Bel Air: Betrayed by the UN

Bel Air: Betrayed by the UN

by Leslie Bagg and Aaron Lakoff

To view the photos which accompany this story, visit;

January 6, 2006 - Port au Prince, Haiti

Our second day in Haiti brought us to the slum of Bel Air, an area extremely
different than other areas of Port au Prince. Not far from the glistening
Palais Nationale, Bel Air is a poor neighborhood which has been hit hard since
the February 2004 coup. It's own residents describe a campaign of political
.cleansing" happening here. Bel Air has been the site of several massacres. On
June 4 2005, CIVPOL (UN .Civilian. Police . now known as UNPOL) forces killed
14 people. On February 25 2005 14 people were killed by police as Brazilian UN
soldiers looked on. Our brief visit today gave us a good idea of the impact
that this cleansing has on people's daily lives.

UN Brazilian MINUSTA (Mission Nations Unies de Stabilization en Haiti) forces
are omnipresent here, sitting at checkpoints behind roadblocks on the street
and patrolling around. Directly adjacent to one of the checkpoints sits one of
the taller buildings of the area - a building which has been occupied by
MINUSTAH. Military camouflage netting is draped from the windows, and soldiers
peer down at the street.

As we walk by and snap photos, one soldier comes running out of a building. He
stops us and demands to see our press passes. American independent journalist
Kevin Pina explains that this is the first time they have done this. Their
efforts to control the press seem to have gone up a notch. As the soldiers
write down our names it becomes clear that they don't want journalists roaming
freely here. They invite us on a press tour in Fort National, another area of
Port au Prince. Journalists who go on these tours are escorted around by armed
guards, speak to the people the UN want them to speak to and see what they want
them to see. We decline.

Perhaps the MINUSTA have good reason to be nervous for the world to see what
they have been doing in places like Bel Air. Later in our visit, we have a
chance to meet with Robert Montinard, the coordinator of a group called Zakat
Enfant. He explains to us that his group has been a bridge between the UN and
the community. Unfortunately it is a bridge that is quickly burning.

After a meeting between community leaders and UN officials to discuss human
rights abuses in the community, Zakat Enfant signed a contract with the UN to
help them implement their program - DDR: Disarmament, Demobilization, and
Reinsertion. The deal was that youth in the neighborhood would give up their
arms, and in return they would not be arrested or harassed (unless they do
something else wrong) and the UN would provide badly needed social programs.
Bel Air is a neighborhood where many children can go up to 3 days without food
and do not have a chance to go to school or have access to health care. It
sounds nice, except there's one problem . the UN isn't holding up their part of
the deal.

Since the beginning of the program, dozens of people have given up their guns,
but all they've gotten in return is a passcard with their picture on it, part
of the UN's program of social control. Eloi, for example, is a local kid we
met who traded in his gun under DDR. In return, all he got was his plastic UN
photo id which will theoretically allow him to get through the UN checkpoints

2 people who returned their arms have already been arrested and the promised
social programs have yet to appear. As Robert says, "Christmas passed without
even one candy for the kids".

Now Robert is between a rock and a hard place. On the one side UN officials are
pushing him to continue with the program, on the other side, the increasingly
frustrated community sees Robert and Zakat Enfant as traitors and are taking
out their anger on them. Robert tells us he cannot walk around freely in his
own community anymore. And what of his group, Zakat Enfant? The organization
was supposed to help kids traumatized by war, and give them workshops in
non-violence, but they have been sold-out by the UN and rendered useless.

Others are very clear about who's to blame for Haiti's current troubles. Samba
Boukman, the local spokesperson for Lavalas, is frank with us. He blames the
US, France, and Canada for the crisis in Haiti. He wonders why Canada is
working against the Haitian people, but he has his theory - Canadian companies
are doing business with the elite "civil society" group 184. It would seem
that democracy in Haiti is not in their best interests. Canada is lending its
complete support to MINUSTA, and MINUSTA has turned Bel Air into a veritable
occupied zone. As Robert had explained before, "If we're in prison, if we're
poor, if we're dying, it's France, USA and Canada. It's not the military's
fault. They know nothing. They're just there following orders. It's the
diplomats, the ambassadors, the politicians who are doing this".

We have arrived in Haiti in a chaotic and uncertain time. We were expecting to
be here days before the presidential elections, scheduled for January 8th, but
now postponed indefinitely for the fourth time. The elections are laughable,
especially in the way they are being framed by the authorities. Today, the UN
security council called an urgent session to debate the continuing
postponements of Haiti's elections. The Conseil Electoral Provisoire (CEP),
funded by USAID and CIDA, have put the blame on the UN and OAS, who have been
quick to shift it back to them. All sides deny their complicity in this royal

As the big shots play hot potato, the reaction on the streets is quite
different. No one is surprised, although tensions are high. Haitians know
quite well that they are being asked to participate in "selections" rather than
elections. Samba Boukman says he is registered to vote anyway. He explains the
Lavalas position is that true elections can not proceed unless the thousands of
political prisoners being held in Haiti are released, the repression of people
in poor neighborhoods comes to an end, disarmament is complete and political
exiles are allowed to return to the country. All of these issues are
completely lacking from the Canadian discourse. In fact, Paul Martin has
denied there are any political prisoners in Haiti, and Canada just wants to
push forth with any elections, come hell or high water. Although Boukman is
not optimistic that his demands will be met, he sees elections as the only way
the people can move forward peacefully.

As we leave Bel Air, we see graffiti on the side of a building that translates
roughly as "expensive life + social exclusion = civil war". As Robert Montinard
explains, the violence that has plagued Bel Air is violence that is borne of
misery and poverty. It's a cycle that won't be broken by treachery and unkept
promises from the UN, the US, France and Canada.

(Aaron and Leslie can be reached at