Washington deployed 22,000 troops to Haiti after the January 12, 2010, earthquake despite reports from the Haitian leadership, the US Embassy and the UN that no serious security threat existed, according to secret US diplomatic cables
Cables made available by WikiLeaks show how disaster capitalists sought "opportunity" in the devastated country.
The cables, obtained by WikiLeaks, were made available to the Haitian newspaper Haïti Liberté
, which is collaborating with The Nation on a series of reports
about US and UN policy toward the country.
Washington’s decision to send thousands of troops in response to the 7.0 earthquake that rocked the Haitian capital and surrounding areas drew sharp criticism from aid workers and government officials around the world at the time. They criticized the militarized response to Haiti’s humanitarian crisis as inappropriate and counterproductive. French Cooperation Minister Alain Joyandet famously said that international aid efforts should be “about helping Haiti, not about occupying Haiti.”
The earthquake-related cables also show that Washington was very sensitive to international criticism of its response and that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton mobilized her diplomatic corps to ferret out “irresponsible journalism” worldwide and “take action” to “get the narrative right.”
In a January 15 cable, Clinton told diplomatic posts and military commands that “approximately 4,000 U.S. military personnel will be in Haiti by January 16 and 10,000 personnel by January 18.” On January 17, Haitian President René Préval issued a “joint communiqué” with Clinton, in which Haiti requested that the United States “assist as needed in augmenting security,” helping to diminish the appearance of a unilateral US action and providing the rationale for what was to be the third US military intervention of Haiti in the past twenty years.
Aware that there would be international dismay about US troops playing a security role, Clinton outlined a series of talking points for diplomats and military officers in her January 22 cable. She said they should emphasize that “MINUSTAH [UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti, as the occupation force is called] has the primary international responsibility for security,” but that “in keeping with President Preval's request to the United States for assistance to augment security, the U.S. is providing every possible support... and is in no way supplanting the UN's role.”
Meanwhile, the UN claimed that its 9,000 occupation troops and police officers had the situation under control.
At a January 18 meeting between President Préval and international officials, former Guatemalan diplomat Edmond Mulet, MINUSTAH’s new chief, said his troops “were capable of providing security” in the country. (Mulet had flown in on a Pentagon plane the day before to take over from Hédi Annabi, who was killed with 101 other UN personnel when the Hotel Christopher, which acted as UN headquarters, collapsed during the quake.) Mulet “insisted that MINUSTAH be in charge of all security in Haiti, with other foreign military forces limited to humanitarian relief operations.”
On January 19, with Resolution 1908, the UN Security Council unanimously approved sending more than 3,500 reinforcements to Haiti “to support the immediate recovery, reconstruction and stability efforts,” increasing MINUSTAH to 12,651.
But Obama administration officials said the additional US troops were necessary.
"Until we can get ample supplies of food and water to people, there is a worry that in their desperation some will turn to violence,” Secretary of Defense Robert Gates told reporters six days after the quake. “And we will work with the UN in trying to ensure that the security situation remains good."
No Serious Security Threat After the Quake
After the quake, Haiti’s capital, Port-au-Prince, resembled a war zone. Bodies lay strewn, collapsed buildings spilled into dust-filled streets, while Haitians frantically rushed to dig out survivors crying out from under hills of rubble. Several flattened neighborhoods looked as if bombing raids had destroyed them.
But the one element missing from this apocalyptic scene was an actual war or widespread violence. Instead, families sat down in the street, huddled around flickering candles with their belongings. Some wept, some sat in shellshocked silence, while others sang prayers, wailing for Jesus Christ in Kreyòl: “Jezi
In the quake’s chaotic aftermath, Préval and his prime minister, Jean-Max Bellerive, were out of touch with US government officials for about twenty-four hours. When they did connect, the Haitian leaders held a 3 pm meeting on January 14 with US Ambassador Kenneth Merten, the Jamaican prime minister, the Brazilian and EU ambassadors, and UN officials.
President Préval laid out priorities: “Re-establish telephone communications; Clear the streets of debris and bodies; Provide food and water to the population; Bury cadavers; Treat the injured; Coordination” among groups amid the destruction, a January 16 cable explains. Préval did not mention insecurity as a major concern. He did not ask for military troops.
But the same cable reports that “lead elements of the 82nd Airborne Division arrived today, with approximately 150 troops on the ground. More aircraft are expected to arrive tonight with troops and equipment.”
The US government had already initiated the deployment of considerable military assets to Haiti, according to the secret State Department cables--before the Haitian government, it appears, formally requested assistance. At its peak, the US military response included 22,000 soldiers--7,000 based on land and the remainder operating aboard fifty-eight aircraft and fifteen nearby vessels, according to the Pentagon. The Coast Guard was also flying spotter aircraft along Haiti’s coast to intercept any refugees from the disaster.
A January 14 cable from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to US Embassies and Pentagon commands worldwide said that the US Embassy in Haiti “anticipates significant food shortages and looting in the affected areas.” But subsequent dispatches from Ambassador Merten in Haiti repeatedly describe "only sporadic” incidents of violence and looting.
One January 19 cable said that the “security situation in Haiti remains calm overall with no indications of mass migration towards North America.” Another cable that day said, “Residents were residing in made-shift [sic
] camps in available open areas, and they had not yet received any humanitarian supplies from relief organization. Nonetheless, the residents were civil, calm, polite, solemn and seemed to be well-organized while they were searching for belongings in the ruins of their homes.