Ninety military engineers with the Armed Forces of Ecuador recently completed a series of reconstruction projects in Haiti, part of the ongoing effort to rebuild the country following the major earthquake which devastated the Caribbean country on January 12, 2010.
The earthquake registered at 7.3 on the Richter scale, killed as many as 316,000 people, and destroyed or severely damaged 250,000 residences and 30,000 commercial buildings, according to Haitian authorities.
The recent effort was the fourth such mission completed by Ecuadorean engineers since the earthquake struck.
On May 21, 2010, the Ecuadorean government declared it was mobilizing the Armed Forces to provide humanitarian assistance to Haiti. Each of the three branches of the military – the Army, Navy, and Air Force – were mobilized. Ecuador also donated heavy equipment worth $10.4 million. Including building materials and the value of the labor of the soldiers and volunteers, Ecuador contributed about $30 million to the reconstruction effort.
The reconstruction work was carried out under the framework of the South-South Cooperation, an ongoing exchange of technology, equipment, and military resources between countries in the global South. The Army Corps of Engineers led the effort, in which members of the three branches of the military repaired or constructed dozens of schools, bridges, and sewage systems, which benefitted 150,000 Haitians.
Ecuadorean Maj. Marco Navas led the humanitarian mission. Civilian volunteers from Ecuador, including some government employees, also went to Haiti to help with the repairs and construction.
The first Ecuadorean military reconstruction mission to Haiti, known as Marhec 1, began in the summer of 2010. The Ecuadorean military and volunteers completed the final mission, Marhec 4, in December 2013.
Overall, 330 Ecuadorian military engineers were deployed to Haiti to participate in the four missions, officials said.
Hard work is recognized
Ecuadorean Defense Minister Maria Fernanda Espinosa expressed gratitude for the work of the military engineers and the soldiers and volunteers they directed.
“We deeply appreciate it because we know the intensity of the work carried out in adverse, very difficult conditions, away from their families,” Espinosa said when the military engineers, soldiers, and volunteers returned from their mission in Haiti.
The Ecuadorean contingent carried out the most recent mission in the province of L’Artibonite, located in the center of the Caribbean island.
The Ecuadorean military completed a number of construction and renovation projects:
• The repair of two bridges and the construction of 80 kilometers of roads.
• The construction of a building for kindergarten students, and the renovation of two other schools which had been badly damaged by the earthquake.
• The construction of three new health centers.
• The repair of 48 kilometers of irrigation canals for agricultural use.
• The construction of access roads to more than 300 schools and houses.
Empowering the people of Haiti
In addition to repairing and constructing buildings, roads, and sewer systems, Ecuadorean military engineers also taught Haitian soldiers courses in surveying, soldering, and using heavy construction equipment. Providing such education empowers Haitians as they continue to rebuild and recover from the earthquake, said Daniela Bermeo Torres, a sociologist who is also the commercial director of the coast region of TECHO in Ecuador. TECHO is a group which organizes volunteers who work on projects to improve communities throughout Latin America.
“It is important that the work done in Haiti is accompanied by training, empowerment, and in the case of military institutions, training and workshops so that Haitians themselves continue the reconstruction of their country,” Bermeo Torres said. “Probably the most important thing that can be achieved in Haiti is to ensure relevance in the efforts and resources invested in the empowerment of Haitians to continue weaving their way to reconstruction.”
Bermeo Torres served as Director of Funds for TECHO Haiti in 2011
Ensuring access to education
Just before they left Haiti in December 2013, representatives from the Ecuadorean military held a ceremony at Ségure National School, which Ecuadorean soldiers and volunteers helped rebuild.
“Children have access to a better education with the remodeled facilities,” said Carine Luberisse, the director of the school.
The Ecuadorean military rebuilt classrooms, restrooms, and constructed an outdoor multi-purpose sports court. The military also built a security fence around the school.
U.N. peacekeeping missions
The Armed Forces of Ecuador is also participating in the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH).
In 2013, Ecuador also sent 14 officers of the Armed Forces as observers or staff members to U.N. peacekeeping missions in Africa.
MINUSTAH presence to be reduced
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is scheduled to present options for MINUSTAH’s reconfiguration by March 2014.
The stability provided by MINUSTAH peacekeepers is crucial as Haiti develops its own police force, according to Carl Meacham, director of the Americas program at the Center for Strategic & International Studies (CSIS), a Washington, D.C. think tank.
“(MINUSTAH) was formed in June 2004 to restore public order after the ouster of [former president] Jean-Bertrand Aristide, and played a key role in stabilizing Haiti following the earthquake. MINUSTAH’s main task continues to be maintaining order and the rule of law.” Meacham said.
The incidence of homicides in Haiti is by far the lowest in the Caribbean — 6.9 per 100,000 inhabitants in 2012, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). While MINUSTAH has helped improve public safety in Haiti, security forces must remain vigilant, Schneider said.
“There’s no question that MINUSTAH’s presence has resulted in reduced gang activity in Haiti. Secondly, the violence that comes along with gang activity has dropped. By going after the gangs, you significantly reduce that,” Schneider said.
MINUSTAH currently has 6,270 peacekeeping troops, including 2,425 police officers, in Haiti.
Its peacekeepers come from 19 countries, mainly Latin America, and its police officers hail from 41 countries. The largest “blue helmet” contingent is represented by Brazil, which has 1,700 peacekeepers in Haiti. Other key contributors to the MINUSTAH mission are Ecuador, Uruguay, Argentina and Chile.
A UN Security Council resolution adopted in 2013 calls for cutting troop levels by 1,249 by June 2014. MINUSTAH’s operational budget will fall from $648.4 million in 2012-13 to $576.6 million for 2013-14.