Last MINUSTAH Contingent Returns to Peru
By Gonzalo Silva Infante/Diálogo June 02, 2017On February 5, 2004, an uprising broke out in the city of Gonaïves, Haiti. This set off a crisis that led the UN Security Council to establish the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH, per its French acronym) on June 1, 2004. MINUSTAH’s mission was to help the transitional government establish a safe and stable environment, but as the years passed, new needs arose. It is in this context that Peru, a founding member of the United Nations in 1945, was one of the nations called upon to support the mission. “Peru offered the UN a certain number of personnel and materials. Based on that, when the subject of Haiti came up, the UN told Peru that it needed the support of companies of troops,” recalled Peruvian Navy Captain Guillermo Tuesta, commander of the Peacekeeping Operations Unit for the Armed Forces Joint Command. “Historically, Peru has a tradition of pacifism. Through its foreign and defense policies, Peru promotes neighborliness and participates as a member of the United Nations in the promotion of world peace,” explained Peruvian Air Force Major General (R) Rafael Ordóñez, deputy minister of Defense Policy. URUPERBAT combined forces During the 13 years in Haiti, Peru contributed 26 contingents and a total of 6,239 service members. From 2004 to 2015, the battalion was made up exclusively of Peruvian service members, but in February 2015, following the signing of a memorandum of understanding between the Peruvian and Uruguayan armed forces, the Uruguayan-Peruvian Battalion (URUPERBAT) was established. “Even though we are in the same region, our cultures and customs are different. Our disciplinary regime is different,” Capt. Tuesta said, recognizing that URUPERBAT represented a huge challenge. The differences, however, were more than overcome. That was confirmed by Peruvian Army Infantry Major José Ñavincopa, commander of the contingent of the group that just returned home. “During the mission, we were able to see things eye to eye. The proof of that is that we have been awarded the Medal of Military Merit by the Uruguayan Army,” he said. “This has been a positive experience because despite having the same Latin American culture, our doctrines are different, and in our joint work they are able to be unified, which is positive for our organization. Any joint participation with other countries favors integration, cooperation, and mutual understanding,” Deputy Minister Ordóñez added. Female presence Women’s participation in MINUSTAH began with the 14th contingent in 2011. “The role of women in the Peruvian Armed Forces is seen as important. When women first joined the Peruvian Armed Forces in the year 2000, the value of their participation was recognized, not only in fields of professional, political or economic activity but also in the military field,” Deputy Minister Ordóñez explained. “The closer involvement of female personnel is much more accepted than the soldier with his weapon because it gives a different face to the contingent,” said Capt. Tuesta, emphasizing the advantages of having a female presence in peacekeeping missions. In the final group of 160 Peruvian service members to return home, 11 were women. There have been 134 in total since they began participating in the mission. Mission accomplished In February, the Security Council met to evaluate the mission. The council reached the conclusion that there had been many improvements and, therefore, they had entered a new stage. “That’s why the decision was made to begin the withdrawal of the military part,” Capt. Tuesta pointed out, taking stock of the work that was done. “A man who is trained for warfare and for the defense of his homeland is in a faraway place, defending not only his nation’s territory but [also] defending world peace.” “It’s an amazing personal experience. Professionally, it gives you much more maturity, you become more humane, you work on real military operations,” said Maj. Ñavincopa. “For me, it has been an amazing experience to have commanded troops from three armed forces and to have represented my country once more in peacekeeping missions. People arrive with a different outlook. The maturity that happens, personally and professionally, is noticeable.” Deputy Minister Ordóñez summarized the Peruvians’ work in Haiti. “Satisfaction for a job well done. That phrase holds many meanings for each of the men and women who will be carrying out the mission, because their duty encompasses arduous training, study, and commitment, leaving their families, knowing that they are going to face challenges and risks, knowing that they [have to] keep up their morale, that discipline is the basis of efficiency. And recognizing that means carrying out our duty the way we planned to carry it out. That’s why I saw very proud faces at the ceremony,” he concluded.