Originally: Haiti peacekeeping force commander gives positive balance of one year in action

Gen. Augusto Heleno Pereira, commander of the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH), gave a positive evaluation of the work carried out by the troops in the country upon completing one year in action. According to him, it was a year of much work and overcoming difficulties.

“We spent six months with half the force, which only arrived near the estimated date in late December. Haiti was experiencing a rather unstable situation when we arrived in June last year, but we coped with these problems. We had some crises, which were also managed with much work and effort by the troops. In general, we have many more positive than negative facts from this period,” Pereira stated.

Among the problems, Pereira noted the support to the Haitian National Police (PNH), which, according to him, is unstructured, poorly equipped, poorly trained, and very understaffed: 1,500 men to take care of a population of 2.5 million inhabitants. “The police force we have on the streets each day in Port-au-Prince, including the Haitian forces, is less than 2,000 men. Brasilia, which has a similar population, has over 20,000 police officers. Thus, there is too much work for a small police force,” he stated.

In addition to the lack of troops, Pereira recalled that the Haitian population has a problem of “neurosis” regarding security. “I have the impression that each person living in Port-au-Prince would like to have a solider with a blue helmet walking alongside them on the streets. And we are in absolutely no condition to do that. But we are working to eliminate the feeling of insecurity from the minds of Haitians.

Pereira said that from the moment he arrived in Haiti, he had been studying strategic ways to fight violence. “We will only use troops and deploy force in the necessary locations. Security is extremely necessary, but it must be accompanied by humanitarian, social, and economic projects in order for the population to feel that it is in another environment and have hope for the future. If we do not do that, we will maintain an apparent security by using force, but we will not build anything for the future and when we leave we will simply have created new pockets of violence that will later explode,” he noted.

MINUSTAH Commander Pereira recalled that he is often criticized for his decisions, but stated that he will not yield to pressure. According to him, offensive actions must be very well planned, with definite objectives, and cannot make innocent victims. “Here, the gangs operate inside the slums and use children and women as shields. Thus, many times an offensive action is not carried out because the collateral damage is extremely disastrous,” he stated.

“I cannot justify blind and indiscriminate actions with several innocent victims that were not related to the mission. That is what I refuse to do. We are prepared to use force, we are fully capable of using it, but I will only use it when I am sure that it is the right target. Against those who are as violent as we are or more, and who thus deserve to be repressed with violence,” he added.

Early this month, the UN Security Council extended the MINUSTAH presence in Haiti for another 24 days. General Pereira said that he has no idea how much longer the mission will last and noted that the withdrawal of troops from the country depends on a decision of the United Nations and other governments involved in the peacekeeping force.