Shining a Light on Haiti

Shining a Light on Haiti

By Dialogo
January 14, 2015






The island of Hispaniola, shared by Haiti on the west and the Dominican Republic on the east, was one of many Caribbean islands inhabited by the Taíno Indians at the time of the European arrival in 1492. Ayiti (“land of high mountains”) was the indigenous Taíno name for the mountainous western side of the island, the inspiration for country's present-day name. Upon the arrival of Spanish settlers, disease and massacres decimated the native population, which fell from 500,000 to only 60,000 inhabitants in less than 15 years.

Centuries later, another tragedy decimated a large number of the population in Haiti. On January 12, 2010, an earthquake reaching 7.3 on the Richter scale rocked Haiti, leaving a trail of death and destruction in its wake. The Haitian government estimates the resulting death toll was greater than 230,000, and the International Red Cross says that up to three million people were affected.

Five years have passed since that terrible Tuesday afternoon, when nature brought Haiti to its knees in a matter of a few seconds. The world then followed a stream of shocking images charting the devastation on the news bulletins. In the days and weeks after the disaster, the international solidarity machine juddered into life.

Luckily, the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) – which celebrated its 10th anniversary on 1 June 2004 – was already in place and in full force, because its participation in the relief and reconstruction efforts was paramount to mitigating the suffering of the Haitian people.

“The training that takes place routinely between militaries around the world proved very beneficial during the disaster response to the 2010 earthquake in Haiti. Military forces were already in place in Haiti working under MINUSTAH. Additional military forces arrived from around the world in a matter of days. The ability of these forces to define their individual responsibilities, coordinate their efforts, support one another, talk, operate, and adjust as the response situation changed are a tribute to their professionalism, to their common focus on helping the Haitian people, and to the familiarity they have with one another gained through recurring joint and combined training. The response would have been much less effective without this interoperability,” says retired General Douglas Fraser, commander of the United States Southern Command (SOUTHCOM) at the time of the earthquake.

The international community immediately responded with an outpouring of relief efforts and solidarity to the crisis, providing critical humanitarian aid to the Haitian population at the request of the government of Haiti. Billions of dollars were raised, and humanitarian agencies from all over the world raced to send aid and relief operators. However, without an almost seamless coordination between the military forces on the ground, the government of Haiti, and non-government organizations (NGOs), the task of organizing the distribution of all incoming disaster relief would have been insurmountable, if not close to impossible.

Retired Lieutenant General Ken Keen, who commanded the U.S. Joint Task Force Haiti (20,000+ American troops) and was in Port-au-Prince when the earthquake hit, agrees. “Faced with tremendous obstacles and significant loss of life, the United Nations and MINUSTAH, led by then-Major General Floriano Peixoto, from Brazil, demonstrated the true spirit of collaboration and coordination in seeking to respond rapidly and effectively in Haiti's darkest hour. The United States response, led by the USAID and supported by SOUTHCOM's Joint Task Force, along with other countries from the region and around the world, demonstrated that same spirit and made working together and with the Haitian government and people a priority.”

Much of the planning for the huge task of managing and maximizing the presence of thousands of aid workers who flocked to Haiti from different parts of the world, and finding the best way to distribute all the food and supplies, fell on the hands of MINUSTAH’s force commander, retired Lieutenant General Peixoto. “Interoperability is a fundamental requirement to achieving success in asymmetric environments that characterize current conflicts, considered fourth generation conflicts, whether to implement the military apparatus to confront oncoming threats or in scenarios where the forces work in pursuit of the stabilization of an environment, such as occurred in Haiti, once the initial attrition phases were overcome. Interoperability ensures that all elements are synchronized according to principles, operational procedures and technical training for the fulfillment of the various missions imposed on them. Only the integration of efforts based on those conditions, aligned with the same objectives, under strong leaders at all levels can provide a consistent chance of success.”

“The Haitian earthquake experience serves to remind all of us and demonstrate the importance of the interoperability of our military forces and ability to seamlessly work with other government agencies and non-government organizations. The more we are able to train and operate together, share lessons, and conduct joint and combined exercises, the better prepared all of us will be in responding to the next crisis or disaster,” added Gen. Keen.

One positive aspect that the earthquake left in its wake, however, is the lessons learned from the experience, and is best summarized by Gen. Fraser:


Unity of Effort – building a common understanding of mission, priorities, capability, and limitations of each of the myriad organizations responding to the disaster and effectively coordinating their efforts is difficult but critical to success.

Unity of Information – in today's information age, information flows from the disaster area to national capitals and international public and private organizations through a myriad information channels. Sifting through this flood of information to build an understanding of needs, especially early in a response phase, is a daunting challenge, but a critical requirement. The effectiveness of the response effort increases dramatically with the speed at which unity of information is achieved.

Unity of logistics – disaster-response operations depend on logistics – the speed of getting the right support to the right place, the right people, at the right time. Quickly building a common understanding and priority of logistics support dramatically improves the speed and effectiveness of any disaster response effort.


“Additionally, the experience of relating to other sectors and representatives of the United Nations also deployed in Haiti, was an exceptional opportunity to practice interagency relationship building, which is so important in today's complex world,” added Gen. Peixoto. “After the earthquake, the demands that emerged exposed the force commander and his subordinates to constant capability challenges aimed toward solving extremely critical situations that overpowered all those who were affected by the event. On that opportunity, I must mention the rich experience I had in relating to military contingents from other countries, international agencies, international leaders and various organizations that helped the country with substantial humanitarian aid. The military component was, in fact, the only one not affected by the earthquake, in terms of capacity and response readiness, despite the casualties that occurred. With that, we were able to lead in providing immediate disaster relief, as well as maintain the effort aimed at security, as established by the terms of the U.N. Mandate.”

The devastating earthquake also claimed the lives of foreign residents in Haiti and of military personnel and police officers stationed at MINUSTAH. “I am reminded of Lieutenant Colonel Ken Bourland, a SOUTHCOM Foreign Area Officer and Haiti Desk Officer that was among the more than 200,000 who perished in the Haiti earthquake, and dedicated himself to providing our military's support to Haiti and interoperability with others in providing that support. This January 12th we should all pause to remember and shine a light on Haiti,” concluded Lt. Gen. Keen.
A bunch of lies. Very strange. As far as I know, those in command of the troops in Haiti from the very beginning are the generals in the Brazilian Army. What is all this talk praising the names of a lot of American generals? Not true at all. All of the merit for the operations in Haiti should go to the Brazilian commanders and military supported by some foreign troops, but not Americans, who arrived immediately after the earthquake, stayed shortly and then left. There is a latent conflict about which much of the world does not seem to know. The Dominican Republic can not support a massive invasion of Haitian citizens and do nothing. Haiti is an albatross around the Dominican Republic's neck in terms of economic growth. It is an undesired and inconvenient emigration for us. We just hope that our brotherly countries put themselves in our place to understand us. Imagine yourselves invaded by tens of thousands of individuals, undocumented, illiterate, sick and unfriendly, because in their mind this land belongs to them. And above all, a country which has been responsible for serious aggression against and genocide of our population in the past. We have been compassionate and generous with them, but the situation now is impossible to sustain, to the point that the government is pushing for a massive repatriation of illegals otherwise the people will do it on their own. We, the Dominicans, are who have done the most for Haiti. All the rest is rubbish and propaganda. If we hadn't arrived, especially Dr. Leonel Fernandez, President of the Dominican Republic, even feeling the stinging replies. We don't even want to think about what would have happened there. The Dominicans helped Haiti first, not the United States.
The island of Hispaniola, shared by Haiti on the west and the Dominican Republic on the east, was one of many Caribbean islands inhabited by the Taíno Indians at the time of the European arrival in 1492. Ayiti (“land of high mountains”) was the indigenous Taíno name for the mountainous western side of the island, the inspiration for country's present-day name. Upon the arrival of Spanish settlers, disease and massacres decimated the native population, which fell from 500,000 to only 60,000 inhabitants in less than 15 years.
Centuries later, another tragedy decimated a large number of the population in Haiti. On January 12, 2010, an earthquake reaching 7.3 on the Richter scale rocked Haiti, leaving a trail of death and destruction in its wake. The Haitian government estimates the resulting death toll was greater than 230,000, and the International Red Cross says that up to three million people were affected.
Five years have passed since that terrible Tuesday afternoon, when nature brought Haiti to its knees in a matter of a few seconds. The world then followed a stream of shocking images charting the devastation on the news bulletins. In the days and weeks after the disaster, the international solidarity machine juddered into life.
Luckily, the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) – which celebrated its 10th anniversary on 1 June 2004 – was already in place and in full force, because its participation in the relief and reconstruction efforts was paramount to mitigating the suffering of the Haitian people.
“The training that takes place routinely between militaries around the world proved very beneficial during the disaster response to the 2010 earthquake in Haiti. Military forces were already in place in Haiti working under MINUSTAH. Additional military forces arrived from around the world in a matter of days. The ability of these forces to define their individual responsibilities, coordinate their efforts, support one another, talk, operate, and adjust as the response situation changed are a tribute to their professionalism, to their common focus on helping the Haitian people, and to the familiarity they have with one another gained through recurring joint and combined training. The response would have been much less effective without this interoperability,” says retired General Douglas Fraser, commander of the United States Southern Command (SOUTHCOM) at the time of the earthquake.
The international community immediately responded with an outpouring of relief efforts and solidarity to the crisis, providing critical humanitarian aid to the Haitian population at the request of the government of Haiti. Billions of dollars were raised, and humanitarian agencies from all over the world raced to send aid and relief operators. However, without an almost seamless coordination between the military forces on the ground, the government of Haiti, and non-government organizations (NGOs), the task of organizing the distribution of all incoming disaster relief would have been insurmountable, if not close to impossible.
Retired Lieutenant General Ken Keen, who commanded the U.S. Joint Task Force Haiti (20,000+ American troops) and was in Port-au-Prince when the earthquake hit, agrees. “Faced with tremendous obstacles and significant loss of life, the United Nations and MINUSTAH, led by then-Major General Floriano Peixoto, from Brazil, demonstrated the true spirit of collaboration and coordination in seeking to respond rapidly and effectively in Haiti's darkest hour. The United States response, led by the USAID and supported by SOUTHCOM's Joint Task Force, along with other countries from the region and around the world, demonstrated that same spirit and made working together and with the Haitian government and people a priority.”
Much of the planning for the huge task of managing and maximizing the presence of thousands of aid workers who flocked to Haiti from different parts of the world, and finding the best way to distribute all the food and supplies, fell on the hands of MINUSTAH’s force commander, retired Lieutenant General Peixoto. “Interoperability is a fundamental requirement to achieving success in asymmetric environments that characterize current conflicts, considered fourth generation conflicts, whether to implement the military apparatus to confront oncoming threats or in scenarios where the forces work in pursuit of the stabilization of an environment, such as occurred in Haiti, once the initial attrition phases were overcome. Interoperability ensures that all elements are synchronized according to principles, operational procedures and technical training for the fulfillment of the various missions imposed on them. Only the integration of efforts based on those conditions, aligned with the same objectives, under strong leaders at all levels can provide a consistent chance of success.”
“The Haitian earthquake experience serves to remind all of us and demonstrate the importance of the interoperability of our military forces and ability to seamlessly work with other government agencies and non-government organizations. The more we are able to train and operate together, share lessons, and conduct joint and combined exercises, the better prepared all of us will be in responding to the next crisis or disaster,” added Gen. Keen.
One positive aspect that the earthquake left in its wake, however, is the lessons learned from the experience, and is best summarized by Gen. Fraser:

Unity of Effort – building a common understanding of mission, priorities, capability, and limitations of each of the myriad organizations responding to the disaster and effectively coordinating their efforts is difficult but critical to success.

Unity of Information – in today's information age, information flows from the disaster area to national capitals and international public and private organizations through a myriad information channels. Sifting through this flood of information to build an understanding of needs, especially early in a response phase, is a daunting challenge, but a critical requirement. The effectiveness of the response effort increases dramatically with the speed at which unity of information is achieved.

Unity of logistics – disaster-response operations depend on logistics – the speed of getting the right support to the right place, the right people, at the right time. Quickly building a common understanding and priority of logistics support dramatically improves the speed and effectiveness of any disaster response effort.

“Additionally, the experience of relating to other sectors and representatives of the United Nations also deployed in Haiti, was an exceptional opportunity to practice interagency relationship building, which is so important in today's complex world,” added Gen. Peixoto. “After the earthquake, the demands that emerged exposed the force commander and his subordinates to constant capability challenges aimed toward solving extremely critical situations that overpowered all those who were affected by the event. On that opportunity, I must mention the rich experience I had in relating to military contingents from other countries, international agencies, international leaders and various organizations that helped the country with substantial humanitarian aid. The military component was, in fact, the only one not affected by the earthquake, in terms of capacity and response readiness, despite the casualties that occurred. With that, we were able to lead in providing immediate disaster relief, as well as maintain the effort aimed at security, as established by the terms of the U.N. Mandate.”
The devastating earthquake also claimed the lives of foreign residents in Haiti and of military personnel and police officers stationed at MINUSTAH. “I am reminded of Lieutenant Colonel Ken Bourland, a SOUTHCOM Foreign Area Officer and Haiti Desk Officer that was among the more than 200,000 who perished in the Haiti earthquake, and dedicated himself to providing our military's support to Haiti and interoperability with others in providing that support. This January 12th we should all pause to remember and shine a light on Haiti,” concluded Lt. Gen. Keen.
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