The United Nations believes now is the time for a “gradual drawdown” of some peacekeepers from Haiti, according to statements by U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and MINUSTAH (United Nations Stabilization Force in Haiti) chief Mariano Fernandez. Currently, MINUSTAH comprises more than 12,000 soldiers and police. The U.N. wants to reduce this number to 9,450, near the level of peacekeepers before the January 2010 earthquake. That’s effectively two infantry battalions and more than 1,000 police officers.
Since the earthquake, MINUSTAH forces have drawn the ire of many Haitians for accidentally unleashing a cholera epidemic that killed more than 4,500 people. More recently, five Uruguayan soldiers were accused of rape. The presence of thousands of foreign troops, police and bureaucrats has likewise drawn criticism for effectively governing a country that needs to be ultimately governed by Haitians.
However, there are few alternatives to a long-term presence lasting years. Hundreds of thousands of Haitians live in makeshift camps, and only 20 percent of earthquake debris has been cleared, writes Jorge Heine of the Balsillie School of International Affairs. “The challenge now is to do it in an orderly and carefully planned fashion, in the course of years, not months,” he writes.
Terrorism and sabotage charges were dropped against two people in the city of Veracruz on Wednesday after protest by citizens and human rights groups. The two “Twitter terrorists” were alleged to have used Twitter and Facebook in August to spread messages that local schools had come under attack by gangsters, causing panic among local parents. Meanwhile, international attention focused last week on two residents of Nuevo Laredo who were found hanged next to a banner with messages claiming the two used blogs and web forums to spread rumors and “snitch” on the Zetas.
And in Veracruz on Tuesday, rush hour traffic was interrupted by cartel gunmen who stopped cars, pointed weapons at drivers, and then dumped the bound and tortured bodies of 35 Zetas from the backs of two pickup trucks. The bodies were displayed next to a banner claiming to be from Sinloa Cartel hit squad Gente Nueva.
Whether or not the gunmen were from the G.N., however, is difficult to discern from a banner alone. A U.S. official told the Associated Press some sources claim the Gulf Cartel, based on Mexico’s east coast, were responsible. The G.N. are a sicario group — or hit squad — with loyalties to the Sinaloa Cartel and drug lord Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, but who are not heavily or traditionally involved in gulf coast cities. The banner was also addressed to Felipe Ferra Gomez, an “Internet celebrity” who attracted notoriety in 2008 for boasting about crimes, and who apparently escaped with 31 other inmates from three area prisons the day before.
The Brazilian army deployed 7,000 troops and 30 aircraft including one drone to the tri-border region with Paraguay and Uruguay last weekend in an operation aimed at establishing “fixed and mobile checkpoints in search of drugs and weapons that supply gangs in Sao Paulo and Rio do Janeiro as well as controlling the illegal traffic of vehicles across the border,” reports MercoPress.
The operation, dubbed Agata 2, was discussed earlier this month between the respective defense ministers and may be repeated next year. The operation follows an apparent — although confusing — confrontation on the Brazilian-Paraguayan border between the two countries’ security forces two weeks ago. In other news, the Brazilian government has established a Truth Commission to investigate abuses by security forces committed during Brazil’s Cold War-era military junta.