In early March 2004, part of a Chilean battalion arrived on Air Force planes in Port-au-Prince to join the Multinational Interim Force authorized by United Nations Security Council Resolution 1529 to support the peaceful and constitutional continuation of the political process and to maintain a secure and stable environment. Together with forces from other partner nations, 160 Chileans, the majority of them members of the special forces, quickly assimilated the conditions of chaos and the lack of public safety that prevailed at that time. Days later, after the Chilean Congress authorized it, they received reinforcement from 350 Infantry troops with their respective combat supports.
Thus began Operation Secure Tomorrow, which by the end of April already had 2,000 United States, around 900 French, more than 500 Canadian, and nearly 350 Chilean personnel. Chile joined other nations that were trained for rapid and effective deployments in hostile environments, and it had a successful debut in its assignments to various peacekeeping operations.
Today’s United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH, per its French acronym), replaced the Multinational Interim Force on June 1st of that year, and it has come to include more than 6,700 personnel from various countries.
Reaping the rewards
Thirteen years later, Haiti has experienced various positive changes, particularly in terms of the security and stability of its population. On October 13, 2016, the UN Security Council passed Resolution 2313, which extended MINUSTAH’s mandate to April 15, 2017. In said resolution, the Security Council decided that the maximum MINUSTAH contingency would be 2,370 service members and a police component of 2,601 personnel.
On August 31, 2016, the Chilean Permanent Mission to the UN informed the United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, Hervé Ladsous, of the decision to withdraw Chilean troops from Haiti in the second half of April 2017. Included in the aforementioned document was the withdrawal of service members and other personnel from the general headquarters. The notice indicated, however, a willingness to maintain the presence of the police personnel.
Since that date, the withdrawal of the Chilean forces has been planned in different stages. The Chilean units began their withdrawal on April 15th, after standing down their operations. Similarly, the Salvadoran, Honduran, and Mexican contingents that were part of the joint international force will also be withdrawn.
For Chile’s Minister of Defense, José Antonio Gómez, the expectations that the UN placed on his nation to support Haiti were met. “Proof of that is how their responsibilities kept increasing. We were part of the operational command of the troops deployed there, and we were even represented by the secretary general through Ambassador Juan Gabriel Valdés. Chile was an active member in this mission and we are returning home with the satisfaction of a job well done, having returned the nation of Haiti to its development of democratic institutions.”
Evidence of the level of comprehensive development and the scope of Chile’s capabilities was demonstrated in its withdrawal plan. “The fact that the withdrawal of our forces is being carried out using our own resources, those that our national defense keeps in a constant state of operational readiness, holds great political and strategic significance. It mainly shows that Chile is capable of acting in situations beyond its region without needing to resort to contracting private services for its deployment,” Gómez added.
“The experience, interoperability, skills, and abilities that all of our personnel have acquired through their participation in these operations in Haiti are invaluable, and they have been carried over to the rest of our Chilean Armed Forces as lessons learned, being incorporated into our institutional doctrines for education and training,” said Air Force Lieutenant General Arturo Merino Núñez, chief of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. “Our troops’ conduct in the Haitian operations was exemplary. According to my assessment, having analyzed 13 years of operations — a period in which nearly 12,000 Chilean personnel participated — I believe that the conduct of our personnel was outstanding. No incidents were recorded that could be characterized as crimes. There were just a few isolated cases that were dealt with through disciplinary action in accordance with Chilean military regulations, and that are capable of occurring given the size of the force that was deployed,” he asserted.
Chile’s participation in Haiti has had a significant impact on the development of mechanisms for international cooperation in the area of defense. The work carried out from June 2004 onward by the Joint Chilean-Ecuadorian Engineering Company, which returned home in 2015, represented a novel effort in the South American region with regard to joining together the willingness of states and their defense institutions to contribute to the control, consolidation, and protection of peace in a sister nation. This initiative marked a turning point in the region, and in Chile’s case, that was translated into its collaboration with El Salvador, Honduras, and Mexico, which, in 2013, 2014, and 2015, respectively, were incorporated into MINUSTAH’s Chile Battalion.
The purpose of this development is to improve the standards of enlistment and training in the Chilean Armed Forces, a situation that has undergone an empirical review through the involvement of Chile’s Armed and Security Forces in national emergency situations in which they have employed the experiences and capabilities acquired in the Haitian operations. Chile is leaving behind great work in Haiti; work which, over the course of 13 years of uninterrupted relations, has seen moments of joy for each achievement, but also moments of sadness when mourning their fallen.