Brazilian government must develop ‘new cooperation’ with Haiti

Camille Chalmers highlighted the negative legacy of MINUSTAH for the country

Translated by: Zoe PC, with Peoples Dispatch

São Paulo |
Camille Chalmers, economist and coordinator of Alba Movimientos Haiti speaking in an International Colloquium in 2019 on the crimes of MINUSTAH. Photo: ALBA Movimientos Haiti - People Dispatch

Camille Chalmers, economist and coordinator of Alba Movimientos Haiti speaking in an International Colloquium in 2019 on the crimes of MINUSTAH. Photo: ALBA Movimientos Haiti

Organized Haitian people’s movements are waiting for an impartial assessment from Brazil and the international community on the legacy of the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH). 

“MINUSTAH’s record in Haiti has been catastrophic for the Haitian people. It contributed greatly to weakening the state. It contributed to increasing dependence on the United States. And it generated a strategic alliance with the extreme right,” said Haitian economist and professor Camille Chalmers.

The mission, which operated between 2005 and 2017, was led by Brazil. One of the commanders of the initiative was General Augusto Heleno, who later became a minister in the Bolsonaro government and is suspected of involvement in the coup acts of January 8. 

Chalmers recalled that, in addition to the political consequences, MINUSTAH was responsible for the abandonment of Haitian children, daughters of Brazilian soldiers, and for the cholera epidemic, a disease carried by Nepalese soldiers that killed around 40,000 people in the country.

“Some soldiers have even said that the Brazilian troops’ work in Haiti was training to reinforce repression and control of the favelas in São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro. I therefore hope that the current Brazilian government will understand this issue and allow the development of new cooperation that really takes into account the interests and will of the Haitian people,” he said.

Chalmers is a member of the Platform for the Alternative Development of Haiti (Papda), a coalition of popular organizations that has existed since 1995 and is fighting against neoliberal policies. The economist is one of Haiti’s leading intellectuals and political leaders and received Brasil de Fato for a joint interview with the Mexican newspaper La Jornada, in the country’s capital, Port-au-Prince.

In the interview, he also spoke about the difficulty of integrating Haiti into Latin America and the Caribbean in political, economic and commercial terms. 

“We have incomplete integration,” he said. For Chalmers, Haiti has been isolated by other Latin American countries since the Haitian Revolution in 1804, but he considers the connection with the continent essential for the country’s development. “We should develop aggressive citizen diplomacy to link Haiti to the struggle of people of African descent in North America and across the continent.”

Chalmers also spoke about the Haitian people’s rejection of a new external intervention, the country’s educational difficulties and the importance of the Haitian Revolution for the direction of the continent. Read the full interview below:

Brasil de Fato: What is the Platform for the Alternative Development of Haiti (Papda) and what are its objectives?

Camille Chalmers: It’s a coalition of organizations born in 1995. At that time we had gone through a major cultural change, because of the 1991 coup d’état against the government of Jean-Bertrand Aristide, and in 1994 there was a restoration, a return to the Constitution. We were in a very decisive period for Haitian politics, because there was the contradiction that Aristide’s return was a popular victory that would neutralize the right-wing offensive that sought to restore the dictatorship, but at the same time, the condition for his return was the application of a new structural adjustment plan. So, for them, it was the ideal scenario to have a popular leader who would apply the measures established by the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

That’s why we founded Papda, to explain the content of this plan, its consequences, and why the United States supported Aristide’s return on this condition. We then created a platform of organizations to fight against neoliberal policies.

Papda also emerged from a collective process of self-assessment by the social and popular movements, which realized that after the experience of the coup, a reassessment was needed in order to design new strategies. Thus, Papda’s main objective was to fight against neoliberal policies, guarantee cohesion within the anti-imperialist popular and social movement, and also work to bring Haitian social movements closer to the international anti-imperialist movement, in Latin America and the Caribbean more specifically.

BdF: In terms of the continent, what are the challenges of Latin American and Caribbean integration for Haiti?

CC: Well, first we have to put it on two levels, the Caribbean level and the Latin American and Caribbean level. During Hugo Chávez’s government [in Venezuela], Haiti benefited from a very important program called Petrocaribe, which allowed the Haitian state to have access to a great deal of liquidity—400 to 500 million dollars a year. For the first time, the Haitian state had access to this without restrictions. In addition, since 1998, there has been cooperation with Cuba, a very important Cuban medical brigade here, which has done wonderful work in public health. Although Jovenal Moïse’s government tried to cancel this program, it didn’t succeed, because the population took the lead in keeping the Cuban doctors. A very beautiful relationship of brotherhood and solidarity was built with them.

After the 1991 coup, we took part in an assembly called the Caribbean People’s Assembly, which is a grouping of all the anti-imperialist organizations in the region. And we were able to inform our Caribbean brothers and sisters about what was happening in relation to the coup and, in many Caribbean countries, the population mobilized. The Caricom countries did a lot of lobbying and pressure to stop the military coup. After that, when Aristide returned to the presidency, a negotiation process was established for Haiti’s integration into Caricom. So it was a very important step, because Haiti has lived in isolation since 1804, it was an important step towards integration into a regional structure.

That was an incomplete integration. For example, although Haiti is the country with the largest population in all of Caricom—we are more than 50% of Caricom’s total population—when Caricom meets, they speak in English. Creole [the country’s official language alongside French] is not a working [language]. There is also a lot of marginalization of Haiti under the pretext of illegal migration. So we’re saying that, for the complete integration of Haiti, we must first integrate Creole as a working [language] for Caricom and we must also do a lot of work to get to know not only the historical trajectory of Haiti better, but also Haitian culture.

There is, for example, a demand for Haitian handicraft products from all over the Caribbean, but it can’t be realized because, firstly, it’s not known and, secondly, there are no direct marketing channels. For artisanal products, for example, there is a strong demand for Haitian artisanal products in Trinidad and Tobago, but you have to go through Miami. Then, when [the products] arrive in Trinidad, they are very expensive.

So all this work has to be done. And we’re also proposing that the University of the West Indies—which is a Caribbean university owned by all Caricom member states—opens a campus in Haiti. Because it’s a right, it belongs to the states, and this would make it much easier to reduce the deficit we have in higher education. Every year we have 70,000 students ready to enter public university, and the university only has the capacity to accommodate 1,500. So it’s a very large deficit and this also explains the migration of young people to study. For example, there are more than 60,000 Haitian students in Santiago, in the Dominican Republic. So this somewhat disrupts the possibility of reproducing qualified labor. These are important elements, but in order to achieve this we would have to have a state with a different outlook, a state that really has a national construction project, a totally different vision.

We also believe that we should develop aggressive citizen diplomacy to link Haiti to the struggle of people of African descent in North America and across the continent. Afro-descendants, as is well known, are part of the poorest and most marginalized population, along with Indigenous peoples. And I believe that the symbol of the Haitian anti-slavery and anti-colonial struggle could be the investment in the current struggles to achieve the fundamental rights of people of African descent. 

In the United States, you know the ongoing struggle that exists, but which intensified greatly after the assassination of George Floyd. And Haiti played a very important role in what they called, in the 1940s, the Harlem Renaissance and all that. There was a link, even stronger than now, between US militants and the Haitian population. And the progressive sectors of the United States played a key role in the struggle against the US occupation of Haiti. The withdrawal of US troops in 1934 was also due to the militancy and pressure of progressive groups in the United States. The left-wing newspaper The Nation in the United States ran a campaign showing all the abuses and massacres committed by US soldiers in Haiti. So, for us, it’s an important link to really update Haiti’s contribution to the emancipation struggles on the continental level, above all. 

You know the story of Bolívar, who came to Haiti and stayed here for three months, at a time when he was completely defeated militarily. He left here with weapons, ammunition, ships and soldiers, and writes in his memoirs that without the presence of the 350 Haitian soldiers, it would have been impossible to defeat Spain. So it was a very important contribution and, unfortunately, this is not mentioned in the commemorations of the 200th anniversary of Latin American independence. So we need to recover that.

The most tragic thing is that most Latin American nations also contributed to isolating Haiti, because they didn’t agree with the social revolution that took place here. In Brazil, for example, there was an anti-Haitianism that presented the Haitian Revolution as a bloody, barbaric revolution that should not be repeated in Brazil. So keeping the slaves as slaves until the end of the 19th century contributed to Haiti’s isolation. And I think that needs to be reviewed today. 

Recognizing Haiti, recognizing the importance of Haiti’s historical contributions is essential today in the work of interconnecting sectoral struggles. Because one of the victories of imperialism today is that, despite the dynamism of the struggles we have now, and we have many, they are fragmented. 

One of the important things that Dessalines did in his proclamation of Haitian independence, for example, was to revoke the name “Saint-Domingue”, with which France had baptized Haiti, and recover the Indigenous name. He called it “Haiti”, which is a Taíno name, affirming the necessary connection between the peoples of African descent and the Indigenous peoples of Latin America. It is an essential connection if we are to move forward today towards a revolutionary project.

BdF: In your opinion, what is the assessment of MINUSTAH’s [United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti, led by Brazil between 2005 and 2017] actions in Haiti? What are your expectations of the Lula administration’s Brazilian foreign policy going forward?

CC: Tragic, tragic, in other words, terrible. MINUSTAH’s record in Haiti has been catastrophic for the Haitian people. It contributed greatly to weakening the state. It contributed to increasing dependence on the United States. And it generated a strategic alliance with the extreme right. 

We held three events, one in 2018, an international seminar in 2019 against the crimes of MINUSTAH in Haiti, and a people’s tribunal on the crime of cholera in 2020. We want to hold the fourth event in December this year. We are prioritizing two types of victims—there are more, but we are prioritizing two types. Firstly, women who are victims of rape, orphaned children, because many of the soldiers left without leaving an address, and cholera.

We believe that it is very important that there be exemplary compensation and reparation for the crime of cholera, a disease that did not exist in Haiti and which was introduced by United Nations troops under conditions of unacceptable negligence. When the Nepalese troops arrived in Haiti to stay for 18 months, there was a cholera epidemic in Nepal. Therefore, the MINUSTAH directorate had no excuse for not carrying out medical examinations to ascertain the state of health of these people. 

It really is an unbelievable crime that was covered up. For more than three years, the United Nations tried to hide the fact that they were responsible for introducing cholera. They even used experts from the WHO, the World Health Organization, who came here to say that, “Yes, it’s the environment after the earthquake that explains cholera,” to disconnect cholera from the arrival of those troops. But then, of course, fortunately, there were investigations by US universities, and by a university in Switzerland and another in France, which showed that [the disease] came from Nepal, which is very clear.

After that, some projects were carried out, but nothing really to compensate the families of the 40,000 dead. Officially they say it’s 10,000, but all the experts say it’s at least 40,000 dead, because many of the affected communities had to walk seven hours to get to a rehydration point and seven hours is a long time, you die if you have cholera. In other words, many people died without reaching hospital and were not registered. That’s 40,000 dead and 800,000 infected, as well as very significant damage to the economy. For example, rice production collapsed, because many farmers who travel every year to work in rice production didn’t want to go and put their feet in the water in a place where there was cholera. So rice production plummeted and for more than two years the Dominican Republic banned the import of agricultural products from Haiti, under the pretext that they were contaminated with cholera. So this is really significant economic damage that must be repaired.

We say this even for the credibility of the United Nations. If they send a stabilization force that produces this, they can’t continue to talk about the United Nations as a space for fighting for human rights. So I think it’s important for the Brazilian government to draw its own conclusions about this assessment and to participate in demanding that there be an independent evaluation of MINUSTAH’s work at world level, and that it enter into new forms of cooperation with Haiti. This seems very important to me and I believe it is something that the Lula government can do, and we are also very hopeful that a new line of cooperation will be defined. We also think it’s important for Haiti to create a link with the BRICS dynamic and with the whole new dynamic of Latin American sovereign integration.

BdF: What are your expectations regarding a possible new military intervention in the country?

CC: A meeting of the United Nations Security Council is scheduled for September 15 to adopt a resolution authorizing the deployment—and this is very strange—of a “non-UN force”. I think it’s even worse, because at least with the United Nations there is a known legal structure. You can use that. But a non-UN force, I don’t know what it does. It’s not a thing. One of the hypotheses we have is that they will probably use African troops, as they did with MINUSTAH, but perhaps they will also use private companies.

BdF: Or mercenaries?

CC: Yes, mercenaries. All of this could have negative consequences for the Haitian people. So we are totally against it. We’re going to send letters to the president of the Security Council, to the countries present, etc. We’ll keep sending them. We’ve already sent a letter to Russia and the African Union.

In the last two years, we’ve sent around five letters to China to explain the situation, our position, etc. We sent a letter to the African Union to say that Kenya should not join this imperialist adventure. So I don’t know, we can’t predict what will happen. I don’t know if Russia and China will veto it or not. It’s very difficult. They’ll probably negotiate Haiti with another agenda, as they always do, right?

But we will do everything possible to project the voice of the Haitian people, who don’t want another military intervention. We believe that there is a way to end the insecurity generated by gangs by controlling arms trafficking. We know where all these weapons come from. They come from the United States and the border; and it’s not that difficult, with the technological means that exist today, to control the flow of arms and ammunition.

Secondly, we argue that the core of this issue is political. In other words, we need to break the alliance that exists between those in charge of the Haitian government and the gangs. It is the basic element that maintains insecurity and why these gangs benefit from state support: total impunity and the supply of arms and ammunition.

We also believe that the police are very weakened. The police need technical support, weapons support, support for everything related to territorial control, etc. And there are enough non-corrupt police officers to really be able to build an alliance between the police and the population to defend themselves and overcome this phenomenon of insecurity.

One of the aims of this military occupation is to humiliate Haiti once again. To show that the solution always comes from outside. “You can’t govern yourselves because you’re black. You thought you could have a state, but you can’t.” It’s the most important ideological goal they’re setting. And it’s also a question of money, because they say there are 400 million dollars available for this intervention and they’re going to fight to see who gets the biggest piece of the pie.

I’ve already pointed out the participation of Augusto Heleno Ribeiro in the attempted coup [in Brasília] of January 2023, which shows very well the characteristics of the military force we had in Haiti. Some members of the military have even said that the Brazilian troops’ work in Haiti was training to reinforce repression and control of the favelas in São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro. I therefore hope that the current Brazilian government will understand this issue and allow the development of new cooperation that really takes into account the interests and will of the Haitian people.

Edited by: Nadini Lopes