Backpacks Full of Hope
The UN Mission in Haiti
Publication Year: 2010
Backpacks Full of Hope: The UN Mission in Haiti describes the experience of a Chilean general as Deputy Force Commander of the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) during the particularly turbulent year September 2005 to September 2006. It details the realities of commanding more than 7,000 men from eleven countries while working to fulfill the mandate of the United Nations in Haitito ensure a secure and stable environment, to support the transitional government in a democratic political process, and to promote and protect the human rights of the Haitian people.
Despite the enormous challenges of a complex scenario that included local violence and extreme poverty, the UN command succeeded in its mission, stabilizing the local situation and paving the way for Haiti to hold a presidential election.
Originally published as Mision en Haiti, con la mochila cargada de esperanzas, this work provides a new audience with insight on the peace operation and sheds light on the long-term endeavour of civilians, military, and local and international agencies to support Haiti’s path to prosperity.
Co-published with the Centre for International Governance Innovation
Published by: Wilfrid Laurier University Press
About the Author
Brigadier General (R) Eduardo Aldunate Herman is an infantry officer in the Chilean Army. He has commanded the Los Ángeles 17th Mountain Infantry Regiment, the Paratroopers and Special Forces School and the State National Mobilization Department, and served as Commander of the Army Schools Division. He has specialized as a General Staff Officer and Expert Paratrooper, as well as in Military Intelligence, Commandos and Tactical Diving. ...
In this book, General Eduardo Aldunate, of the Chilean Army, who was deputy commander (and, for a time, acting commander) of the UN peacekeeping forces in Haiti from September 2005 to September 2006, tells his story. At the time that the book was written, there was an increasing sense of promise for the country. In February 2006 Haiti’s presidential elections took place, ...
On 12 January 2010 the international community received news of a devastating earthquake that struck outside of Haiti’s capital city, Port-au-Prince. Estimated to be a magnitude 7 earthquake, it caused the deaths of numerous Haitians, international aid workers, and the destruction of much of Haiti’s fragile infrastructure. Many close friends died in this earthquake, and my ...
List of Abbreviations
I will try to tell it as directly as possible, by relating events in the order they occurred, in other words, by providing a sort of journal of my experiences. There is much more to Haiti than poverty and violence. In fact, nowadays there are many countries where the streets are more dangerous and other problems are more severe. I do not want readers to think that I saw only problems during the ...
1. A Self-Fulfilling Prophecy
I was on holiday in southern Chile when I heard about this and started talking to my family about the difficulties Haiti was experiencing, how urgent it was to help, and how important it was for our country to have a presence there. I told them that as soldiers we should be there and that providing safety to Haitians was a contribution from our people to a sister nation. I even went ...
2. First Contact with Haiti: Exploring the Paratroopers’ Landing Area
That gave me less than a day to make the contacts I needed before starting the mission itself.My schedule was going to be tight. I traveled with Major Carlos Díaz, whom I had nominated as my assistant for this mission. The UN allowed me to choose my own. We took off at 10 p.m. in a Boeing 737. The same flight was airlifting part of an infantry battalion –– replacements for our troops at Cap Haïtien, which ...
3. At the Preparation Area
I crated my weapons (including a Galil assault rifle and an Uzi submachine gun) and other gear and took it all to FACH Group 10, which flew it to Haiti on July 5 in a Hercules C-130 transport. Meanwhile, I kept working as director of the DGMN. On July 11, I attended a UN conference in New York on arms control. The following day, I visited ...
4. Green Light at the Gate
Then they must jump! Once the green light turns on, there is no turning back. On the morning of September 12, 2005, I went to the Church of the Sacred Heart on avenida El Bosque to say goodbye to Father Fernando Karadima,my spiritual guide and friend. I would be leaving on the mission that afternoon, and he had invited me to celebrate mass with all the parish priests. Some of ...
5. First Steps on the Ground
There was an interim government, and elections were still regarded as a distant prospect –– indeed, many believed they would never take place. Violence was steadily increasing in the capital, though the rest of the country was stable and safe, since it was controlled by MINUSTAH. In Gonaïves, north of Port-au-Prince, minor issues were being handled by ...
6. Same Old Story: International Interventions in Haiti
That, of course, is beyond the scope of this book. Whatever conclusion we reach after analyzing its history, the collective perception abroad –– at least, the most widespread one –– is that Haiti is a place with nearly all the world’s problems: poverty, deforestation, lack of drinking water, violence, corruption and more recently AIDS. Yet it would be unfair to cast Haiti in only a negative light. ...
In the words of Ambassador Valdés: “This resolution was one of UN’s largest, most ambitious missions, and at bottom, it seemed that rather than solving an emergency situation, the challenge of the mission was to recreate a country.” MINUSTAH was expected to ensure minimum security for Haiti, besides coordinating a multitude of programs. This would involve synchronizing its ...
8. Chilean Blue Helmets in Haiti
A brief summary reveals Chile’s clear commitment to taking part in peace operations within the UN framework. The president’s instructions attached to the decree include a number of suggestions regarding how these activities should be conducted. For some time, Chile has had personnel from the army and other institutions acting as observers or participants in international conflicts. According ...
9. Violence in Haiti
So it is unreasonable to ask a military force to do something that is not its responsibility: provide a long-term solution to an existing problem. This may partly explain why so many missions preceded MINUSTAH. When MIFH was launched, the situation and past experience predicted the worst. Fortunately, the worst did not happen, which is why, I think, its ...
10. The Haitian National Police and the Judicial System
The PNH, a fairly new organization, started out well under the wing of the international community. On several occasions we tried to organize joint operations. Officers from the PNH and UNPol would pledge to deploy their forces together; then, usually, the PNH officers would fail to show at their assigned places. ...
11. The Military Force in Action
At the UN, the functions and missions for the military force are laid down in a document called the “Directive for the Force Commander,” which is drawn up by the DPKO in New York. On the basis of this document, each mission commander draws up his own plan according to his own particular circumstances. In our case, this was known as the MINUSTAH Military ...
12. Parliamentary and Presidential Elections
... key section of the UNSC’s Resolution 1542 concerning Haiti made it clear to MINUSTAH that municipal, parliamentary, and presidential elections were to be carried out as quickly as possible. A subsequent resolution, 1576, encouraged the transitional government to explore all possible avenues for including in the voting process all those who remained outside the ...
13. A Wrongful Accusation
... through the MINUSTAH centre of operations. After that, I would spend some time reading the Chilean newspapers on the Internet. Also, the army issued a daily news bulletin with a press summary and distributed it on the Internet to all overseas personnel. In late September 2005 I read an article in a Santiago newspaper with this ...
14. A Terrible Blow: The Death of General Bacellar
I had to coordinate those with General Bacellar so that one of us would always be present on the mission.We agreed that he would take the last two weeks of December –– during which I would be in charge as Acting Force Commander –– and that I would go to Chile in March for my birthday. Which was exactly what happened.He flew to Brazil on leave in December ...
15. The First Few Months of Préval’s Government
During one of the times I called New York, I told General Mehta that it would be a good idea to name General Bacellar’s replacement as soon as possible, since the morale of the Brazilian troops would be strengthened by having their own general. I must add here that the Brazilians’ performance was exemplary at all times and I felt comfortable being in command of them. Indeed, when I visited the ...
16. Putting My Backpack Away
I sent my military equipment back to Chile on the contingents’ transfer flights. With Carlos Díaz I drew up a detailed list of things I had left to do. Those included saying farewell to the contingents.We made plans for me to visit all the units in the country over a period of two weeks.Which I did. I visited all the battalions, companies and facilities, where I received warm displays of affection from the personnel. It was gratifying to hear the soldiers ...