MINUSTAH: Not going anywhere
Two of the most-asked questions I’ve gotten lately concern UN peacekeepers in Haiti. Namely: Why are they there, and how long are they staying?
The first is hard to answer precisely. Despite popular misconceptions to the contrary, the troops did not arrive in response to the 2010 earthquake, or close to it. Rather they came six years earlier, in the aftermath of the 2004 coup against Jean-Bertrand Aristide and subsequent U.S.-led invasion. Their original mission was to prop up a U.S.-backed interim government, organize presidential elections, and keep various factions from launching a civil war. Nine years and two presidential elections later, despite the fact that no war has ever come, they’re still there. The short explanation is “mission creep.” There’s probably a longer one available at Turtle Bay, if not Foggy Bottom.
But the second question, how much longer are they staying, got something of an answer this month. In his now-annual report to the Security Council on MINUSTAH, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon described a “consolidation plan” that will make it possible for the currently 9,000-strong force to draw down and eventually leave, saying:
The tasks selected were those considered realistically achievable within a time frame of four to five years and deemed to be key to the consolidation of security and stability in Haiti, at which point the presence of a large peacekeeping operation would no longer be required.
In other words, MINUSTAH expects to be in Haiti until late 2016/early 2017 at least, if not until well into 2018. That goes far beyond the expected 2015 date of the next presidential elections.
Or to put it another way, if funding levels remain constant, MINUSTAH will stay in Haiti for another $2.6 billion to $3.2 billion. (The United States typically contributes about 27 percent of that cost.)
Even then, according to Ban, MINUSTAH will only consider leaving if Haiti has made substantial progress on 27 benchmarks, including constitutional and legislative reform, and the creation of a 15,000-member national police force (which will require the addition of 1,000 new, trained, vetted, and well-funded officers per year). There is reason to think that will take more than five years, to say the least.
The context for this is interesting. While the peacekeeping force draws down slowly, other aid groups and representatives of the international community are moving quickly for the exits. In his remarks, Ban noted that the number of international NGOs in Haiti has declined 57 percent since 2010. Former President Bill Clinton, who had been UN Special Envoy for Haiti since 2009, quietly stepped down at the end of January.
And while the international community considers raising MINUSTAH’s overall bill to roughly $8 billion (2004-2012 cost about $4.75 billion), money for other things is drying up. As Ban notes disturbingly in his report, the incidence of cholera was on the uptick again as of November 2012. He explains:
The deterioration of cholera facilities and funding shortfalls to secure the payment of medical and sanitary staff ensuring hygiene in health facilities, compounded by the closure of humanitarian projects, explain this increase in the incidence of the disease. Owing to funding shortfalls, the number of cholera treatment facilities fell to 159 in November 2012 from 248 in June 2011.
The irony, if it needs to be said again, is that all evidence shows that none other than the UN peacekeepers themselves caused the disease. And while the UN claims to be fighting the epidemic (in part by stamping its name on a year-old, unfunded Dominico-Haitian initiative), it has become abundantly clear to observers that the world body is falling short. The New York Times editorial board opined this week that the UN’s "handling of cholera is looking like a fiasco.” Calling on the UN to live up to its “moral obligation” for having caused the epidemic, the Times said that Ban’s claims of major investment in fighting the outbreak are “dubious.” (It should be noted that the estimated price tag of the cholera eradication effort, $2.27 billion, would be substantially less than the projected cost of continuing the mission at full strength.)
Ban did not comment on the causes of the cholera outbreak in his report to the Security Council. Nor did he comment on the effects that widespread resentment of the peacekeepers have on the stability and tranquility that MINUSTAH have been entrusted with maintaining. That’s been the UN mission’s pattern so far, and there are no signs the mission’s attitude will change— though it seems they’ve got at least four or five more years to do so.