U.N. Peacekeepers Withdraw From Haiti, After 13 Years There

Nov 13, 2017
Originally published on November 15, 2017 7:47 am
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United Nations peacekeepers have withdrawn from Haiti after more than a decade of patrols. They arrived in Haiti to restore peace in the Western Hemisphere's poorest nation. And they now leave a mixed, sometimes deadly, legacy. In the first of two reports, NPR's Carrie Kahn looks at the 13 years the soldiers have spent in Haiti.

CARRIE KAHN, BYLINE: Daniel Tillias remembers the summer of 2004 for two distinct reasons. He got married. And U.N. peacekeepers, some 7,000 strong, came to Haiti. Tillias says they focused much of their immediate force on the sprawling seaside slum where he grew up in the Haitian capital known as Cite Soleil.

DANIEL TILLIAS: They were mostly in their tanks. It was quite scary. It was like living in a war zone.

KAHN: Months earlier, the democratically elected President Jean-Bertrand Aristide had been deposed in a coup. Political violence spilled out into the streets. Crime, especially kidnappings, were on the rise. Tillias says on July 6, 2005, U.N. troops rolled into Cite Soleil. Helicopters circled above in search of an infamous gang leader. Tillias remembers hearing the prolonged gunfire. Despite U.N. denials, Tillias says civilians bore the brunt of the offensive. Residents still refer to that day as the massacre and can't forgive or forget.

TILLIAS: It was, to me, like, enough. Enough is enough.

KAHN: Tillias started a community garden and after-school center for hundreds of Cite Soleil youth, he says as a peaceful alternative to the U.N.'s heavy police tactics. While Tallias has been a longtime critic, the U.N. has its supporters. They point to its humanitarian help during the devastating 2010 earthquake and overseeing democratic elections. Newly installed President Jovenel Moise says he and his two presidential successors can attest to that.

JOVENEL MOISE: (Speaking Creole).

KAHN: They've brought us political stability, he says. But when talking about the U.N.'s legacy in Haiti, Moise says it is stained by cholera.

MOISE: (Speaking Creole).

KAHN: We are still waiting for justice for all our people hit by cholera.

More than 9,000 Haitians died from the disease. Eight hundred thousand were affected after U.N. troops introduced it here in 2010, like 32-year-old Gina Womansil. She lost all muscle control on the left side of her body after contracting cholera. She was also pregnant at the time. The baby survived but now lives with her sister.

GINA WOMANSIL: (Speaking Creole).

KAHN: Womansil, who lives right next door to a busy school, says I wish I could hold my child. But I can't stand, and I just cry. Womansil is not alone. Down the street in a rundown room over a car part shop in Cite Soleil, a group of 16 victims sit in a circle - some on a few chairs, the rest on the floor.

Everyone here is a cholera victim?

UNIDENTIFIED INTERPRETER: (Speaking Creole).

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: Oui.

KAHN: Everybody.

Together with international advocates, these cholera victims have been pushing the world body for compensation. The response has been painfully slow. It took six years for the U.N. to formally apologize for introducing the disease to Haiti. Compensation seems even further off. Neither has helped the U.N.'s reputation.

Maristas Degau still has crippling pain in her legs but says the stigma from cholera is worse.

MARISTAS DEGAU: (Speaking Creole).

KAHN: No one will hire you once you've had cholera. They think you'll infect them, she says. She begs in front of her neighborhood church.

The U.N.'s newly arrived Deputy Special Representative in Haiti Mamadou Diallo says compensation is coming. It may not be the individual reparations that victims want. But instead, the U.N. will build better water and sanitation systems for whole communities.

MAMADOU DIALLO: It is not as flashy as one would say about compensation. But we are of the humble view. That's the best approach that will benefit the most and the larger group of patients.

KAHN: But even that compensation plan is in jeopardy. Of the $400 million the U.N. hopes to raise, a fraction has been collected. U.N. Representative Diallo says the world body is not abandoning Haiti even though troops have left. He says a smaller several hundred strong unit of police officers will remain. Their mission - to strengthen Haiti's police and judicial institutions.

Later today on All Things Considered, we'll hear whether the police is up to the challenge of protecting Haiti without U.N. troops. Carrie Kahn, NPR News, Port-au-Prince. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.