When Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, better known as “Lula”, visits Washington on March 31, he will likely spend most of his time with President Bush discussing ethanol, a relatively safe subject for the two leaders. Earlier this month, Brazil and the United States, the world’s two top ethanol producers, announced the creation of an international forum to help turn biofuels into a globally traded commodity. Brazil, unlike the U.S., has spent thirty years developing its ethanol technology, and is producing a surplus of a sugar-based version of that fuel.
Lula has been criticized for following the Bush Administration on foreign trade policy, but he may be in even more hot water for following Bush on a foreign military adventure. When President Lula relieved U.S. Marines in Haiti by having Brazil take the lead of the UN peacekeeping mission (MINUSTAH) in early 2004, he got Bush, whose troops were spread thin, out of a tight spot. Lula also earned brownie points for Brazil’s bid for a permanent seat on a potentially-expanded UN Security Council.
But all this came at a price. MINUSTAH was the only UN peacekeeping mission in history deployed without a peace agreement. It’s true purpose was to consolidate the February 29, 2004 coup against the democratically-elected government of Jean-Bertrand Aristide. This genesis put MINUSTAH in a quandary from the beginning. In order to fulfill its mission of supporting the illegitimate, unpopular and brutal Interim Government of Haiti (led by a Bush supporter flown in from Florida), MINUSTAH was forced to join the dictatorship’s attacks on poor neighborhoods that would never accept the overthrow of their democracy.
In August 2006, the British Medical Journal The Lancet published a mortality study that concluded 8,000 people were killed in the first twenty-two months of the coup. In almost half of the reported deaths, the perpetrators were identified as security agents of the coup government, former soldiers or armed anti-Lavalas groups. No murders were attributed to Lavalas members. Although the government and its paramilitary allies did the lion’s share of the killings, MINUSTAH participated as well. In a July 6, 2005 raid, MINUSTAH soldiers shot 22,000 bullets (by the UN’s own count) into the thin walls of the poor Cite Soleil neighborhood. Up to sixty civilians were killed, dozens more wounded, but none received help from the “peacekeepers.”
Although a democratic government was inaugurated last May, MINUSTAH continues to kill civilians. In the early morning of December 22, 2006, 400 Brazilian-led MINUSTAH troops in armored vehicles carried out a massive assault on the Bois Neuf and Drouillard districts of Cite Soleil in Port-au-Prince. The military operation, which claimed the lives of dozens of area residents, took place near the site of the July, 2005 raid.
“They came here to terrorize the population,” resident Rose Martel told Reuters, referring to UN troops and police. “I don’t think they really killed any bandits, unless they consider all of us as bandits.”
The president of the Human Rights Commission of the Haitian Senate described the operation as “a crime against humanity.” The Bureau des Avocats Internationaux, a Haitian human rights group, documented more than twenty killed, including children and elderly.
Once again, the UN showed little interest in its “collateral damage.” UN spokesperson Sophie De la Combe could not offer information on Haitians killed or wounded, just that “no one was killed on our side.”
When journalists and human rights groups asked MINUSTAH head Edmond Mulet about the killings, he attacked the messengers, writing, “I am appalled to see how some people support criminal, violent, human-rights violation activities in Haiti and oppose the rule of law. Gangsters, killers, kidnappers, rapist [sic] of young girls should and will be brought to justice.”
But if the UN operation was intended to uphold the rule of law or bringing alleged criminals to justice, there should have been valid warrants authorizing MINUSTAH and the PNH to make arrests, as required by Haiti’s constitution and international law. Mulet presented no indication of such warrants, or any evidence that the victims, including an elderly man killed while en route to work and a pregnant woman who lost her fetus, were gangsters, killers, kidnappers or rapists.
Human rights activist Seth Donnelly, who investigated the July 6, 2005 Cite Soleil assault, told me, “Mulet’s [statement] echoes the response I received when I interviewed Lt. Augusto Heleno and Colonel Moraneau just days after the July 6 massacre. They told me that a handful of ‘bandits’ had been killed and that the UN fired only after they had been fired upon. These statements were contradicted by evidence provided by Doctors Without Borders staff at the hospital that treated the July 6 victims. The MINUSTAH claims were also contradicted by eyewitness testimony we gathered in affidavits. Among the survivors we spoke to was a young woman who also lost her baby and a father who witnessed the killing of his wife and two young children.”
In early January, Brazilian Major General Carlos Alberto Dos Santos became the fourth commander of the UN force in Haiti (consisting of 8,360 total uniformed personnel, as of 30 November 2006). Dos Santos said, ‘We are going to work in the same way as we have worked before. Nothing has changed about our mission or our obligations.’ Since Dos Santos made that commitment, UN military operations have killed seven-year-old Stephanie Lubin, four-year-old Alexandra Lubin, and nine-year-old Boadley Bewence Germain, all guilty of living in the crossroads of George W. Bush’s foreign policy.
More and more Brazilians are appalled at their country’s role in MINUSTAH. On February 7 of this year, 6,000 protestors, mostly youth, marched through Rio de Janeiro’s city center to demand the immediate withdrawal of Brazil’s troops from Haiti. By continuing to do Bush’s dirty work in Haiti, Lula has tied his country’s destiny to a sinking ship. Before it is too late, he needs to join the rest of the world in recognizing that the Bush Administration’s policies of global dominance are both morally wrong and unlikely to bring positive results.
BEN TERRALL is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle, In These Times, Counterpunch, Lip Magazine, and other publications. He has visited Haiti four times since the February 29, 2004 coup which forced out the democratically-elected Aristide government.
He can be reached at email@example.com