Haiti: Latin America-Led Peacekeeping Operation


By Gustavo González

Inter Press Service
November 5, 2004

Analysts in Latin America are not overly optimistic with respect to the prospect of success for the United Nations peacekeeping mission aimed at stabilising Haiti, in which Brazil and Chile are playing a key role.

Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva's chief foreign policy adviser Marco Aurelio Garcí­a flew to Haiti on Friday with what appeared to be a mission impossible: bringing the different political and military factions together for talks in order to pave the way for the longed-for stability. The new upsurge of violence in Haiti since Hurricane Jeanne wrought havoc there in September meant it was practically back to zero for the U.N. mission's efforts to stabilise the country on a Security Council mandate issued after the controversial ouster of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide on Feb. 29. The current Haitian government, headed by interim President Boniface Alexandre (the chief justice of the Supreme Court) and Prime Minister Gérard Latortue, has pledged to hold elections in 2005, but has so far failed to bring about any semblance of stability.

Brazil is leading the U.N. mission of 3,500 peacekeeping troops, of which it has provided the largest contingent (1,200). Other Latin American countries that have sent soldiers are Chile, Argentina and Uruguay. Also participating are France, Sri Lanka, Spain, Morocco, and China. Brazilian Foreign Minister Celso Amorim has repeatedly reminded the governments of the United States and France of the need to bring the number of "blue helmets" up to the 6,500 originally projected by the U.N., in order to control the armed groups that have been active again in Haiti since late September, killing at least 60 people. The success of the U.N. Stabilisation Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH), headed by former Chilean foreign minister Juan Gabriel Valdés, also depends on whether or not the world's rich nations will contribute the one billion dollars considered necessary to get the Haitian economy back on its feet over the next two years.

Valdés, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan's special representative in Haiti, acknowledged this week in Santiago that the concern of officials in Chile and other Latin American countries is legitimate regarding the deterioration in the situation in the Caribbean island nation. "I hope the conditions in Haiti a year from now will be substantially better than they are today," the diplomat, the highest U.N. official in Port-au-Prince, said Wednesday, after meeting here with President Ricardo Lagos. Valdés said he provided Lagos with a "realistic" report on the situation in Haiti, which remains difficult, but with some room for hope. "I have called on Haitian society to engage in a broad dialogue, and to that end I have been meeting recently with local authorities, business leaders, politicians and representatives of the church," said Valdés, who added that there is "a spirit of dialogue" since the tragedy caused by Hurricane Jeanne, and an interest in implementing four or five development projects in Haiti. As the current Latin American representatives among the non-permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, Brazil and Chile became involved in the Haitian crisis as the region's bridgehead.

Argemiro Procopio, a professor of international relations at the University of Brasilia, in the Brazilian capital, told IPS that Haiti looks like it might become "the first failure of President Lula's foreign policy", since "the situation is getting worse, and for now there's no solution in sight." According to Procopio, Brazil was hoping to strengthen its international prestige -- "taking advantage of the proximity of Haiti and the United States" -- and supposed that pacification would be relatively easy. He noted that it even sent the national football team to play a goodwill match in Haiti in August, to promote peace and reconciliation. But, he said, "there was an error of evaluation" which led the Brazilian government to stake its bets on success on the military front, rather than putting the accent on development aid, "which would be coherent with Lula's slogan of zero hunger in the world." "You don't fight with weapons what can be fought with bread," he said. But Procopio did not believe that Brazil had become involved in Haiti as part of its bid to win a permanent seat on the U.N. Security Council. "The United States does not want to expand the Council now that it enjoys hegemonic power in a unipolar world. Nor does Europe, as it is already represented by three permanent members (Britain, France and Russia)," he said.

"I think the possibility of success for this joint Latin American peacekeeping operation is fading, and that is bad," analyst Walter Sánchez, at the University of Chile Institute of International Studies, told IPS. Latin America has also failed to come together as a region to help find a solution to the armed conflict in Colombia, which thus reduces its authority to oppose "intervention by others," Sánchez added. But Senator Ricardo Núñez, the spokesman for international affairs of Chile's co-governing Socialist Party, took a more upbeat tone. "I believe we aren't going to fail in Haiti, although the missions, both military and political, will be difficult," he remarked to IPS. "I think Latin America, with Brazil and Chile and the others, is in a position to give a different focus to the process of re-establishing normalcy and peace in Haiti," he said. "It is Europe and the United States that have failed, after trying to help establish order in the past but being unable to do so." Núñez clarified that he did not foresee success in the near future, but in the medium to long-range, once certain basic conditions are in place, such as achieving effective development that would create a more dynamic economic foundation which would generate jobs, because in his view it is not enough merely to attack the dire poverty that plagues two-thirds of Haiti's eight million people.

Haiti's economic prospects are dismal. In August, the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) predicted that the Haitian economy would shrink between two and five percent in the October 2003-September 2004 fiscal year. In an e-mail interview with IPS, the head of the economic development section of the ECLAC office in Mexico, José Octavio Martí­nez, said the flooding caused by hurricane Jeanne in September had "a considerable recessive impact" on agriculture, which accounts for 25 percent of Haiti's gross domestic product (GDP).

Before the storm hit, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) projected that Haitian GDP would grow around three percent in the 2004-2005 fiscal year, as long as the foreign aid began to flow again. "But against this new backdrop, growth forecasts have been significantly scaled back," said Martí­nez, who underlined that 32 million dollars in humanitarian aid are needed immediately, and recalled Annan's appeal to the international community to provide steady, long-term support for the Caribbean nation. Núñez said there is a tendency to squander foreign aid in Haiti, and that to become governable, the country needs something that it has never had: a solid party system.

For Sánchez, what is needed is a long-term international operation, because it will not be easy to restore "a minimal level of growth in a country like Haiti, which has a history marked by failure from the political, economic and social standpoint." Ricardo Seitenfuns, a professor at the Federal University of Santa Marí­a, in southern Brazil, said the crisis in Haiti "is not about extreme poverty, organised crime involved in drug trafficking and other criminal pursuits, or even the growing urban violence or scarce presence of the State. It is about the outright absence of the State." Seitenfuns, who was sent to Haiti as an envoy of the Brazilian government, wrote in the Folha de Sao Paulo newspaper that public criticism of the deployment of troops to that country reveals "profound ignorance", because "the only protection that the defenceless people of Haiti can count on is what is provided by the foreign troops."

With additional reporting by Mario Osava in Brazil.

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