Brazil’s Military Role in Haiti


6/19/12: by Kenneth Maxwell

The “Folha de Sao Paulo” reported on Monday, June 11th, 2012, that Brazil has spent almost R$2 billion in Haiti between June 2004 and May 2012.

What began as an emergency military operation to provide security for six months with a cost estimated at R$150 million, reached almost R$ 2 Billion at the beginning of this month, and has involved the deployment, since 2004, of over 16,000 Brazilian military personnel.

The Haitian military operation as part of Minustah (Unitied Nations Stabilization Mission) which is currently authorized until 15 October 2012.

Brazil’s participation began in June 2004, as part of the Brazilian Government’s effort under President Lula da Silva, to obtain a permanent seat on the United Nation security council.

It has now cost six times what the Brazilian government spent between 2006 and 20i2 on its “forca nacional”, the Brazilian federal military intervention force, which is deployed in areas of high crime and drug related violence, and in establishing “zones of pacification” within the slums (favelas) of Rio de Janeiro.

The sums spent in Haiti by Brazil are the equivalent of the expenditure over two years on the government’s principal program for pubic security, the “Pronasci.”

This is the national program for public society and citizenship, a preventative program sponsored by the Ministry of Justice and the Ministry of Culture, working throughout Brazil in150 municipalities, in 22 states, and the federal district.

These funds sponsor micro programs in order to improve the quality of police officers and prison guards, and women’s programs, in communities where there are high levels of poverty and violence, by providing the funding for activities involving hip hop, rap, theatre, artisans and dance activities, and videos and documentaries.

The R$1.97 billion figure spent in Haiti, which takes account of inflation, was obtained by “Folha” from the Ministry of Defense, according to Rubens Valente in his report from Brasilia.

The full expenditure are probably much higher, Valente notes, since the figure provided by the Ministry of Defense, does not include the amount spent on benefits, created after the Brazilian troops were sent to Haiti, Most of the expenditures were used to modernize equipment.

Brazil spent R$162.3 on vehicles, R$24.3 million of munitions, R$22.00 on arms, and R$ 18.1 on transport and shipping. Brazilian expenditures are reimbursed by the United Nations. Up to October 2010, Brazil has received R$ 328 million, or 25% of the total.

The Brazilian Ministry of Defense told “Folha” that the expenditures had stimulated military production in Brazil.

“The acquisition of modern materiel to equip the armed forces permits, beyond the efficiency of the use of troops, is the development of the Brazilian defense industry, and the ability to project Brazil internationally,” the Ministry of Defense said in a statement to “Folha.”

One of the generals involved in the mission to Haiti, told “Folha” under the condition of anonymity, however, that “it was already time to think about leaving.” Though he recognized that Brazil was not going to withdraw its troops any time soon “because of political reasons, and that the Haitian mission is used as a visiting card abroad, as an example of success.”

The Brazilian expenditures in Haiti have had little repercussion in the Brazilian Congress.

So far this year, the Committee on International Relations and National Defense, has held four session to discuss the entrance of Haitians into Brazil (6,000 Haitians have entered Brazil illegally via Acre and the Amazonian frontier since 2010), but not one on the Brazilian military mission in Haiti.

Last 26 April, when the minister of defense, Celso Amorim, appeared before the committee, Haiti was not even mentioned   Senator Cristovam Buarque, a member of the committee, told “Folha” that “our position is that as long as the mission is needed, and this depends on the UN and on Haiti, I do not foresee the removal of Brazilian troops.”

Eliana Catanhede, a columnist for “Folha” observes in the same edition of the newspaper, that Brazil’s decision to participate in the UN mission in Haiti had two causes.

The first was a political motive whereby the Lula government saw the mission as a way of raising Brazil’s status in South America, as an international actor, and as a candidate for a UN security council seat.

And secondly, it was a way of training the Brazilian military for domestic deployments from which they were historically prohibited, by making the Brazilian Constitution more flexible in practice, via operations conducted under the under the law to “Guarantee Law and Order” (GLO).

The deal with the UN from Brazil’s perspective, was that while Brazilian troops would contain the fratricidal violence in Haiti the rich nations would contribute to the political and economic reconstruction of Haiti.

Both Lula and Dilma Rousseff, believe that although they have taken the risks in Haiti, the rich counties have not.

Haiti remains the most miserable country in the western hemisphere.  The UN seat never came.

But the practical results, they believe, in terms of training and experience for the Brazilian military, have been important.

This despite the setbacks of the Haitian earthquake, and the suicide of General Urano Baceler, the Brazilian commander in Haiti.

The Brazilian Ministry of Defence now believes it can count on the Brazilian military, trained in Haiti, for operations within Brazil of a police and pacification nature, such as those which it is currently undertaking within the slums of Rio de Janeiro.

But the main beneficiary of Brazilian military deployment in Haiti is ignored in Brasilia,

It is the United States.

While Brazilian troops remain in Haiti, it removes Haiti as a source of U.S. concern, does the work, which would otherwise fall to the overstretched U.S. military, and controls the potential outflow of Haitians en route to Florida.

After all, more violence in Haiti, and more illegal Haitians migrating to the US, is last thing U.S. politicians want to face, in a U.S. Presidential Election year.

Professor Maxwell recently retired from Harvard University after a distinguished career as a leading expert on Brazil and Latin American Affairs. Kenneth Maxwell is a historian, an expert in Portuguese and Brazilian History and has taught at and been involved for many years with Harvard University, Yale, Columbia, Princeton and writes a weekly column for Brazil’s popular Folha newspaper. Dr. Maxwell currently lives in Devon, England.