What legacy did Brazil leave in Haiti?

brazil peacekeeping forces haiti Photo: Tereza Sobreira

Despite Haiti facing yet another acute political, economic, and social crisis, the United Nations decided to end its 15-year-long Stabilization Mission (MINUSTAH), replacing the peacekeeping efforts with a smaller police force to be downsized after two years. 

More than anything, the decision is a cost-cutting measure, framed by U.S. President Donald Trump’s intentions to reduce spending on the multilateral body. “Peacekeepers do fantastic work but they are

very expensive and should be used only when needed,” British UN Ambassador Matthew Rycroft told <em>Reuters</em>. “We strongly support ending this mission and turning it into something else. And I think we’ll see the same thing elsewhere.”</p> <p>The removal started two years ago, when blue-helmet troops led by Brazil were pulled, turning the MINUSTAH into a &#8220;follow-up mission.&#8221; Military presence lasted in the country for 13 years, being one of the longest to run in recent times. During their time on the Caribbean island, peacekeepers were dogged with controversy—such as introducing cholera to the country, and several cases of sexual abuse and human rights violations.</p> <p>It was also Brazil&#8217;s most ambitious military effort since it sent troops to Italy in World War II. And, as the MINUSTAH officially ends, we look back at the legacy Brazil is leaving behind.</p> <h2>Context: constant turmoil in Haiti</h2> <p>The MINUSTAH was approved by the UN Security Council on April 30, 2004 to re-establish the rule of law after the oft-troubled Haitian political scenario degraded to the cusp of civil war.&nbsp;</p> <p>Then-President Jean-Bertrand Aristide was forced out of office by a combination of armed revolts, popular unrest, and pressure from the U.S. and France. On March 7, 2004, the <em>Boston Globe </em>wrote about the <a href="https://www.lrb.co.uk/v26/n08/paul-farmer/who-removed-aristide">collapse of the country</a>:</p> <p><em>Today, Haiti’s government, which serves eight million people, has an annual budget of about [USD] 300 million – less than that of Cambridge, a city of just over 100,000. And as Haitians attempt to form a new government, many say its success will largely depend on how much and how soon aid will flow to the country &#8230; Many of [Mr.] Aristide’s supporters, in Haiti and abroad, angrily contend that the international community, particularly the [U.S.], abandoned the fledgling democracy when it needed aid the most. Many believe that [Mr.] Aristide himself was the target of the de facto economic sanctions, just as Haiti was beginning to put its finances back in order.</em></p> <p>Six years into the MINUSTAH, Haiti&#8217;s efforts to form a minimally functional government were scuppered by a magnitude-7.0 earthquake that destroyed nearly the entire country. Deaths were <a href="https://edition.cnn.com/2013/12/12/world/haiti-earthquake-fast-facts/index.html">estimated</a> at up to 300,000—with as many people being injured. Roughly 1.5 million people were displaced initially.</p> <p>Army Lieutenant Colonel Adriano de Souza Azevedo began his seven-month stint in Haiti just as the ground began to shake. He was inside the traditional Christopher Hotel when it all happened. After the building fell to the ground, 130 people died. Mr. Azevedo was one of just five survivors. He remembered, in an interview to <strong>The Brazilian Report</strong>, that the earthquake put Haiti in a worse position it was back in 2004, when the MINUSTAH started.</p> <p>Then, a cholera epidemic sparked another social crisis, having killed over 8,000 people since 2010. The <a href="https://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2016/08/18/490468640/u-n-admits-role-in-haiti-cholera-outbreak-that-has-killed-thousands">UN itself admitted its role in the outbreak</a>, recognizing that the virus was taken by Nepalese blue helmets.&nbsp;</p> <h2>The Brazilian-led peacekeeping forces</h2> <p>When the UN approved the intervention in Haiti, Brazil was led by former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, whose foreign policy was based on the principle of placing Brazil as an &#8220;active and proud&#8221; international player. More than ever, the country&#8217;s obsession with earning a permanent seat on the UN Security Council was alive—motivating Brazil to take the lead.</p> <script src="https://www.buzzsprout.com/299876/1582609-74-brazil-s-role-on-the-global-stage.js?player=small" type="text/javascript" charset="utf-8"></script> <hr class="wp-block-separator"/> <p>The first commander of the forces was Army General Augusto Heleno, whose stint lasted until 2005. Lieutenant Colonel Azevedo says this period was marked by numerous confrontations with disparate groups, with nearly every patrol being shot at.&nbsp;</p> <p>In 2005, General Heleno led Operation Iron Fist, a raid into the Port-au-Prince slum Cité Soleil (at the time called the <a href="https://www.dailyo.in/arts/inside-cite-soleil-movie-slums-haiti/story/1/18788.html">most dangerous place on Earth</a>), targeting a warlord known as Dread Wilme. After a 7-hour gun battle, peacekeeping troops fired over 22,000 bullets, with dozens of people killed, including Dread Wilme himself. General Heleno considered the raid a success. Human rights groups called it a “massacre.”</p> <p>After some years, the foreign military forces were gradually replaced by the Haitian police, with Brazilian Urutu tanks leaving the urban landscape—to be used only in special operations.&nbsp;</p> <p>Between 2004 and 2017, 26 Brazilian troops died in Haiti—in cases mostly linked to the earthquake.</p> <h2>The MINUSTAH legacy for Haiti, and for Brazil&#8217;s military</h2> <p>While the peacekeeping efforts certainly brought some stability to the Caribbean nation, many locals saw them as an occupation. Critics of the Brazilian mission, such as <a href="http://agenciabrasil.ebc.com.br/en/geral/noticia/2014-06/brazil-reduce-haiti-troops-pre-earthquake-levels">Haitian researcher Franck Seguy</a>, say it had imperialistic motivations. Jake Johnston wrote to <em>World Politics Review</em><strong><em> </em></strong>that, <em>&#8220;in addition to restoring order, the mission has functioned as a means of political containment, serving elite and transnational economic interests and ensuring a continuation of the political and economic status quo.&#8221;&nbsp;</em></p> <p>Even so, the country has quickly fallen back to unrest after the exit of the troops—with new protests against the government leaving 17 dead and 189 injured. Lieutenant Colonel Azevedo says it’s a “warning sign,” justified by the country’s historical vulnerability. “We had some leaders saying [the MINUSTAH] was an occupation, but you see that Haiti is returning to the situation it was in back in 2004. They don’t have an idea of unity, they don’t think of themselves as a nation-state. This recent unrest raises red flags.”</p> <figure class="wp-block-image"><img src="https://new.brazilian.report/wp-content/uploads/2019/10/un-brazil-haiti-1024x629.jpg" alt="un brazil haiti" class="wp-image-26124" srcset="https://new.brazilian.report/wp-content/uploads/2019/10/un-brazil-haiti-1024x629.jpg 1024w, https://new.brazilian.report/wp-content/uploads/2019/10/un-brazil-haiti-300x184.jpg 300w, https://new.brazilian.report/wp-content/uploads/2019/10/un-brazil-haiti-768x471.jpg 768w, https://new.brazilian.report/wp-content/uploads/2019/10/un-brazil-haiti-610x374.jpg 610w" sizes="(max-width: 1024px) 100vw, 1024px" /><figcaption>Photo: Tereza Sobreira</figcaption></figure> <p>For Brazil, the mission was good for boosting the country&#8217;s soft power. This was enhanced by a 2004 football match between Brazil—world champions at the time—and Haiti. The positive image left in Port-au-Prince after that game was portrayed in a documentary called &#8220;The day that Brazil was here.&#8221;</p> <p>But Brazil gained more than just an image boost. Researcher Marcelle Trote Martins, of Rio&#8217;s Pontifical Catholic University, <a href="http://web.isanet.org/Web/Conferences/FLACSO-ISA%20BuenosAires%202014/Archive/400120e6-6dc7-4bf5-ab48-e2b29732edde.pdf">wrote</a> that &#8220;Brazilian participation in MINUSTAH was the desire to prove that Brazil can be a military power capable of dealing with efforts to promote peace and international security.&#8221;</p> <p>Brazil’s role in the Haitian crisis has encouraged the military to see other missions on the horizon. As the troops were about to leave the Caribbean coast, then-Defense Minister Raul Jungmann said Brazil would “examine other possibilities for our Armed Forces to participate in more peacekeeping missions.”</p> <p>Lieutenant Colonel Azevedo, who predicts new operations in the next few years, says the mission “put Brazil back on the world stage.”&nbsp;</p> <h2>From Port-au-Prince to Jair Bolsonaro’s cabinet</h2> <p>Four members of President Jair Bolsonaro&#8217;s original cabinet were part of the MINUSTAH:</p> <ul><li>General Augusto Heleno: Commander between 2004 and 2005, now the chief security officer for the president.</li><li>General Fernando Azevedo e Silva: Chief of Operations for the Brazilian troops, also between 2004 and 2005. He is currently Brazil’s Defense Minister.</li><li>General Carlos A. dos Santos Cruz: Commander between 2006 and 2009 in Haiti, and of UN forces in Congo between 2013 and 2015. He served as the liaison between the president’s office and Congress—but has since been fired.</li><li>Captain Tarcísio Gomes de Freitas: Chief of Brazil’s Engineering Company in Haiti, between 2005 and 2006. He is now Brazil’s Infrastructure Minister and one of the most influential members of the cabinet.</li></ul> <p>For more detail on their role, read our <a href="https://new.brazilian.report/newsletters/weekly-report/2018/12/01/haiti-minustah-from-port-au-prince-to-jair-bolsonaro-cabinet/">December 1, 2018 Weekly Report</a> (for platinum and gold subscribers only—<a href="https://new.brazilian.report/subscribe/">become one now</a>).

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Lucas Berti

Lucas Berti covers international affairs—specializing Latin American politics and markets. He has been published by Opera Mundi, Revista VIP, and The Intercept Brasil, among others.