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Brazil Surrounds Haiti’s National Palace with Tanks

January 24th, 2010

In a show of power, Brazil’s Armed Forces held on Friday their biggest relief operation ever for the victims of the Haiti earthquake. They distributed 10 tons of food and 22,000 liters (5.800 gallons) of water to about 5,000 families. Among the items given away there were milk, tuna and ham.

The message was clear: despite being outnumbered by the Americans, Brazilians believe they are in control of the UN’s peacekeeping and relief mission in Haiti.

The local chosen for the food giveaway was very symbolic since the Brazilian military set up their operation at the National Palace, the same location where a few days earlier US Black Hawk helicopters had landed stirring condemnation from some quarters that it was invading Haiti.

Brazilian soldiers, 220 of them, parked 30 vehicles, 20 of them tanks, around the National Palace, seat of the now almost non-existent Haitian government. In what was left of the palace’s façade, Brazil spread two of its own flags next to the Haitian one. One of them was knocked down by wind when two US helicopters landed on the site during the food distribution.

Brazilian general Floriano Peixoto Vieira Neto, commander of the UN Mission for Stabilization in Haiti (MINUSTAH), attended the operation handing down food and water to victims himself. He also talked on the occasion:

“It’s good to highlight that in the control of this chaotic situation, there is a Brazilian presence, the command of the forces belongs to a Brazilian official, since 2004.”

It was a clear message to the U.S. “I, General Floriano Peixoto, am the commander. My role is great articulation. Here is a Brazilian, a head of MINUSTAH. The security part is the responsibility of a Brazilian general. We must not lose the opportunity to show this to Brazil. We have the largest contingent of troops,” he said, adding: “The US participation is temporary.”

The Brazilian general made it clear that the Brazilian operation was a way for the country to “mark position” on who is in charge of security in Port au Prince. Floriano Peixoto commands about 9,000 troops from several countries. Brazil has the largest contingent, with 1266 soldiers.

Assistant Secretary of State for Latin America, Arturo Valenzuela, said that the United States respects the sovereignty of Haiti and that the criticism of his country’s role in caring for victims of the earthquake are simply wrong. He praised the work of the blue berets led by Brazil and added that the US forces are working in close cooperation with MINUSTAH.

In an attempt to minimize criticism to the lack of cooperation between countries in the relief work in Haiti, the Brazilian military and Americans are planning a joint effort this Saturday to hand out food and water to earthquake’s victims. The operation this time will be held in Cité Soleil, Haiti’s most populous slum.

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