by Robert Chesal and Theo Tamis
President Lula agreed to take over command of the UN blue helmets in Haiti on the conditions that Brazil is allowed to oversee the country’s reconstruction and that receives international support for it.
The main body of the Brazilian unit will arrive in two weeks. It will provide the core of a UN-mandated security force of 6,700 troops and 1,622 police set to replace a US-led force on the island by the end of June.
The US-led contingent entered Haiti in February after a revolt killed more than 200 people and forced former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide into exile. He left a country in political chaos and in economic ruin.
Haiti is this poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. It currently has no representative government, its economy has been shrinking since 1980, and 80 percent of its population lives in abject poverty. To make matters worse, torrential rains hit the country a week ago, leaving more than 1,000 people dead.
Rebuilding Haiti will be a gargantuan task, says Haiti expert Christian Girault.
“You have always problems of infrastructure, roads, ports and airports. You also have all the social problems such as education, health ? very critical in Haiti ? and governance, because there is no government right now in the sense that the present government has very little legitimacy. And so, you have to build an entire society, some even say ?you have to build a nation state.”
“I think it’s a good thing for Haiti that a big developing country like Brazil wants to get involved. Brazil is still grappling with a lot of poverty in the northeast, for instance, and the Lula government in particular claims it has a recipe for reducing poverty and for feeding the people, which is quite important in Haiti also.”
The US response
But how will the United States, the real superpower in the region, look upon President Lula and his left-leaning Brazilian foreign policy having such an influence on the future shape of Haiti? Mr
“In Haiti, there are two countries that have a key importance: the US and France. They both led the intervention in February. I think France and the United States are all too happy that other countries like Brazil and Chile are going to be involved and lead a UN-mission. It’s important that other countries are involved in resolving the problems of Haiti, which currently has no backbone, no state.”
Crucial will be sustained help from the international donor community. At Tuesday’s departure ceremony for the advance party of Brazilian troops, President Luiz Inacio Lula said rebuilding Haiti’s economy and institutions would require a long-term commitment from the world community. And that may be the hardest part for Brazil.
“Rebuilding a country like Haiti is going to be very costly and will take many years. One has to take into account the cost of the 6,000 UN troops that are going to be there as well as the financial burden of reconstruction. Probably, the Interamerican Development Bank and the World Bank would be likely partners in that rebuilding.”
Mr Girault adds that there’s a general fatigue within the international community about Haiti, because it finds itself back again at square one. “In that light, the Chileans and the Brazilians could bring with them a new way of looking at things, which would be more than welcome.”
Photographs by © RNW/Hans Jaap Melissen