Less than three months before the United Nations (UN) Stabilization Mission in Haiti is officially slated to end, the last 978 Brazilian military agents serving in Operation MINUSTAH (the French acronym that lends the mission its name) prepare to return to Brazil. Emotions are running high, and Haitians are now expected to see better days.
Under Resolution 2,350/2017, approved by the UN Security Council in April this year, all of the troops deployed in the mission must gradually leave the country by October 15, when the operation will be officially over. On this date, the UN is to institute the Mission for Justice Support (MINUJUSTH) in Haiti—considered the poorest country in the Americas and one of the most underprivileged places in the world.
The withdrawal of the troops started on June 26 this year. The efforts, however, continue. The Brazilian infantry battalion, for instance, has helped map out the spots most prone to natural disasters. Knowing where these spots are located is crucial in case the Caribbean country is once again hit by a hurricane, for example—a common enough phenomenon from June to November. According to UN data, Haiti is the country with the highest number of casualties stemming from natural disasters.
On June 15, MINUSTAH assigned to the Haitian Police the policing of Cité Soileil, a settlement in the heart of Haiti's capital Port-au-Prince, which until 2006 was controlled by gangs threatening residents, workers and just anyone visiting the place. The Brazilian agents are still occupying the military base stationed there and conducting sporadic patrols. However, after being considered one of the most dangerous areas in the world, today, Cité Soleil is regarded now as relatively safe.
According to the Ministry of Defense, the operations aimed at preserving law and order are expected to be brought to an end by September 1, and 90% of Brazilian agents are to return by September 15. The soldiers and officials staying in the country after this date will be in charge of taking care of the final administrative measures for the repatriation of all Brazilian material and equipment, until October 15.
According to Corporal Walace Leite Dantas, marine platoon commander, emotions grow more and more intense as the date for the end of the mission approaches. “The feeling of serving in Haiti, especially in the detachment charged with ending the Brazilian participation in the MINUSTAH is a mixture of happiness and the responsibility of preserving everything that's been done by those who preceded us,” Dantas told Agência Brasil. “I can't say the anticipation of returning to Brazil grows as the date draws nearer, because the wish to stay and continue helping those who need is greater,” he added.
Ever since 2004, when Brazil was chosen to spearhead the stabilization mission made up of troops from 16 countries, the Latin American country sent to Haiti some 37 thousand military agents, the Ministry of Defense reports. The largest detachment is that of the Army, which mobilized 30,359 men and women; the Navy employed 6,299 and the Air Force 350. The group in Haiti since May is the 26th and last Brazilian detachment engaged with the mission of helping bring back safety and institutional normality after the political turmoil that culminated in violence during demonstrations and following the resignation of then President Jean Bertrand Aristide, elected in 2000.
In the view of Captain Daniel Nicolini de Oliveira, also a marine platoon commander, Brazil's efforts in Haiti brings not only a feeling of job done, but also the apprehension towards the preservation of the results achieved.
“Today, while walking through Haiti, we see how much MINUSTAH has helped the country. The anticipation of going back to Brazil and seeing all those who supported and rooted for us is huge—just as great as the responsibility of demobilizing the squad and repatriating all of the Brazilian material, which requires considerable logistics,” the captain noted, convinced that the Brazilian agents “have contributed greatly to the UN mission.”
Oliveira says he will cherish the memories of a welcoming country, whose people have sought to improve on a daily basis. “I will also remember how rewarding it feels to be able to help others, to be recognized as we walk on the streets and how much we grow as a person and a professional, building ties with a different culture and coming into contact with different problems. It was a unique experience to us, soldiers of peace,” the captain added.
When invited by the UN Security Council to spearhead the MINUSTAH, the Brazilian government saw the opportunity as a chance not only to help Haiti, but also to cast Brazil's image worldwide, which coincided with the strategic project of consolidating the country's local leadership. Over the years, especially at first, the initiative was met with a lot of criticism, like that of organizations that described the presence of foreign military forces as an interventionist move to demobilize Haiti's capacity to find its own democratic solutions.
In 2006, during a meeting with representatives from 16 countries and 11 international organizations, Brazil's then Defense Minister Celso Amorim stressed that the international move should focus on fighting poverty and the strengthening of the Haitian state's capacity to serve the population with “bulldozers and concrete mixers taking the place of war vehicles.”
In January 2010, when Haiti was devastated by an earthquake measuring seven on the Richter scale, the humanitarian situation aggravated and international help was more necessary than ever. Over 220 thousand people died, among them Brazilian doctor Zilda Arns, founder of the Pastoral da Criança, and Brazilian diplomat Luiz Carlos da Costa, deputy head of the UN peace mission. Around 300 thousand people were injured and more than 1.5 million Haitians were forced out of their homes. Amid the destruction, a cholera epidemics spread through the population and led to a new wave of violence that had to be curbed with the use of force.
Sadly, Haiti's plight was far from over. In October 2016, the country was hit by Hurricane Matthew, which affected some 2 million people and killed hundreds. The hurricane also destroyed recently built water pipelines and sewage systems, causing floods and aggravating public health issues. The MINUSTAH troops were brought back again to clean roads and take water, food, and medication to stranded communities, as well as to help rebuild houses and restore infrastructure.
The Brazilians, who wore blue helmets as did all the agents working on the peace mission, also helped carry out engineering projects key to the reconstruction of Haiti. Of the 978 Brazilian officers in the country, 120 are members of the Force and Peace Engineering Company. Over the years, the company took part in the construction of schools, orphanages, hospitals, police units and roads, new military facilities, in addition to artesian wells, land regularization, and the removal of rubble and junk.
The 850 members of the infantry detachment are still charged with maintaining a safe and stable environment, conducting patrols, escorting convoys, inspecting key roads and avenues in the country and offering protection to other humanitarian efforts.
According to official figures from the federal government, Brazil invested some $784 million in MINUSTAH from 2004 to 2016. Approximately $135 million were reimbursed by the UN.
Translated by Fabrício Ferreira