There appear to be some rising tensions between countries leading
the relief efforts in Haiti. We know the US
is sending in upwards of 10,000 troops to the country. But since
2004, Brazil's military has been the commanding force leading the Haiti
UN peacekeeping mission, technically referred to as MINUSTAH.
Brazil has about 1,700 soldiers in Haiti and commands about another
5,300 UN forces in Haiti.
Nelson Jobim, Brazil's defence minister just came back from Haiti
and made a point of that saying Brazil would not voluntarily relinquish
any of its command duties. Essentially, what he was saying was that
Brazil, not the Pentagon, would continue to lead the UN forces.
When pressed, Jobim also admitted that the US military doesn't take
orders from foreign forces.
So who will answer to whom in Haiti?
There could be a brewing operational command power struggle. I
don't see Brazil backing down. They have long considered Haiti a
critical part of their foreign policy, and aren't going to bow easily to
the US military when it comes to commanding forces in Haiti during
these critical times.
This earthquake is personal to Brazil. The country has lost 14 UN
soldiers and four civilians thus far, not to mention Luiz
Carlos da Costa, the number two UN diplomat in Haiti. Brasilia
feels an obligation to be a leader from here on out, no matter how many
boots the US puts on the ground.
Brazil - like the US, U.N. and France - is in Haiti for the long
haul. Jobim said on Saturday that his country would have a major
presence in Haiti for at least the next five years.
Brazil is not only shouldering a big part of the UN role in Haiti,
but is also leading the humanitarian efforts, sending cargo planes
loaded with supplies to Haiti as fast as they can be loaded. It is also
taking aid from neighbouring Uruguay and Paraguay, as well as any other
country that wants to donate but can't handle the logistics on their
This, too, is a growing issue. Three Brazilian planes loaded with
supplies were held up and not allowed to land in Haiti by the FAA (America's agency that handles air
traffic, which is now in control of airspace in Haiti). Amorim
Celso, Brazil's foreign minister, apparently was so upset about it that
he put in a call to Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state, and
asked that Brazilian aeroplanes be given priority over chartered
I imagine Brazilian commanders were thinking to themselves: "How
dare the US hold up our planes - we run the UN forces in Haiti!"
With tens of thousands of people dead and millions in need of
immediate help, it might be easy to pass this off as political/military
rubbish that doesn't matter.
But it does matter.
With a monumental task in front of them, and no serious Haiti
security force available, Haiti's law and order will rest in the hands
of the US, the UN, Brazil and maybe France for the foreseeable future.
Military folks usually don't like to take orders from other
countries. We all know this. But the bottom line is also this: There is a
massive task ahead in the coming days, months and years in Haiti. These
command issues must be worked out at some point soon. Because in Haiti,
a country on the precipice of absolute collapse, there is simply too
much at stake.