Text of interview with Brazilian Defence Minister Waldir Pires by Claudio Dantas Sequeira on his return flight to Brasilia following his two-day visit to Haiti: “‘I expected something much worse in Haiti'”, published by Brazilian newspaper Correio Braziliense website on June 30.

Defense Minister Waldir Pires wanted to see for himself the reality of poverty and violence that has filled the pages of the military reports on Haiti. In his two-day visit to Port-au-Prince, he was surprised by a routine that is very like that of the poor outskirts of Salvador, in Bahia, the state of which he was governor from 1986?89. “I expected something much worse,” he confessed to Correio in an interview on the flight back to Brasilia. At 79, Pires demonstrated his enthusiasm with an intensive work schedule. The minister, who has been at the portfolio’s helm for almost three months, is staking his bets on political dialogue in order to move forward with building a Defense Ministry that he considers to be “unfinished.”

(Correio) What most impressed you during the trip?

(Defence Minister Waldir Pires) I was expecting something much worse. I watched the women, the men, the traffic in the streets. Look, if I were to visit the outskirts of a Brazilian city, what would be different? Nothing. On the contrary, I even saw fairly well-dressed people, with a clear desire to be clean and presentable, the women well turned-out. They take pride in their appearance. I think that we have to convince the international departments and the United Nations especially regarding the need to improve cooperation. The instant that the United Nations shoulders the responsibility of saying that “there is a problem of such and such a nature in this country,” for which it is willing to send a peacekeeping force, why only think about public security? How can you not have an overall diagnosis, looking at the entire process that is at the root of all these difficulties? We sense that the United Nations is resistant to this, but it will have to be done.

(Correio) What do Brazil and Haiti have in common?

(Pires) Poverty, unemployment. Haiti has what Brazil has: sectors of the population in which, if you don’t receive any assistance, you don’t eat. And if you don’t eat, you die of starvation, period. But mechanisms must be set up to prevent the money from being misappropriated. When you improve the institutional process, that battle is won. This is the path we’re on in Brazil today, that of institutionalizing and winning the battle. In Haiti, finances are not organized, there is neither an organized tax system nor organized local or regional administrations. Consequently, the financial assistance that has been coming for such a long time lasts only the time it takes to arrive. So far the Haitian state has not prepared itself for becoming an autonomous entity capable of commanding its own political and administrative life. This is what the president-elect must invest in. And he, René Préval, has to act quickly.

(Correio) Why visit the Cité Soleil shantytown?

(Pires) I wanted to see it. I was pleased when I saw those boys come up to us, when I saw the families come out to meet us. That meant that I wasn’t a bogeyman. I see a future. I see that we all have to cooperate intensively. The activities of our Engineering Company are a demonstration of esteem for them. I know what it is to go to any of the poorer outskirts of Salvador and see those houses sitting on the steep slopes of a city that is periodically subjected to rainstorms. To receive the help of a safe, reinforced concrete staircase, of protective barriers. This makes the people happy. This is part of the process that we will have to undergo in our country and which they are experiencing, because this is nothing new to us.

(Correio) What does it represent for the Brazil of 2006 that a celebrated leftist militant is, today, the defense minister, received with military honours even in Haiti?

(Pires) It is the democratic process evolving in our country. It fills me with hope. What I did not see in my youth I am seeing now, in the autumn of my life, this confidence in our destiny.

Brazil’s Defense Ministry “an unfinished project”

(Correio) What is your directive for the Defense Ministry?

(Pires) I am in no condition to issue directives. The president will be appointing the new defense minister this December. But I can suggest the methodology, which is dialogue with everyone. We will continue moving forward, learning and building. The Defense Ministry is still an unfinished project.