What is Brazil Doing in Haiti?

Since the beginning of President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva’s administration, Brazil’s foreign policy has been assuming a fresh countenance thanks to a broad, more political effort at regional integration through Mercosur; the creation of the Group of 20 at the World Trade Organization meeting in Cancun; and a new policy of direct alliances with South Africa, India and China.

For some time now, Brazil has been demanding a permanent spot on the U.N. Security Council. A more aggressive foreign policy and the international prestige of Lula have intensified this campaign, which received significant endorsements from France and China among others. Since the minute Brazil assumed a post as a rotating member of the Security Council earlier this year, its actions have been a test of how it would behave if it were made a permanent member.

A proposal was presented to the Security Council recommending replacing U.S. and French troops in Haiti with a U.N. contingent led by Brazil. The Brazilian government, for its part, received requests from Central American countries, worried about U.S. military intervention in the Caribbean, for Brazil to take the place of the United States.

The Brazilian government found itself pressured, both from within the Security Council and from outside, to assume the role. As a key Latin American country, and more importantly, as a candidate for permanent membership to the Security Council, the Brazilian government accepted the leadership of a contingent of troops in Haiti.

This decision represents a dangerous attitude and has serious implications.

First of all, Brazil is sanctioning the controversial foreign intervention in which former Haitian President Jean-Bernard Aristide was removed from power. This sets a delicate precedent for the region, since many neighboring countries could potentially be considered candidates for intervention, due to serious institutional crises. Venezuela and Bolivia are just two examples.

Secondly, the domestic situation in Haiti is such that Brazilian military intervention could likely become long-term. Since the beginning, foreign troops have had to contend with armed groups of the political resistance and others. This spells a risk of a confrontation that could have tragic consequences. The possibility of Haitians killed by Latin American troops-Brazilian, Argentine, or Chilean-would be tragic. The United States would then be able to put into practice a plan developed long ago-and largely rejected in Colombia-for regional troops to shoulder the burden of political and military stabilization.

The current chaos in Haiti, compounded by the presence of foreign troops, could make it very difficult to design an exit plan in the foreseeable future. At the same time, prolonged military presence would lead to the impression of an occupation of one Latin American country by another.

Brazil’s stance can be interpreted not only as an attempt to affirm regional leadership but also to show the country as a trustworthy ally of the great powers, especially the permanent members of the U.N. Security Council.

The stated objective is to support Haitian reconstruction, which does not explain why paratroopers, marines and infantrymen should be sent instead of teachers, doctors or sanitary engineers. Clearly, the establishment of basic stability is a necessary requirement in the search for a solution to the humanitarian crisis. But without a time frame to assure stability for the country, foreign troops could impede rather than facilitate cooperation toward that end.

Once in Haiti, the military contingents from Brazil and other Latin American countries take on serious responsibilities. They cannot guarantee that they are moving toward a solution acceptable to the Haitian people and they risk involvement in armed conflicts. Moreover, they could end up performing the role of regional police for an imperial policy that considers some regions and countries incapable of governing themselves, thereby justifying their placement under permanent tutelage.

Brazil’s fundamental challenge is to discover alternatives to its risky policy regarding Haiti. First, regardless of one’s opinion of the Aristide government, any stance that legitimizes its overthrow by foreign military intervention is dangerous. Second, if foreign involvement is absolutely necessary to solve a crisis that should be the in the hands of the Haitian people, then support should be sought from the Caribbean Community (Caricom), the organization that coordinates Caribbean countries.

A manifesto to this effect was delivered to the Brazilian Ministry with more than 11 signatures, including those of Eduardo Galeano, Ana Esther Ceceña, Marilena Chauí, Cristovam Buarque, and Fernando Morais.

The operation to replace North American troops with South American ones is now under way. We should demand that the occupation last as little as possible, to make way for a legitimate internal solution. This solution should be based on the grassroots organization of the Haitian people, who today are the victims of yet another foreign intervention in the long history that began when they became the first nation to defeat colonialism in Latin America.

Emir Sader is Brazilian, coordinator of the Laboratory of Public Policies of the University of the State of Rio de Janeiro, and a contributor to the IRC Americas Program. He is the author, among other books, of La venganza de la História (Ed. Clacso).

For more information see:
Latin American Council on Social Sciences (CLACSO) www.clacso.org

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