The former commander of the United Nations military mission in Haiti, General Carlos Alberto dos Santos Cruz, 69, says the Caribbean country is suffering the consequences of a narrow middle class, a chaotic justice system and a plethora of street gangs with ties to politicians. This is reflected, according to him, by the political instability which led to the assassination of President Jovenel Moise on Wednesday (7).
For the general, who commanded the troops between January 2007 and April 2009, the UN cannot be held responsible for the Haitian chaos, because it has never been his mission to administer the country. MINUSTAH was in Haiti for 13 years, between 2004 and 2017. “The mission has been accomplished. You cannot think that the task of the UN is to administer a country, which maintains its sovereignty, ”says Santos Cruz, who was also minister of the Governmental Secretariat of the Presidency in the government of Jair Bolsonaro.
The UN mission spent 13 years in Haiti, but political instability in the country persists. Because? The country is unstructured, has a very small middle class, with a very large mass of extremely needy people. It is a country dominated by a small number of families, where justice and politics are chaotic. You have many areas dominated by so-called “street gangs” [gangues de rua], organized crime, which are financially based on extortion, kidnapping, drug trafficking. These gangs are politicized, politicians exploit them to get votes, to make deals. The same thing happens here, sometimes we hear about a politician who makes a pact with organized crime.
Wasn’t the idea of the UN going there trying to change that, to help strengthen institutions? Has there been a failure? The mission was accomplished. You may not think that the task of a UN mission is to administer a country that maintains its sovereignty. Political practice, good or bad public administration, all this is the business of nationals. Solving the problems depends on local politicians, managers, local society.
Has MINUSTAH improved the situation in Haiti compared to 2004? At least during the time the mission was there, the country was functioning much better. What a mission does is pacify politically motivated violence, not public safety. The other thing is to facilitate financial and humanitarian aid. You have the presence of agencies, UNICEF, World Bank, WHO etc. I was there two years and three months, I saw the evolution of commerce, deserted streets that were controlled by gangs and then began to have an incredible business.
Wasn’t this feeling of stability artificial? Politically, even when MINUSTAH was there, every election has always had frauds, irregularities. All, without exception, were problematic.
But now they’ve killed a president. Yes, but here in Brazil they tried to assassinate the main presidential candidate [Jair Bolsonaro]. The UN Security Council is the body that establishes peacekeeping missions. And they are only established when the analyzed crisis is a threat to international security. In addition, the country must ask, accept, because it has sovereignty. The assassination of a president is not a fact that threatens international security.
What can the international community do to help? What you have always done. You have donations, international aid. Now, whether the government is functioning badly or well, whether this aid is well administered or not, it is something that you cannot intervene as much. When I was there, the UN gave money to reform the school of magistrates, essential to improve the justice system. But whether it improves or not depends on local practice. The Haitian police have also received a very large investment, they have an excellent police training academy.
And the role of Brazil? We had a great influence when we had troops in Haiti. Our diplomacy has been very active. Today we don’t have much.
What is the immediate future of Haiti? M. Do you see the risk of civil war? I don’t think it’s going to evolve into that. They have to follow the Constitution, the laws. You need to grab that and fix the problem.