Haiti’s MINUSTAH Downsizes Mission as President-elect Martelly Takes Office

Haiti’s MINUSTAH Downsizes Mission as President-elect Martelly Takes Office

By Dialogo
May 12, 2011

In December 1972, Edmond Mulet, a cub reporter for the weekly Guatemalan

newspaper Alerta, arrived in Managua the day after a 7.5-magnitude earthquake

devastated Nicaragua’s capital city.

Thirty-eight years later, Mulet landed in Port-au-Prince the day after a

massive quake leveled the Haitian capital.

Mulet was assigned by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to take the place of

Tunisia’s Hédi Annabi, head of the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti and

one of the estimated 300,000 or more lives claimed by the earthquake.

“These were very difficult, very sad moments,” he recalled. “When I arrived,

we were still looking for our colleagues, searching with dogs and rescue teams and

thinking they might still be alive. The UN lost 102 staffers; in the political

section, only one of 10 survived. All our houses had been destroyed. The only one

left intact was our logistics warehouse near the airport, so this is where we moved

to. We had three showers for 400 people.”

On June 1, Mulet will return to his old job in New York as the UN’s assistant

secretary-general for peacekeeping operations — 15 months after an incredibly

difficult assignment in Haiti, and only two weeks after the May 14 inauguration of

Haiti’s recently elected president, Michel Martelly, who has vowed to reconstitute

the Haitian Army during his first 100 days in office.

“MINUSTAH has been on the ground here for seven years, so we would now like

to downsize,” Mulet said. “Our role has changed dramatically, from guaranteeing

safety and security to humanitarian assistance, then the delivery of food and water,

then the cholera outbreak. And during the election, we played a very important role

with logistical support. Now we need to work with the new government.”

As chief of MINUSTAH, Mulet oversees an annual budget of $793 million — up

from $570 million before the earthquake — and 15,000 peacekeepers, police officers

and administrative staff. About 70 percent of MINUSTAH’s peacekeeping troops are

from Latin America, with the largest contingents coming from Brazil, Uruguay,

Argentina, Chile, Bolivia and Peru.

“Ideally, it would take about five years for Haiti to take over most of our

security and stabilization responsibilities,” he said. “For now, I want to keep the

additional engineering units we received from South Korea, Japan, Indonesia and

Paraguay since the earthquake. We’ve also reinforced the Ecuadorean-Chilean unit and

the Brazilian unit. In the downsizing, I think it would be good if we could send

back some infantry troops and keep these engineering assets in order to help the

government remove rubble.”

Mulet said roughly 22.5 percent of the estimated 15 million to 20 million

cubic meters of debris left by the magnitude-7.0 earthquake — the worst natural

disaster in Haitian history — has been cleared. In addition to the massive death

toll, the quake left some 1.5 million people homeless and caused damages that

actually exceeded the country’s meager GDP by at least $1 billion.

While the National Palace remains in ruins, MINUSTAH last month completed a

prefabricated structure for Haiti’s legislature to meet, exactly on the same site

where the old parliament building used to be.

“It’s really amazing. You don’t see any rubble in the main arteries anymore,”

Mulet said. “All schools have been cleared of rubble and UNICEF has been able to set

up temporary structures. More people are cleaning up their own pieces of land,

though it’s mainly been a private-sector effort.”

Mulet has experience solving problems in Haiti.

“I was head of MINUSTAH in 2006-07, just after [President René] Préval’s

inauguration,” he recalled. “The problems then were different than the problems of

today. We were facing gangs and insecurity, so my main task at that time was to get

rid of all the gang leaders in Port-au-Prince. We arrested more than 850 of them and

liberated many neighborhoods that were terrorized by these gangs. But all of them

who were in jail escaped the day of the earthquake.”

Haiti was already the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere when the

earthquake hit, with per-capita income hovering around $300 a year. In the quake’s

aftermath, just about every major government building was destroyed.

Yet Mulet says he’s been encouraged by the outpouring of support from

throughout Latin America, but particularly from the neighboring Dominican Republic.

“We’ve never seen this level of solidarity,” he said. “The Dominicans are

building a whole new university in Cap-Haitien, in the north. Since the earthquake,

they’ve been providing food, water, shelter and other assistance. The key question

now is how can we make this sustainable so that Haiti can develop these things on

its own.”

He added: “Somebody has to pay for the Haitian army. It’s not going to come

from peacekeeping funds, so we have to create the conditions for economic

development. That’s why MINUSTAH will be very much engaged in the rule of law. We’ll

be working in support of that — not only police, corrections and justice, but also

in civil and land registry, helping the state collect taxes and creating guarantees

for foreign investment.”

MINUSTAH’s mission became even more difficult after a cholera outbreak last

October, which occurred after a 100-year absence of that disease in Haiti.

Nearly 3,000 Haitians are still hospitalized with cholera after the outbreak

infected around 300,000 people. The death toll has already reached 5,000, and a

study published in the British medical journal Lancet suggests there might be

779,000 cases of cholera between March and November of this year alone — nearly

twice the number predicted by the United Nations. Mulet said, “the response from the

government itself has been really incredible. The Ministry of Health brought the

death rate down to 1.2 percent. The problem is that cholera will remain endemic in

Haiti, and with the rainy season upon us, we will see a surge in new cases.”

Whoever takes over the leadership of MINUSTAH come June won’t have an easy

time of it — but Mulet said he has no option but to be optimistic.

“The main problem in Haiti is not the weakness or fragility of the state;

it’s the complete absence of state,” he said. “However, this new government can be a

real turning point for Haiti, if we do things right.”