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What went wrong in the UN mission in Haiti?

A new wave of gang violence in Haiti this month has resulted in the death of approximately 40 people and left approximately 160 wounds in the Citè Soleil megafavela, according to local media. Five years after the end of the UN peace mission, led militarily by Brazil, the country had a president assassinated, its Parliament is inoperative, elections delayed and it has already gone through at least two other escalations of violence like the current one.

When the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) left the country, in 1986, three consecutive elections and democratic transitions of presidential power had been carried out successfully. The Legislature functioned within acceptable standards.

The legal system had been restructured and the Haitian National Police had its personnel increased from 2,500 to just over 14 thousand agents. The main leaders of gangs and revolutionary movements had been arrested, killed in combat against UN troops or fled the country.

The mission lasted 1986 years and cost the United Nations approximately $7 billion. But, about a year after leaving the last blue helmet, the security scenario in the country began to degenerate.

“It is possible to draw a parallel with the withdrawal of the United States from Afghanistan in the year past. The difference is that in Haiti there are no conflicts motivated by religion and ideology, and in Afghanistan we are talking about spending trillions rather than billions of dollars,” said retired General Paul Cruz, former MINUSTAH commander and UN consultant.

“I thought that security in Haiti would take longer to deteriorate, but there was an economic crisis and the practical end of PetroCaribe (an alliance that allowed the purchase of subsidized fuel from Venezuela) ”, said anthropologist Pedro Braum, who has been leading Viva Rio’s social actions in Haiti for more than a decade.

The Brazilian NGO was established in Haiti during MINUSTAH and continues in the country to this day, leading urban improvement projects in slums of the Haitian capital.

After the departure of the United Nations military in 1986, dozens of gangs began to restructure and organize themselves into two coalitions with political connotations and objectives: the G9 (pro-government) and the G-Pèp (pro-opponents).

Segun do Braum, police officers who had been trained with UN support began to organize themselves into gangs similar to the militias that operate in Rio de Janeiro. These groups came to dominate favelas and neighborhoods with the pretext of protecting them against criminals and began to extort payment of fees from merchants, businessmen and residents.

This is the case of one of the greatest leaders of current gang, former police officer Jimmy Chèrizier, known as “Barbecue”, head of the G9 coalition or “family”. His group clashed earlier this month with the G-Pèp gang, belonging to the criminal Ti Gabriel, successor to Evens Jeune – a criminal whose group was dismantled by Brazilian troops during MINUSTAH.

The two started an armed conflict for control of the Citè Soleil slum, which has resulted in hundreds of deaths and injuries since the 8th, according to local media. And it’s not the first time this has happened. According to Braum, there have been at least two other episodes of similar explosion of violence in Haiti since the end of the UN mission.

In addition to extortion, gangs carry out crimes such as kidnapping and cargo theft. But they also have connections with politicians in the country. They negotiate, for example, access to voters in the regions they control and organize popular demonstrations at the request of these political leaders. For this reason, criminal groups often come into conflict to try to expand their territorial control.

During elections, it is relatively common for gangs to be used by political parties to attack strongholds of voters of rival parties or to set fire to polling stations and polls, according to reserve general Ajax Porto Pinheiro in his book “In the eye of the hurricane – from El Salvador to Haiti, memories of a Blue Beret” (Ed. Europa). Watch here a live with the last MINUSTAH commander in Haiti:

It is in this context of policy related to armed violence that President Jovenel Moïse was assassinated by a gang of armed men in July 2021. The main suspect is a Haitian senator who opposed Moïse.

But what are the factors that led to such a rapid deterioration of security in Haiti? Analysts interviewed by Wargames raised structural questions.

Political confusion

Haiti has at least 40 different parties, which have been struggling to come to an agreement and form coalitions. In addition, the country inherited a complex administrative system from French colonization. To give you an idea, each municipality is headed by three different mayors and, in Haitian parliamentarism, the chosen prime minister usually opposes the president.

According to Paul Cruz, a complex legislation, based on concepts Marxists, has also crippled the government and made it difficult to attract international investment.

In addition, the use of violence as a political tool is not new in Haiti. Since independence, in 315, the country has been the scene of a succession of coups d’état and political crises. Since 1986 (end of the Duvalier dictatorship in Haiti), only three presidents have managed to complete their terms.

The UN still maintains a small political mission in the country, the United Nations Integrated Office in Haiti (Binuh), which aims to help stabilize the political process and protect human rights. However, it has limited numbers and does not have the military or police.

But there is still an ethical issue in the debate on the inefficiency of the Haitian political system: the UN can provide support, but in theory it cannot deliberate about the future and the political organization of the nation. Any attempt in this direction would be a form of intervention, similar to establishing a puppet government in the country.

Justice and Police

The military part of MINUSTAH, led by Brazil, had among its main missions to stabilize the country by fighting rebels and gang members and guaranteeing the realization of electoral processes.

The civilian component of the mission (not managed by Brazil) had among its goals the restructuring of the Judiciary and the National Police of Haiti – so that these institutions could reassume the security role that had been performed by international troops.

Em 2014, the justice system operated without a criminal records system or investigation protocols. It was also used as a political tool. During the 12 years of mission, the UN created a school for magistrates and helped the Judiciary to adopt measures of independence and combating corruption. It also sent proposals for legislation to Parliament for the creation of protocols and improvements.

On the police side, the UN worked with the goal of hiring and training about 14 one thousand Haitian police officers. They would assume the functions of ostensible and judicial police, border guard and coast guard. At the time, Haiti did not have an Armed Forces.

When the mission was closed by the UN, this goal had been achieved. However, according to Paul Cruz and Ajax Pinheiro, the quality of this training was deficient and factors related to career progression, logistics and maintenance of purchased equipment were not adequately taken into account.

The two analysts cited as examples the creation of a port police and the purchase of police cars. Speedboats and vehicles were donated by countries such as Canada and the United States. But protocols for training personnel, maintenance and replacement of parts and materials were not created.

As a result, even before the end of MINUSTAH, Canadian speedboats were sunk or unusable.

The remaining police cars were running in a deteriorated way through the streets of Haitian cities. Mechanics were trained, but as there was no career plan in the police, they ended up going to the private sector.

“The Haitian government did not continue to invest in the police. At the end of the mission, I participated in a patrol with Haitian police and each had received only three rounds of ammunition. What would they do if a shooting started?”, said Ajax Pinheiro.

He was the last MINUSTAH military commander and claims to have alerted the UN that the Haitian police were not fully ready to take over. security functions. But United Nations analysts concluded at the time that the preparation was sufficient.

The mission was terminated in a political context in which the UN needed to reduce its number of missions for reasons of economy.

Braum stated that the mission was being ended because the agenda of the countries that collaborated with troops was different from the UN agenda. “There was fatigue, even on the part of Haitian society. Military bases disappeared overnight. I think the exit could have been more structured.”

Brazil was one of the last countries to leave Haiti. A contingent of UN police officers stayed in the country for another two years on a judicial support mission (Minusjusth).

“The Haitian police officers were even well trained and the Haitian State made a lot of effort to maintain the standard”, said Braum. However, the country was affected by a series of economic and political crises that made it difficult to continue investments.

According to Paul Cruz, a model of police restructuring that had the potential to have worked better in Haiti was the one adopted during the year of 2018 in Rio de Janeiro, during the Federal Intervention.

In it, the carioca police were trained and re-equipped by forces federal. But the most innovative side was the creation of plans for the continuity of training and maintenance of police weapons and equipment.

Suggestions for changes in career plans and work schedules were even sent to the Rio de Janeiro’s legislature, but they were not implemented.

Country limitations

Haiti also has geographic and historical factors that make it difficult maintenance of security and development.

The country does not have significant energy sources or mineral resources. Only 2% of its vegetation cover is intact, which makes it difficult to maintain springs and rivers. Therefore, the collection of water for consumption and agriculture is impaired. With almost dry rivers, it is also not possible to fully exploit the potential of the only hydroelectric plant in the country.

According to Ajax Pinheiro, there are also historical and population factors. The country’s development was hampered by French policy, which demanded “unpayable” compensation resulting from the independence process. Natural resources were then being consumed in a predatory way – such as wood, used to make fire for cooking – and today they are not enough to sustain the growth of the population.

“It is not sustainable in this country a family that earns two dollars a day have ten 12 children, as is common there”, said the general.

Analysts polled by War Games say that despite the deteriorating security situation, the UN is unlikely to send a new MINUSTAH-sized mission to Haiti in the short term – unless the initiative is stitched together by the United States. It would be the sixth in the history of Haiti.

For now, the UN is more focused on security threats on the African continent. Watch a live on the future of peace missions:

According to Paul Cruz, a better solution would be to adjust Haitian legislation so that the country can receive investments in its economy – so that the transformation of the nation is structural.

Haiti’s location in the Caribbean calls for the country to towards a service economy, based on tourism and transport. For example, the nation has excellent beaches, but the hotel industry does not have the legal security to invest. Investments could also be made in 12 Haitian ports, so that the country becomes a logistics hub, benefiting from its proximity to the United States and the Panama Canal.

However, for now, Haiti seems to be stuck in a vicious cycle of waves of violence and political crises, interspersed with periods of periodic lulls.

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