NEW YORK CITY, October 12 — Members of the End Cholera in Haiti Organization (ECHO) came out today to rally at the UN in ECHO’s first public action in NYC, building on a petition campaign. This will be a long struggle with many such actions. We joined a protest with other Haitian groups and international activists against the continued stationing of UN Minustah troops in Haiti.
We highlighted the demands of our campaign to end cholera in Haiti: universal vaccination, beginning with schoolchildren; a country-wide network of treatment centers; and most fundamentally, a modern infrastructure for clean water and sanitation.
Comrades from Progressive Labor Party were there distributing CHALLENGE and explaining how capitalism continually causes these preventable water-borne diseases. It is an example of the gross racism of the imperialist system towards workers in places like Haiti or West Africa where these epidemics are allowed to spread.
It was Minustah who brought cholera to Haiti via their troops from Nepal who carried the disease. In October 2010, human waste from their base near the Artibonite River was dumped into the river. The first case of cholera in Haiti since the 1700s occurred just downstream of that Minustah base. The strain of bacteria in the resulting epidemic was found to be the same Asian strain that the Nepalese troops carried.
The disease spread like wildfire after that, infecting 600,000 and killing over 7,400, and crossing into the Dominican Republic where hundreds also died. Because of the continuing lack of access to clean water and decent sanitation in Haiti, the epidemic is far from over.
Earlier this year, the World Health Organization (WHO) predicted that at least 100,000 more Haitians would become infected in 2012. Despite the consensus in the international health community that Minustah was guilty of introducing the epidemic to Haiti, the UN has yet to take responsibility and move decisively to stop the spread of this deadly disease.
In many parts of the world cholera is endemic or entrenched in the population. In such areas people carry the disease and continually spread it, making it very difficult to eradicate. Some health experts fear that this is already happening in Haiti. Cholera outbreaks continue to be on the rise globally, currently affecting 3-5 million people and accounting for 100,000-120,000 deaths yearly, according to the WHO.
These statistics will only worsen with the increasing trend toward the privatization of water. In fact, access to clean water and proper sanitation is the only real way to control this disease. That is why ECHO’s most critical demand is to force the rulers to come up with the billion dollars required to build a clean water infrastructure for the people of Haiti.
Although the area outside the UN where the rally was held was not as busy as hoped, it was most inspiring to see the enthusiasm of young ECHO members who chanted and picketed with posters and banners. One high school student of Haitian background, an ECHO leader, came forward and addressed the rally. He sharply made the point that the U.S. imperialists and the UN/Minustah troop occupation have brought only misery and death to people in Haiti. Another college student, who learned of the campaign only a week before, collected pages of signatures and expressed interest in joining the campaign steering committee.
Nearly everyone at the protest who was asked signed the ECHO petition. Several demonstrators noted that ECHO was not merely there to protest, but was attempting to build an international struggle and gave us their contact info to learn more. We work in concert with the campaign in Haiti itself, where another in a series of demonstrations is planned for October 19.
Judging by the response to our message thus far, we are encouraged. ECHO members have already begun speaking to student, union, church, health and community groups and have plans to reach out to more. Next time we return to the UN it will be in substantially greater numbers to put forward our demands more forcefully. PLP members working in the campaign argue that this vital effort should also be linked to building a revolutionary communist movement internationally. Joshua Horn’s book Away with All Pests tells the story of how communists in China eradicated diseases that capitalism has never been able to, such as syphilis.
For PLP fighting cholera is part of a struggle for a world which banishes the ultimate “pest,” capital itself, a world in which workers will never again be allowed to die of racist neglect.