A groundbreaking March 2017 report from Slate revealed that newly released emails showed officials at the highest levels of the U.S. government were aware almost immediately that U.N. forces likely played a role in a cholera outbreak which may have killed tens of thousands. Multiple federal agencies, from national security officials to scientists on the front lines, shielded the United Nations from accountability to protect the organization and themselves. Obama’s U.N. ambassadors, Susan Rice and Samantha Power dodged the issue as the administration danced between often contradictory goals of protecting human rights, asserting American dominance, and defending an institution central to its multilateral diplomacy.
Slate’s report continued: “Six days later, a senior analyst in the CDC’s Global Disease Detection Operations Center emailed his colleagues with a less scientific concern. The CDC’s job was to provide front-line medical responders with field and lab research to back up their work. As a standard CDC reference paper put it: “When outbreaks of disease occur, there usually is an urgent need to identify the source and/or cause of the problem as a basis for control.”
But the analyst, Rohit Chitale, wasn’t writing about finding the source. He was relaying a concern from higher up in the U.S. government that someone else already had.
CDC scientists in Atlanta were analyzing cholera samples at the time. “If the genomic data comes back indicating that this is true, we may want to have appropriate health [communication] materials ready,” Chitale wrote. “The last thing we would want is for Haitians to blame the UN soldiers in a pernicious way.”
“The available emails show that, whether by instinct or coordination, multiple government departments closed ranks to defend the U.N. In November 2010, an official from CDC’s Emergency Operations Center relayed a request from the Department of Health and Human Services for a one-paragraph summary of “why we don’t think you can tell where the strain came from even with genetic analysis.”
A December 2010 interagency memo to dozens of State Department, Defense Department, and USAID officials instructed press liaisons to tell any reporters who asked: “Bottom line is unless an investigation was done before the cholera spread … it cannot be said definitively that the source was a sanitation site at [the U.N.] camp.”
“There is a real crisis of unaccountability inside the U.N., of which the cholera crisis is only one example. Anthony Banbury, a longtime assistant secretary general who helped oversee peacekeeping, resigned in disgust last year, blasting the organization for allowing peacekeepers to rape and abuse people they were sent to help while protecting its own bureaucracy.”
Disobedient Media previously reported on the Haitian cholera outbreak that had killed over 10,000 Haitians. We discussed the UN’s admission of responsibility for the disaster after six long years of inaction. The scandal also exposed the involvement of finance groups had allowed micro-lenders and re-insurers to quickly move in, profiting where critics said aid organizations should have provided help. Micro-financers and re-insurers are for-profit entities, not charitable aid.