President Jose Mujica has ordered Uruguayan troops to withdraw from the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH), the latest blow against the controversial mission which has been under fire for its role in sparking a cholera epidemic in Haiti. Mujica’s decision comes weeks after human rights lawyers filed a class action lawsuit against the U.N. for its handling of the cholera crisis.
Though the U.N. is already scaling down its peacekeeping mission in Haiti, Uruguay’s early withdrawal further undermines MINUSTAH, which has operated in the country since 2004 when it was deployed to restore order after the overthrow of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide. The U.N.’s determination to maintain its legal immunity and refusal to acknowledge its role in the cholera epidemic, sparked in the wake of Haiti’s devastating earthquake in 2010, have shot the credibility of the mission.
The scandal over a case of sexual assault by peacekeepers (of Uruguayan origin) has only added to the outrage within Haiti against the mission.
Earlier this month, Haitian Senator Jean-Charles Moise met with Mujica to urge the leader to withdraw Uruguayan peacekeepers from MINUSTAH — one of many meetings the official made with Latin American leaders contributing troops to the mission. His push appears to have been successful amid signs that other major contributors like Brazil are also planning to scale back their involvement. As one of the biggest contributors to the mission, Uruguay’s decision to withdraw earlier than expected is a significant one and, along with its serious pursuit of justice in the case of the Haitian sexual assault survivor, shows that it is taking accountability seriously– in contrast with the U.N.
That Mujica would even be willing to forgo the financial incentives offered by participation in MINUSTAH — a valuable source of income for Uruguay’s military — speaks to how toxic the mission has become. As Haiti’s cholera epidemic begins to spread past the Caribbean into Latin America, this show of accountability on Uruguay’s part is well-timed as the cholera issue threatens to become a regional one. The Mujica government’s tendency to stay ahead of the curve on regional trends such as drug policy reform may not be endearing it to the U.N. — but it appears to be boosting its own regional standing.
José Mujica is quite a guy—a former Tupamaro guerilla in the 1970s who survived and came back to become first an elected politician and then "the world's poorest president," driving an old '87 VW Beetle (when he's not taking the bus to work) and donating 90% of his $12,000 monthly salary to charity. At 78, he's a role model for us old gaffers.
He doesn't seem to have a Twitter handle, but the #José Mujica hashtag shows what a following he has. He also has a stunning 20-minute interview on Al Jazeera that you'd really better watch. A key quote:
Pobre no es el que tiene poco, si no que verdaderamente pobre es el que necesita infinitamente mucho y desea y desea mas y mas.
The poor person is not the one who has little; the truly poor is the person who needs infinitely much and wants more and more.