The Brazilian news agencyGloboreported in late November that the South American nation has begun to (slowly) decrease the amount of troops it deploys to theU.N. peacekeeping operation in Haiti (MINUSTAH). Brazil continues to supply the majority of troops — including the commander of the operation,Lieutenant General Edson Leal Pujol— but according toGlobothe new contingent of army engineers that departed Brazil for the Caribbean island on November 26 have73 fewer personnel. Although this may not be a drastic decrease of troops overall, it does hint at the fact that troop contributing countries (TCC) may be experiencing “donor fatigue” regarding this particular U.N. peace operation.
MINUSTAH’s controversial origins date back to almost a decade ago, when Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide was overthrown in February 2004. After weeks of protests, Aristide was flown to theCentral African Republicand from there to South Africa, while Gerard Latortue became Prime Minister of the Caribbean country. It has often been alleged that theU.S. and Francewere behind Aristide’s overthrow. This theory stems from the fact that in 2003 Aristide demanded thatFrance pay Haiti US$21 billion, roughly the modern-day equivalent of the amount in gold francs Haiti paid France for its independence in 1804.
MINUSTAH’s more recent history is checker as well.Pakistani peacekeepershave been accused of raping a mentally challenged 14-year-old boy in the western town of Gonaives in 2012. In 2011,Uruguayan peacekeeperswere also accused of gang-raping a Haitian youth. Moreover,Nepalese peacekeepers are widely suspectedof having introduced cholera into Haiti in October 2010 (the strain of cholera in Haiti has been identified as South Asian in origin). The resultant and still-ongoing epidemic has killed overeight thousand people. Yes, MINUSTAH troops have done some good. When the deadly 2010 earthquake hit the Caribbean state, the peacekeepers provided badly needed aid to the local population and served as the backbone of the international relief effort. However, MINUSTAH is often in the news for the worst possible reasons.
Whether the situation in Haiti has improved to the point that it no longer requires an international peacekeeping force is up for debate. The country held successful presidential elections in April 2011 —Michel Martelly, a former singer, emerged victorious. But his presidency has been marred with corruption accusations and an unstable economy; there wereprotests demanding his removal from poweras recently as late November of this year. There is, as well, the aforementioned cholera crisis. And Haiti seems set to experience a population surge in the near future, as undocumented Haitians or Dominicans of Haitian descentmay be deported to Haitiafter the Dominican Republic passed a controversial law nullifying their citizenship. This mass influx will likely contribute to crime and insecurity.
Brazil is not alone in reconsidering MINUSTAH deployment. Uruguay’s President Jose Mujica declared in November that he was going to withdraw Uruguayan troops from MINUSTAH. “We don’t want MINUSTAH to become some kind of praetorian guard,” as theSouth American head of stateput it. But the force itself looks to have a reasonably stable institutional future. In October theU.N. Security Council votedto once again extend MINUSTAH’s mandate for another year. Moreover, other TCC nations have not made any recent declarations or moves to signal that they are considering leaving MINUSTAH. Peru still continues to rotate contingents of200 military personnelthrough deployments there.
And Brazil itself does not seem to be in a hurry to retire from MINUSTAH altogether, at least not in the near future. (My article in thescholarly journal Globalizationsproposes a simple reason for that: a leadership role in MINUSTAH ups Brazil’s global power status). Certainly, the decrease in supply of army engineers is an important development, but the Portuguese-speaking giant remains the largest contributor of troops to the operation (1,408 between military and police,according to U.N. statistics as of October 2013). It is doubtful that Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff will dramatically alter the country’s commitment in the near future (i.e. by ordering a full withdraw of Brazilian troops). Nevertheless, should another president emerge victorious in Brazil’s upcomingOctober 2014 elections, we may see a change of policy.
The ultimate question? Whether Haiti is ready to self-govern and maintain internal security for its citizens without a controversial and sometimes counterproductive international presence. Almost a decade after Aristide’s overthrow, the Caribbean state tragically does not seem to be in any better shape than when MINUSTAH was first created.