RIO DE JANEIRO, Mar 24 2005 (IPS) — Haiti and Venezuela have emerged as the most sensitive foreign policy concerns for Brazil, as it seeks the sometimes conflicting dual roles of Latin American leadership and a permanent seat on the U.N. Security Council.
During a brief stopover in Brasilia Wednesday, U.S. Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld praised Brazil’s efforts at the head of the multinational peacekeeping troops stationed in Haiti, but a recent report from human rights activists has harshly criticised the performance of the United Nations Stabilisation Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH).
Former Chilean foreign minister Juan Gabriel Valdés is the U.N. secretary-general’s special representative to Haiti and head of MINUSTAH.
Brazilians “can be proud of the leadership that Brazil is demonstrating in the region and across the globe,” said Rumsfeld, who had particular praise for the role played by Brazilian troops in Haiti.
On Wednesday afternoon, Rumsfeld flew to Manaus, capital of the northwestern Brazilian state of Amazonas, where he visited the headquarters of the Amazon Surveillance System (SIVAM), a network of airborne and ground-based radars and computers that he described as “impressive.”
But the defence secretary also took advantage of the press conference he gave in Brasilia to express his concern over Venezuela’s plans to purchase 100,000 AK-47 automatic rifles from Russia, claiming that he “can’t imagine why Venezuela needs 100,000 AK-47s,” while expressing doubt over whether this would be “good for the hemisphere.”
The government of leftist Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez announced the purchase of the rifles as part of an overall programme for updating the country’s military equipment, which also includes the acquisition of 41 attack and transport helicopters and several dozen MIG fighter planes from Russia as well.
Retired generals and other analysts in Venezuela have played down the U.S. concern over the arms purchases, noting that they are merely aimed at replacing badly outdated weapons in a country that shares a 2,200-km border with civil war-torn Colombia, which is frequently crossed by members of irregular armed groups.
Brazil could also become a supplier of military aircraft for the Venezuelan armed forces. Chávez and Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva have discussed the purchase of two types of Brazilian-made planes: AMX fighter bombers, based on Italian technology, and 24 Super Tucanos for airspace control and ground surveillance.
As such, Rumsfeld’s comments could be interpreted as a warning that the United States would not look kindly on any sales of weapons to Venezuela, although Washington is interested in the “moderating” role Brazil plays through its ties with Chávez and other South American governments viewed as leftist, such as the administrations in Argentina and Uruguay.
In a joint press conference Wednesday given by Brazilian Vice President and Defence Minister José Alencar and Rumsfeld, the former clearly stated that “Brazil continues to defend the right to self-determination and the principle of non-intervention.”
The goal of forging a unified and influential international voice for South America has prompted Lula and his government into action on various occasions, to prevent an institutional breakdown in Venezuela and soothe tensions between Caracas and both the United States and Colombia.
Brazil has done a commendable job of walking the diplomatic tightrope until now. The next step will be a meeting scheduled for Mar. 29 in the Venezuelan city of Guayana, to be attended by Lula, Chávez, Colombian President Alvaro Uribe and Spanish Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero.
Brazil’s other leading foreign policy focus has been identified by observers as the main reason why Lula and his governing leftist Workers Party (PT) took on the prickly task of leading up the U.N. peacekeeping troops in Haiti, whose constitutional president, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, was overthrown on Feb. 29, 2004.
According to experts, Brazil’s aspirations to permanent membership on the U.N. Security Council demanded some form of international military presence.
Brazil assumed command of the MINUSTAH military forces by sending 1,200 troops to Haiti, a practically stateless country and the poorest in the hemisphere, with large areas effectively ruled by illegal armed groups.
Significant doubts surrounded the legitimacy of international military intervention in Haiti, given that Aristide himself claims that he did not resign, but was in fact forced to step down and leave the country by U.S. Marines, who took him on a U.S. plane to the Central African Republic.
The Caribbean Community (CARICOM) backed Aristide’s allegations and called on the U.N. for an independent investigation into the case, which never happened.
Nine months into the mission involving over 7,400 military troops and civilian police officers from around 30 countries – including seven in South America – Haiti remains the scene of fatal clashes and human rights violations with no effective measures to curb them, according to James Cavallaro, Associate Director of the Harvard Law School Human Rights Programme, in the United States.
Cavallaro visited Haiti and coordinated the drafting of “Keeping the Peace In Haiti?”, a report co-authored by the Harvard Law Student Advocates for Human Rights and the Brazilian non-governmental organisation Centro de Justiça Global (Global Justice Centre), and presented Wednesday in Rio de Janeiro.
MINUSTAH is not fulfilling its “strong mandate in three principal areas: providing a secure and stable environment, particularly through disarmament; supporting the political process and good governance in preparation for upcoming elections; and monitoring and reporting on human rights,” the report charges.
Moreover, the MINUSTAH forces have effectively shown “complicity” with the Haitian National Police (HNP) by failing to investigate allegations of grievous human rights violations committed by the HNP, ranging from arbitrary arrests, disappearances and summary executions to the killing of hospitalised patients and the disposal of bodies in mass graves, the report says.
The authors provide numerous examples of the “lack of will” shown by the forces led by Brazilian General Augusto Heleno Pereira to prevent and investigate the violence aimed primarily against the inhabitants of slums in Port-au-Prince, the Haitian capital, most of whom are supporters of deposed president Aristide.
There are clearly differences in the interpretation of the peacekeeping mission’s mandate. In the face of criticism, Pereira has defended his troops by affirming that MINUSTAH’s task is “to support the interim government and the National Police, the only legal force in the country,” according to the Agencia Brasil official news service.
As far as Pereira is concerned, disarmament will never be possible in Haiti without social and economic projects implemented as part of a social development programme.
In a similar vein, Valdés, the head of MINUSTAH, recently reminded the United States and other wealthy developed countries that they have not lived up to their pledge to contribute over one billion dollars for reconstruction projects in Haiti, another of the international community’s promises to the devastated Caribbean nation.
Any doubts raised around the performance of the peacekeeping troops could obviously affect Brazil’s international image. But the road to the Security Council will be considerably smoother if the country manages to stay on the good side of the United States.