Even before a major earthquake hit Port-au-Prince in January 2010, the US embassy planned for the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH)–an international force then numbering about 9,000 soldiers and police–to remain in the country through 2013, according to a confidential US diplomatic cable released by the WikiLeaks group and published by the Spanish daily El País on Jan. 28.
The Oct. 1, 2008 cable by the embassy in Port-au-Prince described the UN mission as “a financial and regional security bargain for the USG [US government],” “a good deal for the US” and “an indispensable tool in realizing core USG policy interests in Haiti.” In the absence of a strong Haitian police force, the troops provide “a security force of last resort,” the cable said, and a withdrawal of MINUSTAH could lead to “resurgent kidnapping and international drug trafficking, revived gangs, greater political violence, an exodus of seaborne migrants, a sharp drop in foreign and domestic investment, and resurgent populist and anti-market economy political forces.”
The cable goes on to say that in addition to providing “real regional security dividends for the US,” MINUSTAH, which is led by Brazilian officers and includes troops from other South American countries, helps US policy by “developing habits of security cooperation in the hemisphere that will serve our interests for years to come.” One major concern, however, is “Latin fears that any Haitian opposition to the UN presence undermines their domestic support for deployments in Haiti.” During protests over high food prices in April 2008, the cable reports, “the Brazilian MINUSTAH force commander told [the US ambassador] and others that his greatest fear was that his troops would be forced to fire on demonstrators. He understood that this could ignite opposition in Haiti, Brazil and other contributing countries to his troops’ presence in Haiti.”
The cable also contains the embassy’s assessment of drug traffickers’ influence in the Haitian Parliament at the time: “we estimate perhaps a score of deputies and senators are linked to the drug trade.” (El País, Jan. 28)
Other cables, released by WikiLeaks the week of Jan. 17, suggest that pressure from the US resulted in a MINUSTAH “anti-gang” operation that led to several deaths and dozens of injuries among civilians in Port-au-Prince’s impoverished Cité Soleil section. In a June 10, 2005 meeting with Brazilian under secretary for political affairs Antonio de Aguiar Patriota, US ambassador to Brazil John Danilovich and an unnamed “political counselor” complained that “MINUSTAH has not been sufficiently robust,” apparently referring to concern by mission commander Gen. Augusto Heleno Ribeiro about causing unnecessary casualties. Less than a month later, Gen. Heleno ordered the bloody operation in Cité Soleil.
Heleno was soon replaced by Gen. Urano Teixeira da Matta Bacellar, who died of a gunshot wound on Jan. 7, just as MINUSTAH was about to undertake another operation in Cité Soleil. The Brazilian government ruled the general’s death a suicide, but according to another cable, Dominican president Leonel Fernández expressed doubts during a Jan. 11 meeting with US deputy assistant secretary of state Patrick Duddy. President Fernández “believes that the Brazilian government is calling the death a suicide in order to protect the mission from domestic criticism,” the cable says. “A confirmed assassination would result in calls from the Brazilian populace for withdrawal from Haiti. Success in this mission is vital for President [Luiz Inácio] Lula [da Silva] of Brazil, because it is part of his master plan to obtain a permanent seat on the UN Security Council.” (Guardian, UK, Jan. 21)
From Weekly News Update on the Americas, Jan. 30.