialogue. Haiti’s original sin on the world scene was its liberation. Haitians committed the unnacceptable in 1804: a crime of lesé-majesté in a worried world. The West was a colonialist world, slavist and racist, that based its wealth on the exploitation of conquered territories. Consequently, the Haitian revolutionary model caused fear in the great powers. The U.S. did not recognize Haiti’s independence until 1865. And France demanded payment of a ransom to accept this liberation. From the start, the independence was compromised, and the country’s development was hindered. The world never learned how to treat Haiti and, in the end, ignored it. Thus began two hundred years of isolation from the international scene. Today, the UN blindly applies Chapter 7 of its charter and deploys troops to impose its program of pacification. Things do not resolve, they worsen. They want to make Haiti a capitalist country, a platform for export for the U.S. market. This is absurd. Haiti must return to what it is. By this I mean a country that is essentially agricultural and still fundamentally steeped in its own customs. The country is incessantly described from the angle of violence. But in fact, the level of violence approaches only a fraction of what is found in Latin America. There exist elements in this society who ensure that no violence goes unmet.
Le temps. Is it not a dismissal to see Haiti as an unassimilable country, with its only option being a return to traditional values?
Ricardo Seitenfus. There exists a part of Haiti that is modern, urban, and turned outward. An estimated 4 million Haitians live outside of their country. It is a country open to the world. I do not dream of a return to the 16th century, to an agrarian society. But Haiti lives under the influence of the international: the NGOs, universal charity. Over 90% of the education and health systems are in private hands. The country lacks the public resources for minimum function as a state. The UN has failed to take the culture into account. To reduce Haiti to an operation of pacification is to ignore the real challenges that the country faces. The problem is a socio-economic one. When unemployment reaches 80%, it is unacceptable to deploy a stabilization mission. There is nothing to stabilize and everything to build.
Le Temps. Haiti is one of the most aided countries in the world, nevertheless the situation has deteriorated for twenty-five years. Why?
Ricardo Seitenfus. Emergency aid is effective. But when aid becomes structural, when it replaces the state in all its missions, one reaches a collective “de-responsility.” If there is exists a proof of the failure of international aid, it is Haiti. The country has become its Mecca. The earthquake of January 12th, and then the cholera epidemic, enhanced this phenomenon. The international community feels it must redo every day what it finished the day before. Haiti fatigue is beginning to hit. This little country keeps surprising the universal conscience with greater and greater catastrophes. I had hoped that, with the disaster of January 12th, the world would understand that it was headed the wrong way on Haiti. Unfortunately, the old policies were strengthened. Instead of taking stock, they sent in more soldiers. One must build roads, raise dams, assist in rebuilding the state, the judicial system. The UN says it has no mandate for this. Its mandate in Haiti is to maintain the peace of a cemetary.
|"A beautiful smile does not mean someone is your friend!" - Haitian proverb. Image by Latuff
Le Temps. What role have the NGOs played in this collapse?
Ricardo Seitenfus. Since the earthquake, Haiti has become a crossroads. For International NGOs, Haiti has been transformed into a place of forced passage. I would say even worse: of professional formation. The age of the aid workers arriving since the earthquake is very low; they land in Haiti without any experience. And Haiti, I can tell you, is not a place for amateurs. There exists a devilish correlation between the strength of the NGOs and the weakness of the Haitian state. Some NGOs exist solely because of Haiti’s misfortune.
Le Temps. What mistakes were made after the earthquake?
Ricardo Seitenfus. Faced with a massive importation of foods to feed the homeless, the situation for Haitian agriculture has worsened. The country is a free terrain for humanitarian experimentations. It is unacceptable from a moral viewpoint to see Haiti as a laboratory. The reconstruction of Haiti and the promise of 11 billion dollars has aroused a great deal of lust. For me, as an American, this is a shame, an offense to our conscience. One example: that of the Haitian doctors whom Cuba trains. Over 500 were educated in Havana. About half of this number, instead of going to Haiti, currently work in the U.S., Canada, or France. The Cuban revolution is financing the development of human resources for its capitalist neighbors...
Le Temps. Haiti is endlessly described as being on the margins of the world, but instead you feel it represents the modern world in microcosm...
Ricardo Seitenfus. It is a microcosm of our dramas and the failure of international solidarity. We are not up to the challenge. The world press comes to Haiti and describes the chaos. And public opinion immediately responds that Haiti is one the worst countries in the world. One must go to Haitian culture, one must go to the root. I think there are too many doctors by the bedside, and the majority are economists. Whereas in Haiti, one needs anthropologists, sociologists, historians, political scientists, and even theologians. Haiti is too complex for people in a hurry; the aid workers are in a hurry. No one takes the time nor has the taste to attempt to understand what I would call the Haitian soul. The Haitians do get this, those who consider us, the international community, like a milking cow. They want to exploit this presence, and they do this with extraordinary mastery. If Haitians see us solely for the money we bring, it is we who introduced ourselves this way.
Le Temps. Beyond examining this failure, what solutions do you propose?
Ricardo Seitenfus. In two months, I will conclude my two-year mission in Haiti. To stay here and not be shattered by what I saw, I had to build a number of psychological defenses. I wanted to remain an independent voice despite the weight of the organization that I represented. I held on because I wanted to express my profound doubts and tell the world: enough. Enough of playing with Haiti. January 12th taught me that there exists an extraordinary potential for solidarity in the world. Even if one must not forget that during the first days, it was the Haitians, all alone, and with their bare hands, who worked to save those near to them.
Compassion was very important during the emergency. But charity cannot be the motor of international relations. It is autonomy, sovereignty, fair trade, and respect for each other that should be. We must think simultaneously about offering Haiti opportunities for export and helping to protect the tradition of agriculture that is essential to the country. Haiti is the last paradise of the Caribbean, unexploited by tourism, and with 1700 kilometers of virgin coast; we must promote a cultural tourism and avoid paving the road to a new El Dorado for mass tourism. The solutions we have offerred have been ineffective for a long time. The reconstruction and backing of a society so rich is one of the last great human adventures. Two hundred years ago, Haiti illuminated the history of humanity and that of human rights. One must now allow the Haitians their chance to confirm their vision.
Translated for Axis of Logic by Dady Chery
Photos and related comments added by Axis of Logic
Source: Le Temps Monde
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Haitian Author, Dady Chery on Axis of Logic