By Dialogo September 25, 2013 Commanding over 6,000 soldiers from 19 countries, Brazilian Army Lieutenant General Edson Leal Pujol, Force Commander of the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti – MINUSTAH, shared his expectations for the future of the mission with Diálogo, and evaluated the possibility of reducing the headcount of the Peacekeeping Force in the country. Diálogo: Could you give us a complete overview of MINUSTAH, especially which forces are currently engaged in Haiti? Lieutenant Edson Leal Pujol: Today, the Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) has basically three components, including: the military component, which is perhaps the best known part for Brazil due to the constant presence of the Brazilian troops since the beginning of the mission in 2004; the police component, and the civil component. This includes not only the administrative piece of the UN, which also handles other branches of the mission that are not directly related to security, but also, for instance, the political and civil aspects, and the country’s legal rule of law and human rights processes, among others. Another reason for their presence in the country is to seek to stabilize and strengthen the Haitian institutions, several UN agencies, and other members of the international community and non-governmental organizations. The objective of all these components, along with the United Nations, is to provide assistance so the Haitian people can reestablish and restructure themselves. Diálogo: What are the main difficulties the mission faces today? Lt. Gen. Pujol: It is very difficult to define and list, but I believe that the main difficulty we experience today is the condition of the country. Haiti is ranked the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. Within the context of the international community, this leads to the belief that the country undergoes a series of difficulties, in different areas, not only regarding governance and democracy, but also in terms of structure, education, health, sanitation, added to an extremely incipient economy. Eighty percent of Haiti’s budget depends on international assistance. This data itself is already a sign of the country undergoing great difficulty. When we analyze other countries, particularly Brazil, we observe how challenging it is to overcome poverty. It is difficult enough to bring education and health to the population and all that a State requires to provide the basic needs for its people; well it’s even worse when it comes to the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. In this regard, the United Nations faces a challenge to fulfill a series of objectives, among which are establishing a secure and stable environment to allow other UN agencies to help the Haitian government to strengthen their democratic institutions, seeking improvement in quality of life and a better future for the Haitian population. Therefore, these are today’s challenges, in the areas of education, infrastructure, establishment of the rule of law, and maintaining the country’s security. Diálogo: What goals has MINUSTAH already achieved? Lt. Gen. Pujol: If we look into the past nine years, the only objective that has been effectively secured to date is a safe environment. This is all due to having strengthened the Haitian institutions and the presence of the United Nations with a headcount of over 6,000 men in the international troops, and over 2,000 UN police officers. Diálogo: Does the mission currently have more of a police role? Is there a need to remove part of the UN troops from Haiti? Lt. Gen. Pujol: Instead of discussing the need to remove, let’s talk about the possibility of reducing the troops. Why? The mission has been designed according to the needs of the country. A thorough study of the situation and decisions have been made by the Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO), and other members of the United Nations, who determined the extent of the mission in Haiti, given their existing problems. Throughout these nine years the mission has progressed; some goals were met and those that were not had a significant improvement. In this regard, there is a possibility of reducing the international presence in Haiti, not only of the military, but of the mission as a whole. Therefore, as the objectives are met, the needs are reviewed. So, I cannot say that there is a need to remove the troops or the UN troops today, but there is a possibility that the mission may be reduced because of what has been achieved so far as well as its current needs. Every year the mission is reviewed. Currently, the MINUSTAH mandate is undergoing its final discussion phase, which I believe will culminate in mid-October with its renewal. This new mandate will determine the new dimension and whether the mission objectives should be modified. We know that the reduction process begun last year was finalized in June of this year. But this process remains and must continue; however, only time will tell the extent and speed of this reduction. Diálogo: How will MINUSTAH look in the future? Lt. Gen. Pujol: What the future holds is a change in focus regarding the UN presence in Haiti and a process that will no longer rely so largely on a military and police presence, but become more so on its own politics, human rights, and institutional strengthening. In the future, as the objectives are met, the mission will become more civil than military. Diálogo: How do you evaluate the Brazilian military performance in Haiti? Lt. Gen. Pujol: I have completed a five-month mission so far, and during my command, I’ve seen a very high performance, not only from the Brazilian soldiers, but also from the rest of the military Peacekeeping Force . They are all very professional and have performed their assigned missions exceptionally well. For all that has been said, not only by my predecessors, but the history of the UN mission in Haiti itself, the soldiers perform an outstanding role, very professional and with concrete results. Especially the Brazilians, not only here in MINUSTAH, but in other missions around the world, have always been referenced for their professionalism and by how they achieve results during peacekeeping missions. The Brazilian soldier is currently a point of reference, not only here in Haiti, but for the United Nations as a whole. Whenever Brazil is mentioned, there is a sense of respect for the results of the Brazilian military performance. Diálogo: What is the most significant fact you could highlight from your command mission in Haiti? Lt. Gen Pujol: The work of the mission is already very significant. The military assistance to the Haitian government, the Haitian police, and the UN Police (UNPOL), ensure a safe and stable environment, which is very important. Another aspect is the daily presence of the United Nations soldiers, not only in the capital city of Port-au-Prince, but also in other parts of the country, trying to inhibit crime, and also rebuilding the country and providing aid to the population. We have been performing humanitarian work, civic and social activities, helped the communities, worked together in the refugee camps, provided assistance to schools and orphanages, provided assistance to other UN agencies, such as UNICEF, the United Nations Development Program, UNESCO, the World Food Program, which helped distribute water and food, and also provided medical and dental services; in other words, we ensured a safe environment so these agencies could work freely in Haiti, especially in more difficult areas. The assistance and reconstruction work, along with providing security to the country is very important. Regarding the earthquake, I did not experience it directly, but if we reflect back tp 2010, when the tragedy took place, the presence of the United Nations, particularly the soldiers, was exceptional. The work was extremely significant and, certainly, if the United Nations would not have been present, the number of victims would have been greater, the rescue work would have been delayed and access to international assistance would have been difficult in Haiti. This may be the most significant fact of the UN presence and assistance in the reconstruction of Haiti. Where there’s safety there’s PEACE, and where there’s peace there’s PROGRESS. The nations fight for their identity, their roots and their cultures, but it all needs to go hand in hand with the future vision of human rights which are nothing more than our common and individual rights, and above all are our OBLIGATIONS as citizens of this global village.