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.
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.”