U.N. mission in Haiti ends as Aristide returns to power
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AP) -- In the peak years of the U.N. presence in
hotel verandas were packed with diplomats, white U.N. all-terrain vehicles
lined the crumbling streets and impoverished Haitians imagined things
might finally be getting better.
But as the United Nations prepares to fold up its latest mission on Tuesday,
the cast of thousands has dwindled to fewer than 200. At the Hotel Oloffson,
the gingerbread house made famous in Graham Greene's novel "The Comedians,"
the wicker chairs stand empty and forlorn.
Those who hoped the mission's one-year mandate would be extended are
disappointed, believing they never had enough time to make an impact.
Years after the U.S. military intervention and the deployment of U.N.
peacekeepers in 1994, the U.N. International Civilian Support Mission in Haiti
was supposed to promote human rights, reform the judiciary and build an
effective police force.
Instead, one year after the mission opened, many would write off the nation
million as one more country where a well-intentioned U.N. operation ran afoul of
impossible conditions on the ground.
"I'm still waiting for things to get better," says 45-year-old Gladys Metellus,
sells charcoal by the tin can in Haiti's capital, Port-au-Prince. "I don't know what
the United Nations has done, but I still struggle to survive."
Economic growth plummeted to 1 percent last year, down from 4.5 percent
year U.S. troops arrived. The gourde, Haiti's currency, has lost more than half its
value, while the minimum daily wage has stayed the same for six years and is
now worth just $1.45 a day. Steady population growth has worn down an
already tattered infrastructure.
The U.N. mission came from 20 countries as disparate as Cameroon and
Colombia, Britain and Rwanda, Barbados and Norway. The 120-strong
contingent was backed up by 130 Haitians, who are now joining the two-thirds
of the population who are jobless.
The problems soon became apparent.
As the mission unfolded, the Haitian government was preoccupied with
parliamentary and presidential elections, which ultimately soured Haiti's
relationship with the international community.
Governments abroad suspected irregularities in the May parliamentary balloting
that gave the party of Jean-Bertrand Aristide a majority. Their demands for a
were rebuffed. Aristide, whose ouster as president in 1991 led to the U.S.
intervention, was elected to another term, virtually unopposed, six months later.
Then there was the money. The United States, which has poured $2.3 billion
aid into Haiti since 1994, held up the mission's $24 million budget, of which it
provides nearly $14 million. That prevented U.N. advisers from deploying until
months after the mission started.
And the lawlessness. In August, the U.N. transport chief, a Barbadian,
dragged from his car by a mob and shot to death. In November, U.N.
Secretary-General Kofi Annan recommended closing the mission.
"A combination of rampant crime, violent street protests and incidents
violence targeted at the international community could severely limit the ability
of" the mission "to fulfill its mandate," he wrote.
Annan said Friday the United Nations would continue its efforts in Haiti
development assistance and other U.N. projects on the ground.
"I wish the new government and the people of Haiti every success," he said,
I hope that all the efforts that have been made to install democracy would not be
for nought, and that the government will respect the rights and the will of the
The Haitian government seemed eager to see the United Nations leave. President
Rene Preval was reluctant to extend the U.N. mandate, saying he didn't want to
burden the new administration with old baggage.
Aristide takes over February 7, the day after the U.N. mission ends. Citing
preparations for the inauguration, the government declined to comment on the
"We needed more time," says Sandra Beidas, who directed the human rights
pillar of the mission. "You can offer seminars on building a culture of peace but
if you don't have time to follow those seminars up, you don't know what was
Still, the concept was novel: to transform a peacekeeping mission into
"peacebuilding" one. Beidas said progress has been made.
"From 1993 to 1994, repression was systematic. People were scared to walk
around at night, and you risked your life if you even mentioned Aristide's name,"
she says. "Now, even though there is still sort of an institutional dysfunction, the
climate for human rights has improved."
Haitians have been taught through seminars how some cultural practices
basic human rights -- such as having a family member arrested on suspicion of
using black magic. But corruption is rife in the police force and justice system.
"If you are going to have a good judiciary or police force, you have to
them," said Yves Bouchard, who led the police section of the mission and will
soon return to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. "But the problem is that the
Haitian National Police don't have the support of the government."
It was Canada that stepped in and paid the missing dues when the United
dragged its feet.
"Haiti has always been very important to Canada, and that's why we really
to get the mission off the ground," said Bouchard, visibly choked up. "There are
a lot of people who feel very disappointed."
Some Haitians say the mission's funds would have been better spent on work
done by agencies such as the U.N. Development Fund, which will stay after the
mission leaves. But not everyone feels that way. Vidal Exentas, a 24-year-old
student, wants the mission to stay because "once they leave, the country will go
"There still is a lot of work to be done," the head of the mission, Alfredo
Cabral of Guinea Bissau, said as workers shredded papers and packed up
"But democracy isn't an event," he said. "It can take centuries."
Copyright 2001 The Associated Press.