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Articles from the Peace News log: Haiti

Articles from the Peace News log.
For articles in this category from the whole site, look here

As condemnations of Haiti's minimum wage increase are ringing out the long and disturbing history of external interference leading to a race down to the bottom needs to be remembered.

Apart from being Haitian Independence day whereby former slaves successfully removed the cruel grasp of colonial slavery 210 years ago in 1804, today is also supposed to see a much needed increase in the minimum wage in Haiti but has sparked controversy.

Protests have broken out in Haiti demanding a greater increase than has been proposed whilst a somewhat inevitable a race down to the bottom backlash from industry and the international community has argued against even the modest increase citing a concern about competitiveness.

Today’s increase lifts the wage from 200 to 225 Haitian gourdes (£2.76 to £3.11) for an eight-hour day. UNDP has reported that more than half of Haitians live in extreme poverty, less than $1 per day, and that 76% of the population lives on less than $2 per day.

Apart from being an important issue in of itself due to the fact that Haiti is a desperate poor country, the history of the minimum wage in Haiti is actually a useful microcosm to illustrate in part why Haiti is so poor. Despite a prevailing narrative that seeks to blame Haitians for this plight and sees little to no outside influence there is also an extremely strong external hand that has influenced events and the developmental path in the country. Lurking underneath the minimum wage issue is also a wider issue of liberal economics and its imposition on a weak and vulnerable country by the international community. To discuss issues about the minimum wage in Haiti is necessarily to also discuss issues of liberal economics more broadly. How the external influences on Haiti helped create the social calculus that results in the social disaster that followed the earthquake in 2010 has previously been addressed on this blog and is available here as a wider discussion to these issues.

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On January 1, 1804 Haiti became an independent nation free from colonial slavery but this important history is often missing from the prevalent narrative that blames Haiti for its current plight.

Having broken free of the shackles of French colonial slavery, 210 years ago today Haiti become an independent country and in doing so became the first, and only, country to be born out of a successful slave revolt.

Despite its huge historically significance, the scope of the human ideals upon which Haiti gained its independence from a brutal colonial ruler is often lost in the modern narrative about the country.

In gaining its independence Haiti superseded the French and American revolutions that came before it as it became “the first and most dramatic emergence of the ideal of human rights - beyond race, nation or gender - in the modern world.” Whilst the French Revolution was about social justice and the American Revolution sought to end colonial rule, “Neither seriously considered putting an end to human slavery.” In this sense, Haiti was “the first country to articulate a general principle of common, unqualified equality for all its citizens”. Haiti’s abolition of slavery came some fifty-nine years before the Emancipation Proclamation came into effect in the United States and that even dedicate humanitarians of the time, by comparison, “failed to recognize the full equality of all persons” as the Haitians had.

The scope of the Haitian revolution was such that has been described as “the most thorough case study of revolutionary change anywhere in the history of the modern world” and that it represents “one of the truly noteworthy achievements in the annals of world history”.

Despite these achievements their historical significance is largely unknown.

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UN sued in Manhattan court over its role in the 2010 outbreak of cholera in Haiti that has claimed the lives of over 8000 people and infected over 650,000.

In a New York court yesterday a compensation claim against the UN was brought on behalf of the victims of the 2010 cholera outbreak in Haiti, the origins of which have been traced back to the organisation. More than 8,000 people have been killed with over 650,000 becoming ill as a result of the on-going outbreak of a disease that was previously only rarely experienced in Haiti despite numerous outbreaks in the region.

As noted in a previous Peace News blog piece, a number of scientific studies have shown that the cholera strain was likely brought into the country by Nepalese UN troops and spread after a river was contaminated with human waste from their barracks. Despite this, whilst professing his “profound sympathy for the terrible suffering caused by the cholera epidemic”, in February the UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon, dismissed such compensation claims citing the organisation’s immunities privileges.

One such study was entitled ‘Peacekeeping without Accountability’, a Yale University report published in August that provided a comprehensive analysis of the cause of the cholera outbreak the conclusion of which was in line with previous scientific investigations, stating that its research “overwhelming demonstrates” the origin was from the UN. As a consequence of these findings the report stressed that the organisation should be required to remedy as best as is possible the outbreak’s consequences and prevent its further spread.

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New scientific evidence “overwhelmingly” links UN troops to a cholera epidemic in Haiti that has killed 8000 people and yet the organisation refuses to accept liability, adding further to the on-going controversy of the UN troop presence in the country.

According to new report released by researchers at Yale University the United Nations inadvertently caused a deadly cholera outbreak in Haiti in October 2010 and has a legal and moral obligation to remedy this harm. This on-going cholera epidemic has killed more than 8,000 people and infected more than 650,000 in Haiti, a country still struggling with the aftereffects of the 2010 earthquake. Crucially, this conclusion directly contradicts recent statements by the UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon, that have claimed that the UN did not bring cholera to Haiti and therefore has no legal responsibilities for the. As such, the UN has refused to even consider claims by Haitians affected by the outbreak who are seeking compensation.

The 58 page report, ‘Peacekeeping without Accountability’, was published on 7 August and provides the first comprehensive analysis of the cause of the massive outbreak of cholera that followed the devastating earthquake in January 2010. In line with previous scientific investigations, the Yale report notes that “[s]cientific study of the origins of the cholera epidemic in Haiti overwhelmingly demonstrates that U.N. peacekeeping troops from Nepal introduced the disease into the country.” UN troops, known by the acronym MINUSTAH, have been in Haiti since early 2004.

Not only does the Yale report outline the overwhelming scientific evidence of origin but in doing so it also stress that the UN should therefore be held accountable for the outbreak, thus requiring it to remedy as best as is possible its consequences and prevent its further spread. This is something the organisation has steadfastly refused to do.

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Three years on from 2010's earthquake and still little is written about how the social causes of the disaster relate to Haiti's history of external exploitation.

Today is the third anniversary of the earthquake that struck just outside of Port-au-Prince, the densely populated capital of Haiti.(1) The UN estimated that in the wake of this earthquake more than 220,000 people died and over 300,000 people were injured, fracturing families which directly affected 750,000 children.(2)

According to Roger Bilham, a seismologist who subsequently arrived in Haiti, the disaster that followed the earthquake “was more than twice as lethal as any previous magnitude-7.0 [triggered] event”.(3)

So what was it that made this particular disaster so unprecedented?

That this disaster was so lethal can be put down to the social conditions in which the shocks were felt, namely Haiti's state of impoverishment. Whilst the prevailing narrative directly blames Haiti for the social predicament it is in, and in which this social disaster was so dramatically able to unfold, Haiti itself is not solely responsible for its poverty having been the recipient of numerous external interventions.(4)

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Although widely unknown and uncelebrated Haiti's history actually “played an inordinately important role in the articulation of a version of human rights” that promotes universality.

Whilst today is the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation it is also the anniversary of another historic event, although one that is little known by comparison, that actually saw the end to slavery, Haitian independence.

It is widely accepted that the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation did not in of itself actually bring about the end to slavery in the US, so not only did the Haitian revolution put an end to slavery some 59 years in advance of even this comparatively limited event, but it also did so on the basis of human ideals that superseded even those of the French revolution; Haiti's revolution had at its heart the notion of universality.

On 1 January, 1804 Haitians officially declared their independence from their French colonial masters that had so brutally enslaved them and in doing so Haiti became the first nation to be born from a successful slave revolt.

To this day, Haiti is the only country in history to have done so, making it a truly unique nation.

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