Seminar Weighs 13 Years of Brazilian Operations in Haiti

Brazil’s service in MINUSTAH leaves a legacy of humanitarian aid, military and civilian integration, and regional cooperation, establishing a new model for UN operations.
Nelza Oliveira/Diálogo | 3 January 2018

Capacity Building

Attendees of the seminar were treated to demonstrations of sea operations to approach and assist refugees, and crack down on illegal activities based on the model of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon. (Photo: Nelza Oliveira, Diálogo)

Brazil’s participation in the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH, in French) was unprecedented. Among the longest in history—and the Brazilian Armed Forces’ largest post-World War II military deployment—the operation counted 37,000 personnel, and was the only United Nations (UN) mission led by Brazilian generals. The mission that ended October 2017, was the topic of the International Seminar on Brazil’s 13 Years in MINUSTAH: Lessons Learned and New Perspectives, held November 28th-29th, 2017, at the Almirante Sylvio de Camargo Training Center (CIASC, in Portuguese) on Governor’s Island, Rio de Janeiro. The seminar brought together service members from the Brazilian Army, Navy, and Air Force (EB, MB, and FAB, respectively, in Portuguese), Brazilian and foreign officials, ambassadors, and representatives from academia.

The Brazilian Ministry of Defense sponsored the event through MB, in partnership with UN, the Brazilian Academy of Humanities, and Pontifícia Catholic University of Rio de Janeiro. Speakers praised the mission’s success, starting with the UN’s own representative. “It was a very serious situation, with instability, political violence, human rights violations, and impunity. It had a heavy impact on the conditions of thousands of Haitians,” said Jean-Pierre Lacroix, UN under-secretary-general for Peacekeeping Operations. “And while it’s clear that Haiti continues to face some serious challenges, it’s also quite clear that the situation in the country is much, much better. This wouldn’t have been possible without MINUSTAH’s presence and Brazil’s unique and exceptional contribution.”

Brazilian style

Lacroix thanked Brazilian service members for their work and noted the innovative role Brazil played, establishing a new standard for peacekeeping missions, which, according to him, now serves as a model in many UN operations. MB Admiral Ilques Barbosa Junior, head of the Navy General Staff and an MB representative in the initial joint planning of MINUSTAH, spoke about the Brazilian strategy to garner support from the public and residents of Haiti for the mission’s success.

“Social media was very important, and we worked step-by-step at all times: from the planning stage to the time of embarkation. It had a very big and favorable impact on the media,” Adm. Ilques explained. “To create community engagement, even how we carried our weapons mattered. A contingent that preceded us carried guns outside of vehicles with their fingers on the trigger. We kept our guns inside vehicles, with our fingers off the trigger.”

EB General Augusto Heleno Ribeiro Pereira, MINUSTAH’s first commander, spoke about the contingent’s activities. “[It’s important] to strengthen troops’ self-esteem, promote efficiency and combat power, build the trust and respect of the local population, and respect traditions and idiosyncrasies,” Gen. Heleno said. “The soldier needs to know the country’s history to stop atrocities and refrain from any kind of abuse, especially sexual assaults. All this can be summed up as follows: a peacekeeping mission has to win hearts and minds.”

Use of force

The seminar was divided into seven panels, with an average of five speakers each, and included topics such as the early challenges, mission planning, humanitarian aid, and use of force in MINUSTAH. (Photo: Nelza Oliveira, Diálogo)

The seminar addressed peaceful solutions—Chapter VI of the UN Charter under which the mission was set—and the use of force (Chapter VII). According to Gen. Heleno, the first contingents trained for a mission under peaceful resolutions, yet the situation encountered was much different. “When we arrived in Haiti, the country was on the brink of civil war. The basic strategy I set was to have a permanent presence in nearly all of Haiti, together with the UN police, in support of Haiti’s national policies. Operations that resulted from this strategy were the disarmament of illegal groups and the use of force when necessary, and avoid innocent victims. There were a series of discrepancies regarding the use of force, and sometimes I had to be tough to keep us from stepping over the line,” Gen. Heleno said. “The United Nations police counted 33 participating countries—people from entirely different cultures, with very different experiences with crime. That had a profound influence when they got together for these operations,” he added.

According to Lacroix, MINUSTAH found a unique solution to the challenge. “Brazil and its troops understood the underlying meaning of the mandate, which includes the firm use of force,” he said. “Brazil and its troops understood that the robust peacekeeping mandate is for peacekeeping, not for war. It’s always about peace missions. The use of force serves to help find a peaceful political solution. To achieve that, the balance of power must shift to show those who are not interested in a peaceful political solution they cannot choose violence, because peacekeeping forces are strong and motivated,” he said.

Humanitarian aid

MINUSTAH’s humanitarian aid throughout the mission was highlighted in the seminar, particularly its response to major events. Hurricane Matthew struck October 2016, causing almost 900 deaths. The 2010 earthquake killed more than 100,000 people. That same year, service members also faced a cholera outbreak. 

Igor Kipman, Brazil’s ambassador to Haiti in 2010, recalled the work done at FAB field hospital in Port-au-Prince. “The hospital performed 36,028 medical procedures and 1,145 surgeries over a four-month period. It became famous, because at any given time there were 32 field hospitals in Haiti where the protocol for a mutilated limb was amputation, whereas the FAB hospital performed highly complex operations, always looking to save the limb. There were very few amputations. People brought seriously injured patients from afar, sometimes at a great sacrifice, to the FAB hospital,” Kipman said. “With the cholera situation, Brazil was also present with great help, including purchasing beds in Miami suitable for cholera patients and distributing them to various hospitals.”

Brazilian Army Lieutenant General Floriano Peixoto Vieira Neto, former commander of MINUSTAH, noted that Brazil’s humanitarian aid response to the earthquake went far beyond the UN context. “Brazil sent money so that we could hire Haitians to help us collect bodies and bury victims. Refugee camps were built with Brazilian civil engineering,” Lt. Gen. Floriano said. Brazilian Armed Forces also joined international partners such as Canada, Chile, and the United States as well as countless NGOs that responded to the catastrophe, he said.

The UN currently counts 15 ongoing peacekeeping operations. Brazil participates in nine of those. Since 2011, Brazil leads the Maritime Task Force in the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon, and other task forces with individual missions. On November 22nd, 2017, the UN invited Brazil to take part in the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic. Its participation in that mission rests on President Michel Temer’s confirmation and on the approval of Congress.

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