Hope in Cite Soleil Brazil Helps to Restore Order in Haiti

Officially, Brazil is responsible for keeping order in earthquake-stricken Haiti, but the country's soldiers -- present for almost six years on the Caribbean island as the leaders of the UN peacekeeping force -- are also helping with humanitarian relief. Behind the scenes, though, Washington and Brasilia are quietly competing for influence and power in Haiti.

By in Port-au-Prince, Haiti


On the fifth day after the earthquake, Yankee Charles, 30, raised an American flag above the ruins of his hut. The residents of the largest slum in Port-au-Prince had been without food and water for five days. They had wrapped their dead in towels and given them a hasty burial in a pit beside the road. "I thought help would come more quickly if I raised the American flag," Charles says.

But no US Marines arrived in Cite Soleil, this impoverished neighborhood in the Haitian capital. Instead, a Brazilian military patrol belonging to MINUSTAH, the United Nations peacekeeping mission stationed in Haiti since 2004, showed up. "They asked why I'd raised an American flag, then they disappeared again," Charles says. The next day, a UN truck driven by Brazilian soldiers delivered water and food.

Photo Gallery

6  Photos
Photo Gallery: Brazilian Peacekeeprs Provide Relief

Officially, the international community's responsibilities in Haiti are clearly defined -- the United States provides humanitarian aid, while MINUSTAH, under Brazilian direction, is responsible for public safety. Behind the scenes, though, Washington and Brasilia are vying for power and influence in the suffering Caribbean nation.

The Haiti mission is Brazil's largest and most important foreign assignment in its history as a UN member. Brasilia has sent 1,300 soldiers to Haiti to date, and the force commander is Brazilian. In recent years, MINUSTAH fought the armed gangs that control Cite Soleil and Port-au-Prince's other slums.

'The Security Situation Hasn't Gotten Worse Since the Earthquake'

Then the earthquake hit. Washington sent in Marines and American forces assumed control of the capital's airport. The US is also conducting airdrops of food supplies into the country's interior, providing a host of doctors, aid workers and experts -- and it wants to rebuild the country's presidential palace and other key buildings. Will it really stop short of patrolling the streets of Port-au-Prince as well?

The city's prison collapsed in the earthquake and more than 3,000 inmates escaped, among them the leaders of several gangs. "We'll recapture them," promises Colonel João Batista Bernardes of the Brazilian MINUSTAH forces, "and, in any case, the security situation hasn't gotten worse since the earthquake." Haiti "doesn't need American troops to maintain order," concurs Brazilian Ambassador Igor Kipman, adding that his country now plans to double its UN troop presence.

Sergeant Márcio Andretti, 42, is on the front lines of Haiti's battle for survival. Last week, the Brazilian soldier set out to escort a truck from the Brazilian military base to a central hospital six kilometers away. The hospital was without electricity, and the plan was to deliver a generator donated by the Dominican Republic.

Andretti arrived in Haiti the day before the earthquake. His wife and two children stayed behind in Rio de Janeiro. Deployed for six months, he was in his barracks when the quake hit. The base's buildings are made of a special, flexible material manufactured in Italy. "They bent like rubber," Andretti says.

Brazilian Earthquake Casualties

But His fellow soldiers at MINUSTAH headquarters in Petionville weren't as lucky. Their building collapsed and 20 Brazilians were killed, including the mission's deputy chief. The UN has set up a new temporary headquarters near the airport.

At around 9:30 a.m., Andretti's convoy rolls through the gates of the Brazilian base. More than a hundred Haitians are waiting in front of the fence, begging for work, money or food. Andretti stands in the rear of a white Land Rover, the truck with the generator following behind, as they pass the ruins of a collapsed electronics store.

The street is packed with overflowing tap-taps -- the country's colorful shared taxi buses -- as well as trucks and off-road vehicles with tinted windows. Andretti's convoy grounds to a standstill in the traffic after just 200 meters (650 feet).

The reason is the US embassy, located on the same street as the Brazilian base. Hundreds of Haitians are lined up in front of the bunker-like building, many pulling suitcases containing their last remaining possessions. They want to depart for the United States.

Sergeant Andretti jumps from his vehicle and attempts to bring order to the chaos. Almost more than anything else, UN solders have been in demand as traffic police since the earthquake, as trucks filled with relief supplies choke the capital's streets. Andretti has a go at clearing the traffic, sweat dripping onto his sunglasses. "Bon bagay!" amused bystanders cry, "Super!" but Andretti doesn't react. Then someone shouts, "Ronaldo!" and the Brazilian laughs and returns the greeting. "We should get our national soccer team out here," he suggests, "to help with the relief work."

His convoy approaches Cite Soleil, a sea of huts made of cardboard, corrugated metal, and wood, with the turquoise water sparkling behind it. Fewer people died here than in the city center. Although many huts were destroyed, there were hardly any concrete buildings in the area.

The people in Cite Soleil are wading through garbage and sewage up to their knees. Women gather at a burst water pipe to collect water, chatting and laughing as a way to keep misery at bay. Children play soccer next to a collapsed school.

A Semblence of Normal Life Amidst the Dead

Gangs were once entrenched in Cite Soleil. They spent years exchanging fire with UN troops. The slums are now largely peaceful, but only since 2007. "We're afraid they might return," says Pierre Bachelet, as he waits for food distribution in Cite Soleil. Haiti has thousands of weapons in circulation and is an important transit country for cocaine.

The Land Rover continues on into "Hell's Kitchen," as Haitians call the market in the La Saline neighborhood that borders on Cite Soleil. A monstrous stench rises from the garbage heaps, while women sell vegetables nearby. A market hall here donated by Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez withstood the quake.

The convoy stops in front of the pile of rubble that was once the Haitian parliament building. Hundreds of Haitians are climbing on the ruins, picking anything still useable out of the debris. They use hammers and stones to pry steel from concrete, knowing metal is easy to sell.

As the Land Rover turns into the Bel-Air neighborhood, the intense odor of dead bodies permeates the air. Rescue teams search for people buried in the rubble of scores of collapsed buildings. But in the unscathed buildings, some semblence of normal life is returning. Generators hum, the first stores are opening their doors and street hawkers tout cards with cell phone minutes.

The hospital where the patrol finally arrives is partially collapsed and neighboring buildings are completely destroyed. A bulldozer pulls a wrecked car out of the rubble.

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wjshelton 01/27/2010
1. Brazilian empathy
As a US citizen who lived in Brazil for a number of years, I have been following news from Haiti in both the Brazilian and US media. I have been absolutely delighted to see the Brazilian troops actions. They clearly empathize with the Haitian people, and it shows in their dealings with the people. Peacekeeping also means feeding, comforting and struggling along side the recipients of the peacekeepers' efforts. The Americans, on the other hand, have entered with their typical arrogance and presumption that they must lead and all others must follow. I would much rather deal with a Brazilian soldier, who knows how to smile while helping others, than with a stern faced, heavily armed fellow countryman.
BTraven 01/28/2010
2.
Zitat von wjsheltonAs a US citizen who lived in Brazil for a number of years, I have been following news from Haiti in both the Brazilian and US media. I have been absolutely delighted to see the Brazilian troops actions. They clearly empathize with the Haitian people, and it shows in their dealings with the people. Peacekeeping also means feeding, comforting and struggling along side the recipients of the peacekeepers' efforts. The Americans, on the other hand, have entered with their typical arrogance and presumption that they must lead and all others must follow. I would much rather deal with a Brazilian soldier, who knows how to smile while helping others, than with a stern faced, heavily armed fellow countryman.
It was quite shocking seeing heavy-armed marines jumping out of helicopters, too. I do not know what I would think when I was victim – do the want to conquer the country or do the help us? It was a strange scenario. By the way their riffles are completely useless in a case of upheaval. I am quite happy that I have not been the only one who found the scenes where marines were involved not macabre. Most people were not bothered by the military at all.
mae 02/03/2010
3. s
Zitat von BTravenIt was quite shocking seeing heavy-armed marines jumping out of helicopters, too. I do not know what I would think when I was victim – do the want to conquer the country or do the help us? It was a strange scenario. By the way their riffles are completely useless in a case of upheaval. I am quite happy that I have not been the only one who found the scenes where marines were involved not macabre. Most people were not bothered by the military at all.
Prehaps you are projecting your mentality (heavily influenced by anti-american propaganda) into the haitians. All news accounts say the Haitians welcomed the American military and viewed them as the only source capable of keeping some of sort of order in the chaos that followed the aftermath. Not to mention the American humanitarian effort ( medical care, food , clothes etc) was the largest. Brazil is a very racist country where slavery was only abolished in the early part of the 20th century and racism against blacks is rampant and deep seated. The Haitians knows this all too well. (Yes, I know according to Germany's goebels like media, slavery in the New world only happened within American borders, the truth is a very different matter).
symewinston 02/06/2010
4.
Zitat von wjsheltonAs a US citizen who lived in Brazil for a number of years, I have been following news from Haiti in both the Brazilian and US media. I have been absolutely delighted to see the Brazilian troops actions. They clearly empathize with the Haitian people, and it shows in their dealings with the people. Peacekeeping also means feeding, comforting and struggling along side the recipients of the peacekeepers' efforts. The Americans, on the other hand, have entered with their typical arrogance and presumption that they must lead and all others must follow. I would much rather deal with a Brazilian soldier, who knows how to smile while helping others, than with a stern faced, heavily armed fellow countryman.
Yes, the Americans took control of the airport and the harbor. Many countries were unable to help because of the take over of the country by the Americans and were forced to truck supplies from the Dominican Republic because of their denial of use of the airport by the American 'conquerors'. A French hospital ship had to return because of the American actions. Hillary Clinton whose presidential ambitions are clear, cancelled a visit to Australia in order to put a show of how concerned and involved in the rescue she was. The Australian press asked "what could she do that the powerful US army couldn't ?" It was clear she wanted to show how different her actions were in comparison to Bush's reaction to Katrina Not only Brasil but many other South American countries have helped. Chile has had peace keepers stationed in Haiti for years and one Chilean officer was killed in the earthquake. It is funny that when the Americans sent some Haitians to hospital in Florida the hospitals refused them admission. Pay first buddy! The Federal Government had to show them the money. Well done Brasil!!
BTraven 02/09/2010
5.
Zitat von maePrehaps you are projecting your mentality (heavily influenced by anti-american propaganda) into the haitians. All news accounts say the Haitians welcomed the American military and viewed them as the only source capable of keeping some of sort of order in the chaos that followed the aftermath. Not to mention the American humanitarian effort ( medical care, food , clothes etc) was the largest. Brazil is a very racist country where slavery was only abolished in the early part of the 20th century and racism against blacks is rampant and deep seated. The Haitians knows this all too well. (Yes, I know according to Germany's goebels like media, slavery in the New world only happened within American borders, the truth is a very different matter).
I quite proud that my eyes and mind had not deceived me when the images from Haiti were broadcast on television since it has turned out that I was right – because of deploying Marines instead of delivering medicine and food first Haitians were harmed. Well-known Americans felt obliged to protest against it in a letter which was sent to the Senate. "Last month actors and human rights advocates Danny Glover and Harry Belafonte, along with the Reverend Jesse Jackson sent a letter to Congress and the Obama administration calling attention to "serious mistakes that have unnecessarily delayed the delivery of medical supplies, water, and other life-saving materials." The letter was also signed by some 90 scholars and Haiti advocates. (Disclosure: I also added my signature)." And the following is revealing, too: "Meanwhile, the Associated Press reports that 33 cents of each US government dollar to Haiti goes to the military. There are already 6,000 US troops in Haiti, in addition to the 12,500 UN troops, and Washington has talked about deploying 20,000. This is clearly overkill. The AP reports just one cent of each US dollar is going to the Haitian government. This is also a serious problem. Haiti needs a government, and years of US and private efforts have destroyed most of it. Haitian government revenues, not including grants, are just 10% of GDP, more than 50% lower than most poorer countries in Africa, such as Rwanda, Mozambique, Niger and Burundi." http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/cifamerica/2010/feb/08/haiti-rainy-season-us
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