"Haiti: Uruguay is withdrawing troops from UN Mission"
W. Alejandro Sanchez
January 18, 2015
Originally published: http://voxxi.com/2015/01/haiti-uruguay-leave-minustah/
Fallout continues in the wake of President Michel Martelly’s decision to dissolve Haiti’s parliament.
On Thursday, January 15, the Uruguayan government announced that in response to his controversial decision, the South American nation will withdraw its troops from the UN mission in Haiti, MINUSTAH.
While Uruguay is not the main contributor of troops to MINUSTAH, this decision highlights the fatigue and frustration that the international community is experiencing, as Haiti is unable to emerge from its constant domestic crises.
Haiti’s latest crisis stems from President Martelly and opposition parties’ inability to negotiate a new electoral law.
The BBC explains that the electoral schedule has become stagnant as “mid-term Senate elections had been originally due in May 2012, while local polls are three years behind schedule.”
How far this situation will deteriorate remains to be seen, as ongoing violent protests in the Caribbean state call for the president’s resignation. Violent overthrows are commonplace throughout Haitian history. Most recently, President Jean Bertrand Aristide was overthrown in 2004 (allegedly via a U.S.-sponsored coup).
Discussing the successes and shortcomings of MINUSTAH is beyond the scope of this article due to its complexity. Suffice it to say, the peacekeepers have generally tried to improve the situation in the country since 2004. Moreover, when the deadly January 2010 earthquake struck,MINUSTAH was the spearhead of first responders.
However, the UN mission has certainly had its faults. Most prominent is the widespread belief that Southeast Asian peacekeepers introduced cholera into the nation around October 2010. Over 9,000 Haitians have died since the outbreak began, and around 1,500 victims and family members recently tried to sue the UN (unsuccessfully).
Uruguay was not a major donor of troops, but its contribution was nonetheless significant.
According to MINUSTAH, as of December 31, 2014, the mission had a total of 7,213 total uniformed personnel, not including civilians, of which 595 were from Uruguay. This is not even half of the total of Brazil’s contribution (1,378 troops and police). Nevertheless, Uruguay’s departure means that MINUSTAH will lose a significant portion of its “blue helmets.”
But whether Uruguay can leave Haiti with its head held high is another matter. The tiny South American nation has contributed hundreds of troops to MINUSTAH and it was very active during the relief and reconstruction effort after the earthquake. For example, around 800 Uruguayan peacekeepers were in Haiti at the time, and Montevideo sent additional emergency personnel, water purifiers, and electricity generators.
On the other hand, Uruguayan peacekeepers have been at the center of accusations over human rights abuses. Case in point, in 2011, several Uruguayan soldiers were accused of raping a young Haitian man. The troops were sent back to Uruguay and in 2013, four Uruguayan naval personnel were sentenced to two years and a month in prison. The sentence has been condemned as barely a slap on the wrist.
Moreover, there is the question of what the country will lose by leaving MINUSTAH. Certainly the government, armed forces, and families will be happy that hundreds of Uruguayan military personnel are coming home. However, there will also be financial repercussions. The Uruguayan newspaper El Observador has declared the country will lose some $18 million USD that it received annually from the UN for participating in MINUSTAH.
In addition, there is the question of professional pride. MINUSTAH was a complex mission from the start, and while the presence and activities of Uruguayan peacekeepers was well intentioned, the 2011 rape incident will become a dark mark on the Uruguayan military’s record of peacekeeping operations.
Finally, there is the question of whether Uruguay’s decision will open the door for other countries to leave MINUSTAH. As previously mentioned, there is a feeling of frustration among participating nations, due to the mission’s controversial origins and severe accusations of human rights abuses. Additionally, 11 years since MINUSTAH’s inception, the country remains plagued by internal issues.
Uruguay is not the only country reducing its presence in Haiti. Brazil, which has been the most significant contributor of troops and leadership to MINUSTAH, began a modest reduction of its personnel contribution in 2013.
MINUSTAH’s mandate is up for renewal in October and if Haiti’s political woes continue and other nations withdraw, we could be on the verge of witnessing this mission’s twilight.