UN Peacekeeping Mission Downsized as Haiti Slowly Recovers
By Dialogo October 18, 2011
SANTO DOMINGO — As the United Nations prepares to draw down its massive peacekeeping operations in Haiti, the chief of that mission, Mariano Fernández, says his top priority is to help the country rebuild its earthquake-ravaged security institutions.
Fernández, a former Chilean foreign minister who’s headed the UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti (known by its French acronym Minustah) since mid-June, said his ultimate objective is to make the mission no longer necessary.
“Minustah was established in 2004 because of the turmoil and instability in Haiti. Towards the end of the [Réné] Préval government, the United Nations thought it was time to reduce the mission because Haiti was much more stable,” Fernández told Diálogo. “But then the earthquake struck, and that was a huge setback. It destroyed Port-au-Prince and killed more than 200,000 people.”
In response to the January 2010 tragedy, the UN authorized Minustah to boost its operational capacity dramatically. Its current annual budget is $793.5 million, up from $570 million before the earthquake, and the mission currently has 12,242 uniformed personnel — nearly double the 6,940 it had back in October 2009. That includes 8,718 troops and 3,524 police officers. Minustah also employs 564 international civilian personnel, 1,338 local civilian staff and 231 UN volunteers throughout Haiti.
Peacekeeping troops come from Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Ecuador, France, Guatemala, Japan, Jordan, Nepal, Paraguay, Peru, Philippines, South Korea, Sri Lanka, United States and Uruguay, while police personnel hail from 47 countries.
The Minustah chief spoke to Diálogo on the sidelines of the 12th Biarritz Forum, an annual gathering of European and Latin American leaders held this year in Santo Domingo. The Oct. 13-14 event was attended by nearly 1,000 people from 18 countries and addressed by both Haitian President Michel Martelly and Dominican President Leonél Fernández as well as half a dozen ex-presidents from throughout the region.
Minustah’s key challenge: weak institutions
Ambassador Fernández, 66, took over Minustah’s mantle from Edmond Mulet, a Guatemalan lawyer who now directs the UN’s peacekeeping missions worldwide. As the mission’s top official, Fernández oversees a peacekeeping force comprised 70 percent by soldiers from Argentina, Brazil, Chile and other Latin American countries.
“Peacekeeping operations are very expensive,” he said, estimating that Minustah spends $120 million to $130 million annually on contracts with Haitian companies and vendors. The mission has eight helicopters at its disposal — four from Chile, two from Argentina and two from Ukraine — as well as one Dash 7 turboprop made by Bombardier and a C-140 Jetstar transport plane.
Fernández said Minustah’s biggest challenge is building up the country’s historically weak police and security forces.
“We have seen success in two areas: cooperation with the Haitian National Police has improved a lot, and the operation against gangs has also been successful, particularly Operation Phoenix in July, when we hit some gangs in critical areas of Port-au-Prince. This is a success story,” he said.
“We are also working on a plan for reforming the police. There are now 10,000 police officers, and the Haitian police force is in much better condition than it was two or three years ago. We’re in the process of setting up a superior police academy in Port-au-Prince, to provide them with new professional skills. They will have to attend the academy and pass examinations.”
In addition, said Fernández, “Minustah is fostering collaboration between Haitian and Dominican police. The general director of the Dominican National Police, José Polanco Gómez, visited Haiti for the first time ever and met with his Haitian counterpart, Mario Andresol, who also came to the D.R. There is also close political cooperation between the two presidents, Martelly and [Leonel] Fernández. In the end, it’s one island.”
Focus on rural areas
The UN official said he typically wakes up around 6 a.m., because it takes him one hour to get to his office. Minustah’s old headquarters at the Hotel Cristophe in suburban Petionville was destroyed in the earthquake; it has since relocated to a logistics base near Port-au-Prince International Airport.
Fernández devoted his entire first month in Haiti to Port-au-Prince; more recently, he’s spent a considerable amount of time visiting Leogrande, Le Cayes, Cap Haitien and other outlying regions — as well as meeting members of Haiti’s parliament and coordinating Minustah’s activities with other UN agencies operating in Haiti.
“We are building a special cholera treatment unit in Cap-Haitien and providing eight smaller cities with multipurpose halls, because the earthquake destroyed so many public buildings,” he said. “We are also setting up street lamps in a country that goes dark at night, because there is no light in the streets, especially in Cite Soleil [a crime-ridden slum of Port-au-Prince]. Wherever you have street lamps, you have more security.”
As a presidential candidate, Martelly vowed to reconstitute Haiti’s Armed Forces — an institution that had been demobilized in 1995 by then-President Jean-Bertrand Aristide. Since then, Haiti’s government has twice tried to organize a national police force, with mixed results.
Johanna Mendelson Forman, a senior associate at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, wrote in a recent guest column that “Martelly rightly acknowledges the need for a professional corps to guarantee safety in rural areas; protect the border and the coastline, and act as first responder in a country prone to natural disasters.”
But these functions, she says, are better served by a different force.
“An army’s role is to defend against external enemies. But Haiti has none. Haiti faces internal and transnational threats that a gendarmerie or territorial civil defense force would more appropriately address,” said Forman, whose column appeared in the Miami Herald. “Such a force would serve as both police and national guard, covering the otherwise lawless areas outside of Port-au-Prince and preparing Haiti for the types of security challenges it will face in the future.”
Until 1987, under the old regime of François “Baby Doc” Duvalier, the Haitian police formed part of the Haitian Army and had 14,000 members. Later, when Haiti’s civilian police force was established in 1995, it had shrunk to only 8,500 officers; Minustah aims to boost that to 14,000 by 2012.
“Once Haiti has the institutions in place to protect its citizens, then Minustah will be much closer to leaving,” said Fernández. “We hope that with the new prime minister in office, we can collaborate on getting these institutions not only approved but really working in the way they need to work for society.”
But that’s easier said than done. It took four months after Martelly’s election as president for parliament to approve a new prime minister, Garry Conille, after it rejected two earlier candidates.
Downsizing the UN mission
Looking toward the future, Fernández said Minustah plans to reduce its total force by roughly 1,800 soldiers, 1,200 police officers and 350 civilians. Its budget will be cut accordingly, though exact figures haven’t yet been determined.
“I have a positive view of what will happen in Haiti, compared with how it was right after the earthquake. The Security Council felt very comfortable with our approach to reduce troops now. If we continue working in a positive way, you will see the country stabilize.”
Asked if Costa Rica and Panama — which both abolished their armies long ago — are examples for Haiti to follow, Fernández said: “In principle, every state has the right to have an army. This could be a model, but I’m not pushing for it. We are analyzing the information, and when I have an opinion, I will share it in private with the president.”
Gregory Mevs, a leading Haitian businessman who sits on the Strategic Initiatives Committee of Haiti’s recently created Presidential Advisory Council, says “it’s a nation’s legitimate right” to protect its borders and its people.
“The army, in the Haitian definition, has always been more of a gendarmarie or national guard. But let’s not get lost in semantics,” said Mevs. “Ten thousand people cannot assume the security of 10 million. I don’t think this is about ideology or pride. But it’s not for me to say how to do it. There’s a search to find a model that works, and the debate is still out there.”
José María Figueres — a former president of Costa Rica and a West Point graduate — was far less cautious on that subject.
“My impression is that for a country like Haiti, with so many demands, to now begin to think of taking resources away from development to allocate to the building of an army makes no sense,” said Figueres, who now sits on the same Presidential Advisory Council, which is co-chaired by Martelly and former U.S. President Bill Clinton.
“The world today is about making friends, not enemies — establishing alliances, not differences,” Figueres told Dialogo. “The wars we have to fight are the wars against malnutrition, disease and mediocre education.”
angela barcena; nurse who worked in level 2 hospital in 2005 in MINUSTAH