They say news travels fast. Well, this news didn’t seem to.
On June 21st, the boots of 34 Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) personnel hit the ground in Haiti. Deployed for six months as part of the Brazilian battalion of the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH), this infantry platoon is anticipated to provide things like security patrols, check points, convoy escorts, and logistical support to other units.
By the time interested Canadians caught wind of this development, the troops were probably already suiting up for their first day on the job.
The news was pretty easy to miss. After all, former Defence Minister Peter MacKay only made the announcement two days earlier. A speedy policy decision? So it seemed, until reporters quickly unearthed—much to the surprise of almost everyone, including many parliamentarians (who, you would figure, should be in the know)—that the deployment had really been approved nine months prior.
It seems not many people got the memo.
All process questions aside, what are we to make of this decision? Perhaps the deployment was an attempt to mark last week’s National Peacekeepers Day really early. Not likely. For a government that has increasingly distanced our military from Canada’s historic peacekeeping legacy (opting instead to contribute police officers to peacekeeping missions), the decision seemed unusual, to say the least.
A bit of a head-scratcher, really.
None of this necessarily matters if Canada’s announcement is welcome news to the Haitian people. Given that the UN Security Council has unanimously approved the renewal of the mission’s mandate every year since 2004, MINUSTAH must have some substantial wins under its proverbial belt. It must be doing something right.
Well, as is so often the case, it all depends on who you ask.
To some, MINUSTAH is the right tool for providing civilian protection and, according to the original UN Security Council Resolution that authorized its deployment, “ensur[ing] a secure and stable environment,” especially given the relative weakness of Haiti’s own security sector.
To many Haitians who have seen MINUSTAH in action over the last eight years, however, the mission’s presence has come to signal something entirely different. With a big-ticket price tag of $650 million per year, MINUSTAH’s astronomical costs appear increasingly difficult to justify.
Based on extensive consultations with our local partners, MCC has voiced serious concerns to the U.N. in recent years over several dimensions of the MINUSTAH mission, including (but unfortunately not limited to) the:
- absence of legal legitimacy for the mission’s presence, as it violates Article 139 of the Haitian Constitution;
- lack of justification for the mission’s Chapter VII (combat) mandate, given the absence of armed conflict in Haiti since 2004;
- widespread allegations of human rights and sexual abuses perpetrated by U.N. soldiers;
- introduction of cholera by a U.N. base, which has already reportedly killed more than 8,000 Haitians and infected another 650,000.
Despite eight years on the ground, it is difficult to point to any real successes. In fact, many Haitians argue that the long-term presence of MINUSTAH troops has only made things worse and exacerbated Haiti’s structural crisis.
So why has Canada sent troops to Haiti? And why now?
Well, as Minister MacKay is reported to have said, this decision signals Canada’s commitment to support Haiti (although that makes the current freeze on all future aid funding for Haiti a bit confusing), and has the added benefit of strengthening bilateral ties with Brazil.
Economic interest with Brazil a driving factor in our decision to deploy to MINUSTAH?
It has long been acknowledged that Haiti needs sustained commitment from the international community for building its capacity to become a strong, stable, and flourishing country.
But what kind of international support might help address the real sources—or, to use an increasingly unwelcome term, root causes—of Haiti’s insecurity? Is an ongoing militarized response, supplied with heavy equipment and arms (and a hefty price tag to boot), the right tool to grab from the toolbox?
As our partners have long advocated, the problems facing Haiti are not military in nature but are the by-product of deeply-rooted poverty and structural incapacity. What the country needs most is investment in health care, employment, food security, education, and water and sanitation infrastructure, as well as providing technical training and capacity building for the judiciary. Such work is best carried out by specialized agencies better equipped to deal with insecurity caused by a lack of development.
For these reasons, MCC partners believe the cost of MINUSTAH to be wasteful. Haiti’s National Cholera Elimination Plan, for instance, will cost $2.2 billion over ten years while MINUSTAH (at its current rate) will cost $6.7 billion. Simple math says that’s about three times the total amount needed to eliminate cholera. That’s some upsetting math.
This is why MCC Canada voiced our concern last month to the Minister of National Defence.
With unclear benchmarks for a timely withdrawal, it looks like MINUSTAH could be around a while. But our partners believe that the recent deployment of Canadian military personnel is not a show of solidarity but of force, and has the potential to tarnish the kind of cooperation being sought by the Haitian people.
By Jenn Wiebe, MCC Ottawa Office Policy Analyst