Haiti’s Preval to U.N.: We need bulldozers, not tanks

By Louis Charbonneau

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) – It is time for the United Nations to transform its mission in Haiti, which needs engineers and bulldozers more than soldiers and tanks, outgoing Haitian President Rene Preval said on Wednesday.

In his final speech at the United Nations as the country’s leader, Preval said that more than a decade had passed since he first called on the world body to change its focus in Haiti.

“Tanks, armored vehicles and soldiers should have given way to bulldozers, engineers, more police instructors, experts in support (of) justice and to the penitentiary system,” he told a meeting of the 15-nation U.N. Security Council.

“I hope that after 11 years we will be able to draw conclusions useful for the strengthening of stability in Haiti,” he said.

The U.N. mission in Haiti, known as MINUSTAH, has not had an easy time over the last year. It lost 96 peacekeepers during a January 13, 2010 earthquake that claimed more than 300,000 victims in the impoverished Caribbean nation.

During the charged electoral atmosphere of the last few months, some Haitians have accused the more than 12,000-member peacekeeping force of being more like an “occupation force.”

Anti-U.N. slogans in Creole like “Down with the MINUSTAH occupation” have appeared scrawled on the walls of the earthquake-scarred capital Port-au-Prince.

Discontent in some quarters has also risen following reports — called inconclusive by U.N. officials — that Nepalese peacekeepers brought a cholera outbreak to Haiti that has killed more than 4,500 people since October.

Preval said it was high time for the Security Council to rethink its strategy in Haiti and transform the U.N. mission from a military into a civilian operation.

“I would suggest some thinking on the effectiveness of (the council’s) interventions which have effectively led to 11 years military presence in a country that has no war,” he said.

He said that a potential for violent conflict in 1993 and 2004 did justify a significant military presence at the time, but that had long since ceased to be the case.

“The danger of violent confrontation, once it had passed, peacekeeping operations did not quickly enough adapt to the new situation,” Preval said. “Instability in Haiti is basically due to underdevelopment — in other words, unsatisfied elementary socioeconomic rights.”

At its meeting, the Security Council unanimously adopted a statement that welcomed the electoral process in Haiti while urging it to strengthen its democratic institutions.

According to preliminary results announced this week, Preval’s successor will be Michel Martelly, a shaven-headed singer and political outsider who won Haiti’s presidential election in a landslide victory that tapped into deep popular desire for change.

(Additional reporting by Pascal Fletcher in Miami; Editing by Laura MacInnis and Eric Walsh)

Haiti’s Preval to U.N.: We need bulldozers, not tanks