Yesterday Canadian Minister of Defense Peter MacKay announced that 34 soldiers would be deploying to Haiti as part of the U.N. stabilization mission (MINUSTAH). The announcement, which comes as MINUSTAH is reducing the overall size of its force in Haiti, appears to be as much about strengthening relations with Brazil, as it is about “peacekeeping.” Lee Berthiaume reports for Canada’s Postmedia News:
But MacKay was quick to confirm that Canada wasn’t re-upping with the UN in any significant way, but that the mission was part of a larger effort to help Haiti while strengthening ties with the emerging political, economic and military powerhouse that is Brazil.
MacKay was joined by Minister of State for the Americas Diane Ablonczy, who highlighted “the tremendous potential and the great partners that are available to Canada in Brazil.”
Aside from the fact that MINUSTAH is not truly a “peacekeeping” force, as there is no armed conflict in Haiti, Canada wouldn’t be the first country to use MINUSTAH for diplomatic or political reasons as opposed to legitimate security concerns. In fact, as we have previously noted, diplomatic cables released by Wikileaks show the motives behind Brazil taking the lead for MINUSTAH were largely political. One such cable, from March 2008 asserts:
Brazil has stayed the course as leader of MINUSTAH in Haiti despite a lack of domestic support for the PKO [peacekeeping operation]. The MRE [Ministry of External Relations] has remained committed to the initiative because it believes that the operation serves [Foreign Minister Celso] Amorim's obsessive international goal of qualifying Brazil for a seat on the UN Security Council. The Brazilian military remains committed as well, because the mission enhances its international prestige and provides training and operational opportunities.
And it doesn’t stop there. In addition to being led by Brazil, MINUSTAH is comprised predominantly by troops from Latin America, making up over 70 percent of the total currently. Wikileaked cables provide insight into the U.S. strategic interests behind MINUSTAH and the advantage of having it be led by Latin American countries.
As we described shortly after Wikileaks made the relevant “cablegate” documents available, in October 2008, then-Ambassador to Haiti Janet Sanderson wrote that MINUSTAH was “an indispensable tool in realizing core USG policy interests in Haiti.” Sanderson noted that an early departure of MINUSTAH could lead to “resurgent populist and anti-market economy political forces.” Sanderson continues:
In the current context of our military commitments elsewhere, the U.S. alone could not replace this mission. This regionally-coordinated Latin American commitment to Haiti would not be possible without the UN umbrella…Without a UN-sanctioned peacekeeping and stabilization force, we would be getting far less help from our hemispheric and European partners in managing Haiti.
Further, the leadership role of Latin American countries helped further the U.S. goal of isolating Venezuela and Hugo Chávez, as a cable from June 2007 explains:
An increasingly unifying theme that completely excludes Chavez, and isolates Venezuela among the militaries and security forces of the region, is participation in international and regional peacekeeping operations.
But for Canada – at least according to MacKay, “Soldiers are good diplomats.” He reportedly went on to add: “They’re great representatives of our country. They bring with them significant experience and in many cases . . . the mission-specific training that they go through makes them wonderful representatives of our country.”
But many of the international soldiers who have taken part in MINUSTAH have been anything but “good diplomats.” As we have detailed in the past, some troops have assisted police in deadly raids in slums that resulted in innocent people (including children) killed, are accused of lynching a boy for stealing, have violently attacked demonstrators, have impregnated minors, many Haitians have accused them of stealing livestock and other possessions, and they have raped women, children, and young men, among other crimes. These are all reasons why calls for MINUSTAH’s withdrawal from Haiti are getting louder. On June 1, marking nine years of MINUSTAH’s presence in Haiti, civil society groups from all over the world and including many in Haiti issued a statement demanding the mission’s withdrawal, noting that:
MINUSTAH has failed miserably to achieve the goals set out by the United Nations Security Council, the only objective accomplished being the military occupation of the country on behalf of interests that are not those of the Haitian people.
At least Canada has stated its motives publicly.