Brazil and Haiti

For those of you who will watch the Bush address tonight, I wish you well on the masochistic enterprise. I am capable of reading the texts after the fact, but mental health preservation precludes me spending too much time watching these people on television.

Other things to report. The Brazilian commander of the UN ‘peacekeeping mission’ in Haiti that is to take over the occupation of that country soon was interviewed for Correio Brazilense and the interview was translated into english. It is interesting, and quite sad, to hear a Brazilian answering a question like this:

[Lefcovich] Isn’t Brazil legitimizing US intervention and the ousting of [former Haitian] President Jean-Bertrand Aristide ?

like this:

[De Oliveira] No. That is a biased interpretation. As far as the United Nations and participants in the Minustah [United Nations Multi-Dimensional Stabilization Mission in Haiti] are concerned, Aristide tendered his resignation. I agree that there were some doubts concerning this matter at one point, but an Itamaraty [Brazilian Foreign Ministry] delegation has toured several Caribbean countries and ascertained that they endorse Brazil’s participation in this UN force. Furthermore, the current situation in Haiti is more stable than at the time of Aristide’s resignation. Schools, hotels and banks are operating normally. Life is returning to normal for the Haitian people.

This is a real shame. One might have hoped that Brazil, a country that has suffered a US coup (in 1964) and knows what US intervention is like, a country with a left regime in power, would have done a better job of standing up for the sovereignty and the will of the people of a Latin American country. That Colombia’s regime and the Venezuelan elite are willing to shoot themselves in the head to do the US’s bidding is no surprise; that Brazilian agents of the state are repeating US lies in public fora and sending troops to ratify occupation is tragic. So long as the US can get third world countries to occupy one another, there’s very little hope against imperialism.

The entire interview is below.

BBC Monitoring: Commander of Brazilian peacekeeping contingent views mission challenges in Haiti.

Text of “exclusive” interview with Brig-Gen Americo Salvador de Oliveira, commander of the Brazilian peacekeeping contingent in Haiti, by Sandra Lefcovich at Army General Headquarters : “The challenge will be to disarm Haitians”, published by Brazilian newspaper Correio Braziliense web site on 21 May.

Brigadier General Americo Salvador de Oliveira, 56, has been working very hard to cover every detail of his upcoming mission as commander of the Brazilian peacekeeping contingent in Haiti.

De Oliveira joined the army 37 years ago and this will be his first assignment with a UN peacekeeping force. He has served as commander of the Officers’ Training School in Rio de Janeiro, and as military attache in Germany for two years. “I feel nothing but pride. It is a stimulating challenge and a unique experience,” the general told Correio during an exclusive interview at Army General Headquarters. As part of his preparations for the mission he has had seven vaccinations so far.

[Lefcovich] US military personnel are not exactly welcome abroad. Do you believe that Brazilian military personnel are regarded in a different light, even though they are also foreigners ? [De Oliveira] Our reconnaissance group deployed to Haiti in March this year has ascertained that relations could hardly be better. The Haitian people like Brazilians very much. There was a two-day holiday in Haiti after Brazil won the latest World Cup. They admire our Ronaldinho and other soccer players.

[Lefcovich] How is security nowadays ? [De Oliveira] According to the information we have, the situation is currently stable. The various groups have drawn back and are not resorting to violence.

[Lefcovich] What will be the scope of action of the Brazilian contingent ? [De Oliveira] We will not engage in drug enforcement operations. One of our missions will be to disarm groups that espouse political ideologies and the actions we take will depend on the situation, because in Haiti there are many weapons in the hands of the people and no-one will hand them over willingly. The United Nations is developing a disarmament strategy.

[Lefcovich] Are you saying that drug enforcement will be left in the hands of the police ? [De Oliveira] Yes. The situation in Haiti is similar to that of our country. Drug enforcement will be left to the police. The United Nations has asked for 6,700 military personnel and 1,622 policemen. We must emphasize this point so as to avoid the misconception that armed forces personnel are being sent abroad to fight organized crime and drug trafficking in Haiti instead of Rio de Janeiro, right ? These are two separate issues.

[Lefcovich] Why is the mission in Haiti important for the army ? [De Oliveira] Our mission is to participate, together with other countries, in a multinational UN force that will ensure stability in Haiti, which is what the temporary force deployed there has been doing to date. This stability will help reestablish the democratic process with a view to elections as of 2005. Hence, our status in Haiti will be that of a friendly, impartial, non-hostile force deployed within the framework of the United Nations.

[Lefcovich] Isn’t Brazil legitimizing US intervention and the ousting of [former Haitian] President Jean-Bertrand Aristide ? [De Oliveira] No. That is a biased interpretation. As far as the United Nations and participants in the Minustah [United Nations Multi-Dimensional Stabilization Mission in Haiti] are concerned, Aristide tendered his resignation. I agree that there were some doubts concerning this matter at one point, but an Itamaraty [Brazilian Foreign Ministry] delegation has toured several Caribbean countries and ascertained that they endorse Brazil’s participation in this UN force. Furthermore, the current situation in Haiti is more stable than at the time of Aristide’s resignation. Schools, hotels and banks are operating normally. Life is returning to normal for the Haitian people.

[Lefcovich] Do the armed force have the necessary resources for this mission ? [De Oliveira] Yes. The required materiel must comply with UN standards and we are acquiring whatever was lacking.

[Lefcovich] What about salary cutbacks ? [De Oliveira] Well, that is not a source of concern, our personnel are all volunteers ; they would go no matter what. Military personnel will earn more because whatever they make will be in addition to their domestic salaries.

[Lefcovich] Is the army concerned about the fact that money is being spent on peacekeeping missions despite funding shortages to pay the salaries of military personnel ? [De Oliveira] The army is not concerned because we are doing what the armed forces are supposed to do. We do worry when police forces fail to do their job and we are called upon to carry out missions that are not within the purview of the military. We are not trained to fight organized crime.

[Lefcovich] That would be the case in Rio de Janeiro. [De Oliveira] The army has never refused to help out, but one must go about it the right way. We are tasked with upholding law and order, but all other means must be exhausted for us to step in.

[Lefcovich] You are saying that your job in Haiti would be different from that in Rio de Janeiro ? [De Oliveira] We are going to Haiti not as policemen, but as the Brazilian Armed Forces contingent within the framework of a multinational peacekeeping mission.

[Lefcovich] Are soldiers forbidden from making contact with Haitian women ? [De Oliveira] It is not forbidden, but it is not recommended. Haiti has the highest rate of AIDS cases in the Americas, second only to Africa. Condoms will be distributed.

[Lefcovich] Will the fact that Brazilian soldiers do not speak the language – which was not the case in Angola – be a problem ? [De Oliveira] We are taking steps to deal with it. We are taking with us 10 French interpreters to deal with government officials, but the population speaks Creole. We are compiling a French-Creole-Portuguese dictionary for the troops. Given our people’s ability to adapt themselves, however, I believe our troops will come back speaking Creole.

Source : Correio Braziliense web site, Brasilia, in Portuguese 21 May 04

Brazil and the NYT

When the US decided it was going to add a little extra humiliation for foreigners to the process of traveling through that country (which multinational transportation networks, especially in the Americas, have made difficult to avoid) by fingerprinting and scanning them, Brazil decided to do the same to US visitors of Brazil. This was greeted with gasps all over the world. The temerity! Galeano wrote about it, eloquently as usual:

“Many condemned this normal act as an expression of perilous insanity. Perhaps, if the world were not so misconditioned, things would be seen in another light. At bottom, what was abnormal was not what the Brazilian president Lula did but the fact that he was the only one to do so. What was abnormal was that everyone else simply accepted the conditions that Bush imposed on the rest of the world with the exception of a privileged few that were held beyond suspicion of terrorism and evil-doing.”

Well, President Lula has done it again. This time, Larry Rohter, the NYT bureau chief, accused Lula of being a drunk. His visa was cancelled.

Unlike the fingerprinting at airports, there are legitimate reasons why Lula ought not to have done this. But the private media, especially the US media, in Latin America, especially in Venezuela but also in Brazil, are instruments of destabilization. Perhaps the media and governments should consider a negotiated solution: the media will stop lying and participating in foreign attempts to overthrow democratic regimes; those regimes will stop doing things like these.

The truth is, this is the only incident of its kind I’ve heard about — for the most part, governments are fulfilling their end of the bargain. Reuters story below.

By Axel Bugge
BRASILIA, Brazil (Reuters) – Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva has run into fierce criticism at home and abroad over his decision to expel a New York Times correspondent who wrote about his heavy drinking, with one critic calling him a “dictator of a third-rate republic.”

It will be the first time a foreign journalist has been thrown out of Brazil since the end of a 1964-1985 military dictatorship. The nation’s military rulers even jailed Lula, a former militant unionist who made his name standing up for the oppressed.

The government defended its move to cancel the visa of Larry Rohter, New York Times bureau chief in Rio de Janeiro. It said the article, which ran on Sunday, offended his honour.

The government said there was no chance it would reverse the expulsion.

“The Brazilian government is not going to retreat on this issue,” Lula’s spokesman told reporters on Wednesday. “It’s our responsibility to defend Brazil.”

Many Brazilians thought the story itself unfair. But the government’s reaction was slammed by Brazil’s opposition, human rights groups and media watchdogs, who called it an attack on press freedom.

“This was absurd, an immature decision by a dictator of a third-rate republic who does not understand the role of government,” said Sen. Tasso Jereissati of the centre-right Brazilian Social Democratic Party opposition.

The furore follows other spats between Brazil and the United States over trade policy and fingerprinting at airports.

It is also another distraction for the Lula government, which has just emerged from a corruption scandal and is struggling to get Brazil’s economy back on track and make good on its electoral promises of broad social reforms.

Two former presidents backed the expulsion. But Lula’s predecessor Fernando Henrique Cardoso did not, saying there were misinformed articles all the time but “I never thought of taking reprisals against a journalist.”

“APPROPRIATE ACTION TO DEFEND HIS RIGHTS”

Foreign Minister Celso Amorim said the issue was not about press freedom. The article “was intended to diminish the figure and dimension of the president.”

The U.S.-based Human Rights Watch said that the expulsion could “do irreparable damage to freedom of expression in the country.” And U.S. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said the decision was “not in keeping with Brazil’s strong commitment to freedom of the press.”

New York Times spokeswoman Catherine Mathis said there was no basis for Rohter’s expulsion and the paper “would take appropriate action to defend his rights.”

The government’s move gives Rohter, a veteran Latin American correspondent, eight days to leave Brazil once police inform him he has lost his visa. He is now travelling outside Brazil.

The reaction prompted some to question if Lula overreacted.

“What was wrong with the story was that it said Lula’s drinking was a national worry, which is wrong, but the government’s response has become a national question,” said analyst Carlos Lopes.

Lula, who took office in January 2003, is known to enjoy a drink or two and Brazil has a generally relaxed attitude toward alcohol.

Lula’s personal doctor of ten years told Reuters the president did not have a drinking problem.

“I never noticed alcohol abuse,” cardiologist Roberto Kalil said in a phone interview. “He’s a normal, healthy person.”