By Alex Sanchez
Brazil’s leadership in the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) may be coming to its end. The newly-appointed defense minister, Celso Amorin (most recently he served as foreign affairs minister from 2003 to 2011) recently declared to the Brazilian media that he “supports the withdrawal of Brazilian troops from Haiti.” Should this happen, it would be a major departure from the status quo, and would greatly affect MINUSTAH’s operations, as well as jolt Brazil’s role as the Caribbean’s major arbiter of security. Furthermore, Brasilia’s quest for a permanent seat in the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) has been partially based on its role in MINUSTAH as an example of its readiness for a UN seat, which may now be called into question.
Brazil’s role in Haiti
Brasilia racked up a huge leadership role in MINUSTAH, which had as its mission to aid the transitional government that gained control of Haiti (via the UNSC’s resolution 1542) after President Jean-Bertrand Aristide was ousted in early 2004. The mission was controversial at the time and drew heavy criticism from its inception as it was regarded as a type of colonial government by the UN in the wake of Aristide’s abrupt forced departure from power, following major national protests and violence. At the time, there were persistent accusations that the U.S., Canada and France had a role in the Haitian head of state’s ouster.
Brazil has provided the military commanders for MINUSTAH along with a significant number of its forces over the past seven years. Brasilia has reportedly deployed 1,266 army and navy troops to MINUSTAH, but, in the aftermath of the massive January 2010 earthquake that struck Haiti, the Brazilian Congress approved a request to send 1,300 additional troops to the Caribbean country to help with relief operations.
In January 2006, there was a bizarre incident in which MINUSTAH’s commander, Lieutenant General Urano Teixeira da Matta, committed suicide while in his hotel room in Port-au-Prince. In cables published by Wikileaks, Dominican President Leonel Fernandez told State Department Assistant Secretary Patrick Duddy that he suspected that Teixeira had been assassinated by a paramilitary group, possibly led by Guy Philippe, a renowned Haitian cutpurse and rebel leader with a good deal of political clout. MINUSTAH’s current commander is Major General Luiz Eduardo Ramos Pereira, also from Brazil.
According to MINUSTAH’s official website, the mission’s current strength (as of June 30, 2011) totals 12,261 uniformed personnel, not including volunteers as well as international and local civilian personnel. Since its inception, the mission has suffered 164 fatalities, 66 of which were military personnel. Twenty UN Brazilian soldiers were killed in the January 2010 earthquake.
Brazil Inside and Out
Dilma Rousseff’s first year as president of Brazil has been far from ideal as a number of senior and high-profile members of her cabinet have resigned. The list includes: Agriculture Minister Wagner Rossi, Defense Minister Nelson Jobim, Transportation Minister Alfredo Nascimento, as well as President Rousseff’s chief of staff, Antonio Palocci. Should the Brazilian head of state decide to maintain her troops in Haiti despite the defense minister’s opinion to the contrary, this may put Rousseff at odds with other key members of her cabinet, as well as with the military’s leadership. Furthermore, a recent letter to the Brazilian President was signed by a number of legislators, like Markus Sokol of the PT (Partido dos Trabalhadores – Worker’s Party) National Directorate, representatives of the CUT (Central Única dos Trabalhadores – Unified Worker’s Central) and the MST (Movimento dos Trabalhadores Rurais Sem Terra – Landless Workers’ Movement) , as well as others. The open letter states: “we must end Brazil’s participation in a military operation that is repudiated by the vast majority of the Haitian people … this occupation has only deepened the plight of the people and has denied them their sovereignty.”
It is worth noting that some influential Brazilians do support a continued presence in Haiti. Geraldo Cavagnari, member of the Center for Strategic Studies at the University of Campinas (Unicamp) has declared that “the troops should stay put because there is no risk, and there are many things in play.” The other “many things” most likely include Brazil’s hardly concealed quest for a permanent UNSC seat.
Another factor that may influence the future role of Brazil in Haiti may be budgetary issues. An August 15, 2011 article entitled “Bye Bye MINUSTAH” published by the Canada Haiti Action Network, explains that since 2004, Brazil’s taxpayers have spent over R$ 1 billion on MINUSTAH. Last year alone, maintenance of the Brazilian troops in Haiti cost R$ 426 million: R$ 140 million for annual costs and other expenditures, plus R$ 286 million for humanitarian aid sent after the 2010 earthquake. The analysis goes on to argue that in principle, the UN should reimburse these expenses, but in recent years the reimbursements have amounted to only 16% of the payments made by the Brazilian government. The article finally adds that, in addition, the salaries of Brazil’s MINUSTAH troops have, in fact, exceeded R$ 41 million per year, but these costs are excluded from Brazil’s expenses on the mission because these individuals would be entitled to their pay even if they were in Brazil. The Portuguese-speaking nation is currently enjoying an economic boom, but this will most likely not last, in part because the Brazilian currency, the real, is showing signs of being overvalued. If a period of economic austerity appears, the Brazilian government may be forced to rethink some of its peacekeeping operations and other major military commitments.
An official interviewed by the author, who wished to remain anonymous, explained that Brazil as well as several other states have desired to leave Haiti for some time and they argue that there is already some kind of, at least superficial, political stability in the Caribbean state. It would seem that the recent Haitian presidential elections, as dubious and controversial as they were, may serve as part of Brazil’s “exit strategy” for leaving MINUSTAH.
An Unsuccessful Departure?
Brazil’s military has been involved in Haiti since 2004 but, unfortunately, few positive developments have stemmed from Brazil’s limited interactions in the small Caribbean nation. MINUSTAH operations managed to pacify most violent neighborhoods, like Cite Soleil in 2005, but they also were responsible for carrying out human rights abuses that have been well- documented, which gained further criticism of the UN operation.
A critical moment occurred on January 12, 2010, when a 7.0 magnitude earthquake destroyed most infrastructure in Port- au-Prince as well as other Haitian towns across the country. A recent report by the U.S. Agency for International Development, obtained by the Miami Herald, states that between 46,190 and 86,961 people died and less than 66,625 quake victims are living in hundreds of camps scattered around the capital. In the aftermath of the disaster, dozens of international governments agencies and relief organizations have poured into the country to help with search operations and to take care of the thousands of Haitians that were left homeless and with very little food and shelter. MINUSTAH was not spared of some of these losses. This was particularly the case as the mission’s headquarters in Haiti collapsed killing several UN employees; however the body did continue to carry out relief operations. A February 2010 UN report praised MINUSTAH’s emergency response, explaining that “MINUSTAH, despite its own losses, acted as a crucial first responder, opening the major arterial road from the Port-au-Prince airport to the town centre, re-establishing communications and opening its medical facilities to victims.” The Security Reform Resource Centre adds that:
“In the months following the earthquake, MINUSTAH made significant contributions providing logistical and administrative support to relief efforts. MINUSTAH supplied security assistance for humanitarian operations, operational support to the Haitian National Police (HNP), provided technical advice and support to state institutions at the sub-national level, assisted in repairing the damage to critical infrastructure of the judiciary, and coordinated a large-scale public information campaign.”
In any case, the praise MINUSTAH received for its operations in the aftermath of the 2010 earthquake proved to be short-lived. In October 2010, MINUSTAH troops apparently introduced a cholera epidemic in Haiti by dumping fecal matter into the country’s rivers. Over 5,000 individuals have died due to the cholera outbreak and thousands more are infected. A March 2011 report by the BBC highlights the variety of estimates of how many Haitians currently are, and could possibly become, infected, with numbers ranging from 400,000 to a possible 779,000 by November of this year. A July 2011 article in the Los Angeles Times reported that “the [Haitian] Health Ministry reported more than 1,000 new cholera cases a day last month [June].” There were several protests against MINUSTAH when the local population realized how the epidemic started. It is important to clarify that it seems that UN peacekeepers from Nepal most likely started the cholera epidemic, not personnel coming from Brazil.
Furthermore, it is necessary to note that a possible Brazilian withdrawal from MINUSTAH is just an option for the moment, and it would take time for the minister Amorin’s proposal to become an official government-sanctioned plan, if it does at all. Even more time would be needed to arrange the logistics for the Brazilian troops to actually leave Haiti; hence any Brazilian departure will not likely occur anytime soon.
MINUSTAH without Brazil?
Should Brasilia decide to pull all of its troops from the Caribbean nation, the future of MINUSTAH may be called into question. Can the mission survive without the major donor of its troops, and the one with the most zeal to do so? Possibly yes, but the UN will face several new problems, like finding replacement troops from other nations to make up for the departure of the Brazilians. In addition, if Brazil does depart, other states that supply troops to MINUSTAH, may decide to leave the operation as well. As previously mentioned, some states, besides Haiti, may already be looking for an exit strategy to leave that country. In an extreme scenario, MINUSTAH may end up with a reduced force and a more limited ability to carry out its operations.
A final critical factor that may affect MINUSTAH’s future will be the Haitian government, which now has a new president, if highly problematic, former singer Michel Martelly. As part of his campaign promises, the new head of state has declared his interest in reforming the controversial Haitian army to help improve internal security. The country’s military was disbanded in 1995 by President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, after he was deposed in a coup and then restored to power with the help of U.N. forces. Historically the Haitian army has been known for its violent acts and lack of political neutrality, particularly under the Duvalier dictatorships. An April 2011 article in the Washington Post quotes Martelly as saying that “the new armed forces wouldn’t be known for brutality, as their predecessors were.” The Haitian leader may be looking to replace MINUSTAH, which it cannot control, with local security forces sworn to comply with his orders.
If Brazil leaves, what role should the US play?
A 2008 State Department document made public by Wikileaks, explains that “the UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti is an indispensable tool in realizing core USG [U.S. government] policy interests in [that country].” The disclosed report then adds “paying one-quarter of MINUSTAH’s budget through our DPKO [department of peace keeping operations] assessment, the U.S. reaps the security and stabilization benefits of a 9,000-person international military and civilian stabilization mission in the hemisphere’s most troubled country. […] in the current context of our military commitments elsewhere, the U.S. alone could not replace this mission.” With military operations in Iraq, Afghanistan and, for the time being, in Libya, embarking on a series of new military challenges, even if it’s under an UN-peacekeeping mantle, may prove too costly for Washington and particularly the Barack Obama administration, which will have to face re-elections in 2012.
MINUSTAH has been controversial since its origins, and a more visible U.S. involvement in Haiti would be cumbersome and would add to a long list of lamentable military involvement in that country. U.S.-Haitian relations have been historically problematic, as they mostly revolve around American military operations in that island, including from 1914-1934, in 1994 and, most recently, in 2004 when Aristide was ousted. It is necessary to note that Washington did deploy the carrier USS Carl Vinson  along with the USNS Comfort and thousands of military personnel to provide help in the aftermath of the 2010 earthquake.
Deploying American troops in Haitian territory is a questionable practice, and it’s highly unlikely that it will happen; nevertheless it would be helpful for Washington’s national interests to continue working with the UN and the Haitian government so that the Caribbean nation avoids becoming a failed state.
Regarding Brazil, one can see the reasons for leaving the mission, including its unpopularity, lack of major successes and financial costs. With that said, it is illogical to think that any departure would occur quickly. If Brasilia does decide to leave MINUSTAH, at the very least it should have a responsible exchange of power and responsibilities to other UN personnel or Haitian security forces. As a recommendation, we can observe that while most of Brazilian military personnel will ultimately leave Haiti, some senior officers should stay in a consultancy basis, particularly in order to keep training the Haitian police. In spite of MINUSTAH’s controversial origins, we cannot forget Haiti’s internal problems (some of which were collectively caused by foreign powers); the international community hopefully should leave the country in better shape than when it entered it.
Alex Sanchez, a COHA research fellow, recently published an article discussing Brazil’s UN ambitions and its role in MINUSTAH: W. Alex Sanchez, “An Easy Way to Improve U.S.-Latin American Relations” (Washington, DC: Foreign Policy In Focus, July 28, 2011). Available: http://bit.ly/qXB41y. In addition, an article that discusses Brazil’s role in MINUSTAH and the UN mission in East Timor will appear in an upcoming issue of the journal Globalizations. His personal blog can be found by clicking here.
References for this article can be found here.
About the author:
COHA, or Council on Hemispheric Affairs, was founded in 1975, the Council on Hemispheric Affairs (COHA), a nonprofit, tax-exempt independent research and information organization, was established to promote the common interests of the hemisphere, raise the visibility of regional affairs and increase the importance of the inter-American relationship, as well as encourage the formulation of rational and constructive U.S. policies towards Latin America.