The Haitian Cholera Epidemic: A Political Problem, Not Just a Public Health Problem

By Albert Leisinger


U.N. and the Law:

How Haiti is Subjugated

The U.N. has opposed the lawsuit for compensation brought in November 2011 by the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti (IJDH), a group of lawyers based in Boston. It sought to require the UN to install a national water and sanitation system to control the cholera epidemic, pay compensation to Haitian cholera victims for their losses, and make a public apology for its “wrongful acts”.

Citing a convention laid down in 1946, UN secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, telephoned President Michel Martelly of Haiti to tell him that the UN was not willing to compensate any of the claimants. The epidemic has killed more than 8,000 people and sickened over 500,000 – about one out of every 16 Haitians. For the UN to claim immunity for a crisis that most experts are convinced it unwittingly caused through its own disaster relief mission is highly contentious. The infection is thought to have been carried into Haiti by UN peacekeepers from Nepal sent to help with disaster relief following the 2010 Haiti earthquake.” (Guardian)

The Nepalese UN troops built themselves a fort in the fertile Artibonite river valley in the north of Haiti. But their toilets were poorly constructed, and human wastes containing cholera of the exact DNA type endemic in Nepal soon infected local residents. Haiti had no Cholera for 100 years before this epidemic.

Cholera is spread by the ingestion of human wastes carrying the Vibrio cholera bacterium. Because Haiti lacks decent water and sewage systems, the epidemic once started has spread fiercely.


US Imperialism and Haiti

The USA has invaded Haiti at least ten times in the last 100 years. The longest occupation was from 1915-1934. The US long supported the torturer Duvallier regimes (1957-1971 and 1971-1986), under which at least 30,000 people were executed and many more tortured or exiled. In 1991 and again in 2004, the USA sponsored coups d’etat that overthrew Bertrand Aristide. In 2011, the USA interfered in the Haitian election to bring the current president, “Sweet Mickey” Martelly to power. Martelly is a self-admitted former drug dealer, and is a close political ally of the former tontons-macoute torturers who had worked for Duvallier and who organized the 2011 coup.

The reason for U.S. control of Haiti is simple: cheap labor. Wages in Haiti are about US $2.00 per day; unemployment is 80%. Conditions are the worst in the western hemisphere. On January 12, 2010, just 4 hours before the earthquake struck, a leader of the 2010 campaign to raise the Haitian minimum wage, Professor JnAnil Louis-Juste of the School of Social Sciences (FASCH), an intellectual and political leader at the university and beloved mentor of many activist students, was assassinated by gunmen near the campus . I met Prof. Juste in 2009 in one of my trips to Haiti.

Consequences of the deprivation in Haiti are deep. For example, SOFA, a women’s clinic in Haiti, with which I worked briefly during one of my trips to Haiti, has estimated that over 75% of Haitian women have been raped.


The UN Occupation Troops Must Be Removed from Haiti!

The United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) was established on 1 June 2004 by U.N. Security Council Resolution 1542. There were 11,000 U.N. soldiers and stationed in Haiti as of October, 2012. Many are from Brazil, others from Latin America and a few Asian nations.

MINUSTAH has committed atrocities too numerous to detail here, but include gang-rape of an 18-year-old boy in September, 2011, massacres of poor residents of Cite Soleil in 2005, the hanging of a 16-year-old activist in a MINUSTAH barracks in the north of Haiti, numerous attacks on demonstrations and protests with live ammunition, wholesale theft and robbery of Haitians, and so on. One of my Haitian friends says that when she went to Haiti in 2011, she felt that “all the guns of the MINUSTAH soldiers were aimed at” her.

The purpose of MINUSTAH is the same as the purpose of the 20,000 US soldiers sent to Haiti in the days after the Haiti earthquake: to suppress revolt and revolution.


The Role of the NGO’s

Non-governmental organizations in Haiti are no substitute for a decent government. For example, the Red Cross collected well over $1 billion dollars after the Earthquake of 2010. Most of this money has not even been distributed. In August 2010, the Red Cross website finally claimed to have sent some blood to Haiti: 45 pints (sic). That was eight months after the earthquake.


The teachers’ strike in Haiti, November 13-14, 2012

There is an intense Haitian movement against the UN occupation, the cholera epidemic, the economic deprivation, and the repression. This movement is almost unknown in the USA.

For example, in November, 2012, a national teachers’ strike brought 25,000 people nationwide to demonstrate in the streets. Demands of the strike included:

• back pay for teachers (I met one teacher who worked for a whole year, but was paid only for one month!)

• universal free education, guaranteed by the Haitian constitution, but never delivered.

• Vaccination of school children against cholera.

• Justice for Damaël D’Haïti, a student murdered by police three days before the strike.

The strike was fairly effective in the capital but very solid in the provincial towns. Its power was expressed in the militant mass marches. Students joined the teachers.

This article is too short to report in detail on this strike, but see the ECHO website .


How You Can Help


Sign the petition:


Demands include: (1) universal vaccination against cholera, beginning with schoolchildren. (2) cholera treatment centers staffed by Haitian health workers; (3) Haitian-wide construction of a modern fresh-water and sewage removal system.


Albert Leisinger is a Professor at the Department of Mathematics at UMass Boston.

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