This week, as Brazilian forces take command of a U.N. mission in Haiti, another clear signal will be sent that Brazil is emerging as a global player. For Haiti, the stakes surrounding the new peacekeeping mission could not be higher.
U.S. and French finance and expertise will be essential to Haiti’s reconstruction, but the time has come to let other regional powers take the lead in the chronically failed nation state. With the over-extension of U.S. forces in Afghanistan and Iraq, it is in Washington’s interests to accept Brazil’s assistance with Haiti — and in Brasilia’s interest to launch an aggressive, and enlightened, peacekeeping policy.
Despite the polemic surrounding President Jean-Bertrand Aristide’s resignation, the Brazilian-led U.N. peacekeeping mission can implement three strategies that will help ameliorate Haiti’s naked misery:
- The mission must provide security. It will fall to the Brazilians to disarm the leaders of the anti-Aristide rebels and the pro-Aristide chimere gangs. Actionable intelligence will be needed. As in Iraq, U.S. intelligence operations in Haiti are compromised by personal relationships with duplicitous characters. The Brazilian Embassy must be beefed up to develop an independent intelligence stream.
- Security, also a feeling of safety and hope for the future, must permeate to all citizens, from the poorest slum-dweller to the privileged elite. Turning on the lights can trigger this feeling. Prime Minister Gerard Latortue is correct in seeking international guarantees to refurbish Haiti’s electrical infrastructure and purchase the heavy oil needed to fire its generators. For two decades, Port-au-Prince has attempted to function on an average electrical supply of just a few hours a day. What would Miami look like under a similar crisis?
As U.N. forces are deployed across Haiti, they should turn on the lights as they go. Electrical power is opportunity. A refrigerator with electricity is an ice business, a TV and VCR a movie house, a street light a study hall and a functioning incubator a life saved. As the multinational force is associated with this basic tool of modern living, its social capital in the reconstruction of civil society will grow exponentially.
Haiti’s electrical grid peaks at about 200 megawatts, and the monthly cost of fueling the network is about $2 million — a price that Washington and Paris can well afford. There is little time to waste. On a good day in Port-au-Prince, neighborhoods receive three hours of power. If you’re unlucky enough to require an operation at the largest state hospital, you have to supply the diesel fuel to power the operating room’s emergency generator — a price that is out of reach for the estimated 75 percent of Haitians who somehow survive on less than $1 day.
- Job creation must be the third component of an immediate development assistance program. One approach, modeled on President Franklin Roosevelt’s depression-era Civilian Conservation Corps, could put millions of people to work building roads and trails, constructing dams, planting trees, draining swamps, replanting farmlands and renovating historic buildings. The floods and mudslides that hit Haiti and the neighboring Dominican Republic last week, entombing entire villages, were torrential because of deforestation. As Haiti is one of the most deforested nations on Earth, and with unemployment at more than 70 percent, a CCC program makes eminent sense.
In Haiti, Brazil has the rare opportunity to succeed where others have failed. Even a limited success in Haiti will help President Luiz Inácio Lula de Silva demonstrate that Brazil is not only a regional power but a nation that deserves a permanent seat on a reformed U.N. Security Council. The international community, Haitians and Brazilians should stand behind this effort. Haiti cannot be left to fail again.
J.P. Slavin is a former consultant with the National Coalition for Haitian Rights, and Tim Pershing is a doctoral candidate in political science at Brandeis University. Both have lived and traveled extensively in Haiti.