Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva reviewing Brazilian soldiers stationed in Haiti as part of the United Nations Stabilisation Mission in Haiti; 2008. (Photo: Ricardo Stuckert/PR Agência Brasil (ABr))
Brazil is setting up for a run-off election between right-wing President Jair Bolsonaro and “leftist” former President Lula da Silva. While Lula received the majority of the votes, he did not receive the 50% of votes needed to avoid a run-off. Bolsonaro performed better than expected, receiving 43.2% of votes to Lula’s 48.43%. There is great hope placed on a Lula win, particularly for those hoping for the “leftist” trend in the Americas to continue. But support for Lula should also include recognition of some of his problematic decisions when he was president – if only to ensure that they are not repeated. One of the more under-discussed actions by Lula during his presidency was the agreement to allow Brazil to lead the international military occupation of Haiti (euphemistically called “peacekeeping”) after the U.S., France, and Canada orchestrated a coup d’etat against the country’s democratically elected president in 2004. The occupation, a chapter 7 deployment of a UN Stabilizing military force to Haiti (with the acronym MINUSTAH), was brutal and wreaked havoc on the Haitian community, who had to suffer homicides, rapes, beatings, and a cholera epidemic that killed approximately 30,000 people. Brazil’s military stayed in Haiti from 2004 to 2017. Meanwhile, Haitian people are still dealing with the aftermath of that occupation, which continues under civilian control, denying them self-determination. As far as we know, Lula has never apologized for Brazil’s prominent role in the occupation.
We are reprinting this article from 2011 to remind people that it is our responsibility to keep “leftist” leaders honest. While we support the leftward shift in the Americas, we have to remember that one country’s self-determination should not come at the expense of another’s. None of us are free until all of us are free.
This article was originally published in Black Agenda Report on May 4, 2011.
The Federative Republic of Brazil has the largest Black population in the world after Nigeria and, of late, has claimed a leftist politics. Yet neither appeals to Black cultural affinity nor purportedly progressive affiliation can mask the fact that Brazil is using Haiti for its imperialist ambitions throughout the hemisphere. As the leader of MINUSTAH, the United Nations Stabilizing Mission in Haiti, Brazil is participating in the usurpation of Haitian sovereignty – and the usurpation of Haitian sovereignty is an affront to the sovereignty of all Black People.
MINUSTAH was established by UN Resolution 1542 on April 30th, 2004 after the February 29, U.S.-led coup d’état against President Jean Bertrand Aristide. By June 1st of the same year, a multinational military force led by Brazil and composed largely of soldiers from Latin American countries was stationed in Haiti. Over the years, it has become the 6th largest UN “peacekeeping” force in the world. At last count, MINUSTAH’s force in Haiti boasted 12,055 military troops and police, 510 international civilian personnel, 1, 214 local civilian staff, and 209 UN volunteers. Its budget for the 2010 – 2011 fiscal year is $853,827,400. And with its mandate repeatedly renewed and extended over the past 7 years, MINUSTAH is considered a permanent military occupation force.
The civilian leadership of MINUSTAH is made up of a team of three white men, “counsels” of the UN Secretary General, from Guatemala, U.S., and Canada—Edmond Mulet, Kevin Kennedy, Nigel Fisher. It is the force commander, the Brazilian Major General Luiz Eduardo Ramos Pereira , who is responsible for maintaining the mission’s primary mandate of enforcing “security” in Haiti. Brazil’s former president, leftist Lula da Silva, was initially against MINUSTAH’s mission, arguing that it could not support a resolution based on UN chapter VII resolution. Unlike a chapter VI resolution, which refers to peacekeeping missions where the parties in conflict give their consent to the presence of foreign forces, a chapter VII resolution demands no such consent. But Brazil soon saw its leadership of the UN military occupation in Haiti as an opportunity and quickly re-interpreted the resolution to its convenience.
Haiti is Brazil’s imperial ground zero. By leading its first modern international military venture, Brazil has the opportunity to establish its leadership role both as a regional power and internationally. Already it is emerging as an economic powerhouse, as one of fast growing BRIC nations. But it is also no secret that Brazil has been trying for some time to get a permanent seat on the UN Security Council . This was a foreign policy priority for Brazil’s da Silva, and has continued under the government of Dilma Rousseff. A Business Insider report recently intimated that Brazil is attempting to make a move similar to the U.S. when it adopted the Monroe Doctrine: “If Brazil maintains command, the rising power can claim military leadership of all Latin America.” In recent years, Brazil has gone on a “spending spree ” to reinvigorate the infrastructure and the equipment of its defense forces. In purchasing arms from European suppliers and modernizing its defense capabilities, Brazil is sending a message that it intends to be the region’s central player. The mission in Haiti allows Brazil to enhance its defense capacity while providing its military necessary training. This is the same for the other Latin American countries involved in this so-called peace-keeping operation: some in governments of Chile and Argentina, for example, claim that Haiti provides an avenue of professionalization for its military.
This is all on the back of Black Haitians and, to an increasing extent, on the back of poor Black Brazilians. According to the UN, the military force was to maintain “rule of law,” protect civilians from violence, support “constitutional and political processes,” and to “protect United Nations personnel, facilities, installations and equipment.” Since 2004 the streets of Haiti have been pregnant with the constant and terrorizing presence of heavily armed troops in tanks and pick up trucks. Under Brazil’s leadership, MINUSTAH has been linked to a number of atrocities against the Haitian people, demonstrating that is often incapable of communicating with Haitians in any other language than that of brute force . In fact, former Brazilian MINUSTAH force commander, Augusto Heleno Ribeiro Pereira complained in 2005 that his soldiers were “under extreme pressure from the international community to use violence.” The most egregious were the massacres in the poor neighborhood of Cite Soleil . Haitians have responded accordingly—consistently protesting MINUSTAH’S presence and, most recently, initiating a grassroots movement to end the occupation.
Brazil does not treat its own poor Black population in the favelas any better. According to Human Rights Watch, Brazil has one of the highest incidences of police brutality . In 1998 alone, police in Rio killed an estimated 720 people. The siege against these favelas is only going to get worse. The Brazilian government has laid out plans for massive “slum clearance” as it prepares to host the 2014 World Cup. Some of the soldiers involved have even claimed their training in MINUSTAH as important experience for their domestic assault on the favelas.
Meanwhile, many are hailing Brazil as a left-leaning emerging superpower that stands to challenge U.S. and European hegemony. But if Brazil’s role in MINUSTAH is any indication of what’s to come, Black people need to be on alert. We will be shouldering the burden of inter-imperial competition and conflict. In a bid to win over Haitian support for its military operations in the country, Lula led the Brazilian national football team to Haiti for an international friendly. Lula used the opportunity to indirectly challenge the U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, saying : “We want to show the world that not everything demands cannons, machine guns, and weapons of mass destruction. Sometimes affectionate gestures are worth more than certain wars.” He said this as the heavily armed MINUSTAH forces, led by his country, surrounded the soccer stadium in Port-Au-Prince.
Lula would later compare the UN mission in Haiti to "a soccer game that has only reached halftime," adding that "the second half is a time to take the initiative.”
Brazil cannot win this game on Haitian turf.
Dr. Jemima Pierre is an editor and contributor to Black Agenda Report, the Haiti/Americas Co-Coordinator for the Black Alliance for Peace, and a Black Studies and anthropology professor at UCLA.