Issue Brief

In Post-Conflict Haiti, Brazil Consolidates Its Status as Regional Actor

in Program

Haiti, the most fragile and poorest state in the Americas, is plagued by recurring political conflicts and a vicious cycle of instability and violence. After 30 years of a transition from dictatorship to more open and inclusive governance, the democratic process in Haiti remains very unsteady. Although the country adopted a constitution in 1987 that safeguards fundamental human rights and lays the framework for a liberal democracy, there is no widespread consensus among Haitian elites to apply the rule of law. Basic concepts that constitute the cornerstone of democracy – such as accepting the results of free and fair elections – seem hard to swallow for many political actors. As a result, political competition tends to go beyond the ballot box, spilling over in street protests and armed clashes. Politically motivated violence and recurring natural disasters are among the main contributing factors to insecurity, poverty, and destabilization in Haiti.

The end of the Cold War ushered in a new era of democratization in the Americas. Haiti was one of the countries that, having endured dictatorship and other forms of autocratic regimes, moved toward democratic forms of rule. In 1990, for the first time in history, Haiti elected a president through free and fair elections. However, only a few months later, he was deposed during a bloody coup that undermined the country’s democratic principles. These events led to the first U.N.-mandated peacekeeping and peacebuilding operations in Haiti. To respond to Haiti’s multifaceted challenges, the international community, led by the United States and its Western allies, such as France and Canada, has provided development aid, implemented democracy-support projects, deployed peacekeeping missions, and provided humanitarian assistance during natural disasters such as the 2010 earthquake.

More recently in 2016 they have provided assistance when Hurricane Matthew devastated the southern parts of the country. Brazil also offered assistance, quickly bolstering its military presence following the earthquake (from 1,287 to 2,190 personnel deployed), and expanded
humanitarian support. In other words, foreign interventions have become a fixture of Haiti’s history either to restore peace and democratic order or to provide development aid and humanitarian assistance. Haiti has become one of the major recipients of official development
assistance (ODA) in the region.

Despite significant investments by the international community, Haiti remains a fragile state with low levels of human development and security.3 The U.S. is at the forefront of both development aid and security cooperation. On the one hand, this prominent American role underscores the solidarity between the two countries. On the other hand, it strengthens and amplifies the perception among Haitians that the U.S. has a hegemonic, unilateralist, and Western-based military interventions agenda and pursues its own geopolitical and economic interests.

Scholarly debates and informal discussions among Haitians reveal dissatisfaction with the lack of impact of foreign aid, especially following the 2010 earthquake. Organized groups within civil society – students, academics, unions, and farmers associations – express frustrations with what they perceive as Western dominance over a country that has proudly called itself the world’s “First Black Republic,” having won its independence from France in the 1804 revolution.

Calls for more multilateralism and changing the global order, decreased influence of the West, and strengthened ties with the Global South have resonated in Haiti. Brazil, for its part, saw these calls as aligning well with its worldview, strategic objectives, and global ambitions. Brazil has seen its involvement with the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) as an opportunity and a turning point to solidify its status as an important global voice. Brazil provided the largest number of troops and played a leadership role within the Mission.This involvement allowed it to flex its muscle as an influential regional actor, and be seen as a reliable partner in international security mechanisms and a consequential emerging donor.

This policy brief analyzes the motivations and the drivers of Brazil’s growing involvement in post-conflict reconstruction assistance. It also examines the consequences of these changing assistance patterns for reconstruction and peacebuilding mechanisms. Moreover, it identifies areas of cooperation, synergy, and convergence among traditional and emerging donors while pointing out areas of divergence as well as the value added of this new set of actors. Brazil’s pivotal role in the U.N. Security Council-approved peacekeeping mission to Haiti is at the center of this analysis.

Click here for the full series “Changing Landscape of Assistance to Conflict-Affected States: Emerging and Traditional Donors and Opportunities for Collaboration.

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