Chile Analyzes Future Role in MINUSTAH Peacekeeping Force in Haiti
By Dialogo November 27, 2012
SANTIAGO — Chile’s contribution to the eight-year-old United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) has given the country a rare opportunity to showcase the professionalism and leadership of its troops on foreign soil, say Chilean military officials speaking at an Oct. 31 seminar held in Santiago.
The event, “El Rol de Chile en la MINUSTAH: Experiencias y Perspectivas de las Operaciones de Paz,” took place at the Ministry of Defense and was organized by the ministry’s National Academy of Political Studies and Strategies [Academia Nacional de Estudios Políticos y Estratégicos].
MINUSTAH was born out of UN Security Resolution 1582, which was ratified in April 2004 following the resignation of Haiti’s then-president, Jean-Bertrand Aristide. The resolution cited concerns of “human rights violations, particularly against civilians” as the prime cause for intervening in Haiti.
Alfredo García, director of international and human security at Chile’s Foreign Ministry, notes that his country’s role in
MINUSTAH follows 65 years of participation in global peacekeeping and observation missions. Yet this mission marks the first United Nations campaign that’s been led by and comprised almost exclusively of Latin American forces.
Both Chile and Brazil have taken lead roles within MINUSTAH, with Argentina, Uruguay, Bolivia, Ecuador and Guatemala, among others, contributing to the effort.
García, who is also Chile’s ambassador to Jamaica, said the mission has helped Chile advance its role within the United Nations while creating chances to cooperate with other Latin American forces. For example, Chilean and Ecuadorean peacekeeping troops recently teamed up to help clear debris and rebuild infrastructure following the 7.0-magnitude earthquake that destroyed Port-au-Prince in January 2010.
MINUSTAH’s changing mission
Col. Valentín Segura, director of the Chilean Joint Peacekeeping Operations Center (CECOPAC) in Santiago, said MINUSTAH has provided a crucial environment for Chile’s army, navy and police forces to get valuable experience. About 500 Chilean peacekeepers currently serve under the MINUSTAH banner.
“It’s been a way to reach a professionalism that would be difficult to find in here in Chile,” Segura said.
In addition, he said, the fact that MINUSTAH has been led and managed predominantly by Latin American troops has helped it gain local acceptance — allowing the peacekeepers to be seen as a positive force, rather than as occupiers or invaders.
Chile’s central police agency, Carabineros de Chile, has also played a key role in preparing Haiti’s police force to take a lead role in providing security. As such, its work has focused mainly on professional training and the vetting of new recruits.
Mariano Fernández, the UN’s special representative for Haiti and current head of MINUSTAH, said the mission is gradually transitioning away from its traditional military role of providing security and supporting the police to a more political effort to build up Haiti’s democratic institutions.
2010 quake changed everything
At present, MINUSTAH operates in Haiti on a $648.4 million annual budget. The mission currently has 10 aircraft including nine helicopters at its disposal, and relies on the services of 7,340 peacekeeping troops, 1,351 police officers, 1,790 formed police units, 2,274 civilians and 100 government personnel.
Nineteen countries contribute to the peacekeeping force, while 46 countries maintain police officers in Haiti under the MINUSTAH banner.
Former MINUSTAH staffer Natalia Contreras, now an advisor to the UN for Chile, said the Haiti operation has passed through several distinct phases. The first, lasting from 2004 to 2006, centered on bringing security to Haiti and reducing the level of violence.
This, she said, led to a vetting process within Haiti’s public services and police forces, weeding out criminal elements. The January 2010 earthquake brought this second phase to a crashing halt, changing the makeup of MINUSTAH’s presence as well as its mission going forward.
Among other things, the quake killed the head of the mission, Hédi Annabi, along with another 101 members of the peacekeeping force. Chilean Gen. Ricardo Torres lost his wife in the catastrophe. An estimated 220,000 people died in the earthquake, while another 1.5 million were left homeless.
“It was a regression of such magnitude that the Security Council saw it an obligation to send more troops,” said Contreras.
Aside from the civilian losses, Haiti’s state institutions were also heavily affected. Fernández said nearly a third of all public employees died in the quake, creating a vast breach in terms of operational capacity and know-how.
Sandy: the latest catastrophe
In late October, MINUSTAH once again mobilized its 12,855 uniformed peacekeeping troops, police officers and civilian personnel — this time in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, which dumped 20 inches of rain on the Caribbean nation in a 24-hour period.
Sandy’s fierce winds and subsequent flooding killed 54 Haitians, left tens of thousands more homeless, and destroyed roughly 70 percent of the food crops in southern Haiti, including plantains, bananas and maize, leaving some 1.2 million people at risk.
Chilean Sen. Juan Antonio Coloma said his country’s continued participation in MINUSTAH hinges on what’s likely to happen as the mission moves from conflict resolution to nation-building, with a focus on economic and institutional development.
“We have a very complex debate here, related to the shifting of circumstances and reasons of why we are there,” said Coloma, adding that Chile’s constitutional constraints must be considered if the country is to continue supplying troops for future peacekeeping missions in regions outside of Latin America, such as Africa or the Middle East.