U.N. Military Base Expanding: What Is Washington Up to in Cité Soleil?
A U.N. soldier stands guard beside a canal in the Cité Soleil slum of Port-au-Prince earlier this year. (Photo: Thony Belizaire / AFP-Getty Images)
The U.S. government plans to expropriate and demolish the homes of hundreds of Haiti's most impoverished by expanding the U.N. military occupation force's outpost in the giant Port-au-Prince shantytown of Cité Soleil.
The infamous U.S. government contractor DynCorp, a quasi-official arm of the Pentagon and the CIA, is responsible for expanding the base named "Konbit pou lape" (Get Together for Peace), which houses the soldiers of the U.N. Mission to Stabilize Haiti (MINUSTAH) in the most bullet-ridden battleground of the foreign military occupation that began after U.S. Special Forces kidnapped President Jean-Bertrand Aristide and his wife from their home and flew them into exile on Feb. 29, 2004.
According to Cité Soleil mayor Charles Joseph and a DynCorp foreman at the site, funding for the base expansion is provided by the State Department's U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), a very unorthodox use of development aid.
Lawyer Evel Fanfan, the president of the Association of University Graduates Motivated for a Haiti With Rights (AUMOHD), says that about 155 buildings would be razed if the base expansion goes forward.
"They started working without saying a word to the people living there," Fanfan said. "The authorities have not told them what is being done, if they will be relocated, how much they will be compensated or even if they will be compensated."
Most of the buildings targeted are homes, but one is a church.
"They have begun to build a wall around the area to be razed," explained Eddy Michel, 37, an assistant to Pastor Isaac Lebon who heads the Christian Church of the Apostle's Foundation, which serves some 300 parishioners. "They have already built a 10-foot-high L-shaped wall, which cuts us off from the road. Once they complete the rest of the wall, the remaining 'L', we will be completely enclosed and we fear the destruction will begin."
Alarmed residents of the area formed the Committee for Houses Being Demolished (KODEL), which contacted AUMOHD. Fanfan put out a press release and KODEL held a press conference.
"MINUSTAH soldiers came to our press conference and told us to get a lawyer to talk to the American Embassy because the American Embassy is responsible for the work," said Eddy Michel.
"Legally, the Haitian government has not authorized anybody to do anything," said Fanfan. "The Cité Soleil mayor [Charles Joseph] supposedly, between quotation marks, authorized the construction, but there is no paper, no decree, no order which authorizes it."
The use of DynCorp to build the base is particularly telling. DynCorp International, offering, as its Web site says, "Global Integrated Solutions," belongs to a select group of behemoth corporations like Blackwater, Brown & Root, and Halliburton that exist mainly to carry out U.S. government strategic projects and programs.
Founded in 1946 and based in Reston, Va., near CIA headquarters in Langley, DynCorp was the principal contractor deployed in Colombia to carry out Washington's supposed war on drugs called "Plan Colombia" in 2000. It conducted aerial dusting of supposed coca fields, a practice that resulted in 10,000 Ecuadorian farmers and the International Labor Rights Fund (ILRF), an AFL-CIO affiliate, lodging a class-action lawsuit against then DynCorp CEO Paul V. Lombardi in 2001. The dusting caused illness and death, the suit charged. Lombardi tried to intimidate the plaintiffs, writing to individual members of ILRF's board to warn that the "politically charged litigation" was inappropriate after the events of Sept. 11, 2001.
One of the ILRF's board members, Bishop Jesse DeWitt, responded to DynCorp's Lombardi. "Imagine that scene for a moment," Dewitt wrote. "You are an Ecuadoran farmer, and suddenly, without notice or warning, a large helicopter approaches, and the frightening noise of the chopper blades invades the quiet. The helicopter comes closer and sprays a toxic poison on you, your children, your livestock, and your food crops. You see your children get sick, your crops die. Mr. Lombardi, we at the International Labor Rights Fund, and most civilized people, consider such an attack on innocent people terrorism. Your effort to hide behind September 11 is shameful and breathtakingly cynical."
On May 12, 2000, Colombian police also captured a small bottle of liquid being sent from DynCorp's Colombia headquarters to one of its airbases in Florida. The bottle contained $100,000 worth of heroin. No prosecution was ever conducted.
Two years earlier, ten DynCorp employees were shipped out of Colombia when it was discovered that they were illegally trafficking amphetamines. No prosecution was ever conducted.
Also in 2001, a 29-year-old DynCorp paramedic had a heart attack and was taken to a hospital in Florencia, in southeastern Colombia, where he died. "Forensic tests conducted at the time revealed that the cause of death was a cocaine overdose," writes Robert Lawson in the article "DynCorp: Beyond the Rule of Law," published by the Information Network of the Americas' online journal Colombia Report. "Mysteriously, when the Colombian Central Office of Prosecutions took an interest in the death and requested more information, all related documents, such as the legal medical reports, vanished."
Lawson notes that a high ranking Colombian police official, who had followed DynCorp since it arrived in Colombia in 1993, told Semana magazine: "No authority, whether the Civil Aviation Authority, police or army, is authorized to search DynCorp's planes. Nobody knows what they carry on their return to the United States because they are untouchable."
DynCorp has been an important "private" player in other U.S. wars around the globe, including Iraq, Afghanistan, and Yugoslavia.
"DynCorp (…) has garnered a reputation as a shadowy company with a spooky pedigree, rumored to be a CIA 'cutout,' or front company, for the Agency's dirty tricks," writes Uri Dowbenko in "Dirty Tricks, Inc.: The DynCorp-Government Connection" in 2002. "Using high-level government insider connections, DynCorp provides a range of 'services' one would expect to facilitate fraud and money laundry activities, acting like a virtual conduit between the corporate (private) and government (public) worlds. According to DynCorp, the US Government is its biggest client, accounting for more than 95% of its revenues."
What so interests the U.S. government and DynCorp in Cité Soleil?
First, as Port-au-Prince's largest, poorest, and most pro-Aristide slum, it has been a hotbed of anti-occupation resistance for the past four years. Although most of the popular organizations carrying out armed struggle were dismantled in early 2007, unrest continues there, particularly with Haiti's (and the capitalist world's) worsening economic crisis. Hence, military domination of this important northern flank of Haiti's capital is critical.
Furthermore, Haiti's bourgeoisie and Washington's strategists have for some years coveted the prime real estate on which Cité Soleil sits. The quadrant has a port, is close to the airport, sits on the main road to the north, and is ringed by factories and the old Haitian American Sugar Company complex (HASCO). Rumors are continually afoot that Haiti's economic and political powers want to level this shantytown of 300,000 to replace it with more factories, office buildings, and other business development.
As Haiti reels under the devastation brought by Hurricanes Gustav and Hanna as well as ever-deepening hunger, it is ironic that Washington is spending money to expand a foreign military base and uproot Haiti's poorest of the poor. But Cité Soleil's residents are not easily steamrolled.
For example, on Aug. 31, President René Préval and new Prime Minister Michèle Pierre-Louis toured Cite Soleil to view new drainage canals. During the visit, residents got their hands on Cité Soleil's second mayor Benoit Gustave, accusing him of selling off Cité Soleil for bribes, specifically in the case of the base expansion, and of doing nothing for the people. He was pelted with slaps, kicks, and spit.
DynCorp's expansion of MINUSTAH's base seems more likely to rile Cité Soleil's citizenry than pacify it. Once again, as in its other misadventures around the globe, Washington seems to have, as the Krey l proverb says, "byen konte, mal kalkile": counted well, but badly miscalculated.