PORT-AU-PRINCE: The monumental task of stabilizing Haiti, already a challenge for a Brazilian-led UN peacekeeping force in place since 2004, suddenly got a lot harder following last week s devastating earthquake.
We will be here as long as it takes, because now we have even more reason to stay, said Colonel Joao Batista Bernardes, the officer in charge of Brazil s battalion in the UN Stabilization Force for Haiti.
He was speaking after army officials confirmed that 18 Brazilian peacekeepers died in the earthquake.
Two civilians – the deputy head of the UN mission, Luiz Carlos da Costa, and a high-profile children s rights campaigner, Zilda Arns – were also killed in the disaster.
Brazil is taking steps to reinforce the peacekeeping mission in response to UN chief Ban Ki-moon s plea for 3,500 extra troops and police to boost the 9,000 already deployed.
Brazilian Defense Minister Nelson Jobim has asked Congress to approve sending at least 800 more soldiers and police officers, which would take Brazil s total contribution in Haiti to more than 2,000.
The military aspect of the UN mission is under the orders of Brazilian General Floriano Peixoto.
The troops are drawn from Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Ecuador, France, Guatemala, Jordan, Nepal, Paraguay, Peru, the Philippines, South Korea, the United States and Uruguay.
Most of those countries also contributed police officers, alongside Bangladesh, Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, the Central African Republic, Chad, China, Colombia, Croatia, Egypt, El Salvador, Guinea, India, Ivory Coast, Jamaica, Madagascar, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Pakistan, Romania, Russia, Rwanda, Senegal, Serbia, Spain, Sri Lanka, Switzerland, Togo, Turkey and Yemen.
Brazilian patrols regularly head out to clear the debris and corpse-strewn streets of Haiti and to counter roaming gangs of looters.
The contingent is also involved in aid distribution.
Our soldiers make contact with community leaders in a specified neighborhood and select 60 to 80 women who will receive the humanitarian aid. It s always women who receive it, a civilian official in the main Brazilian peacekeeping base told AFP.
The base was now spilling over with extra medical and rescue personnel, leading to a search for suitable sites to host the growing numbers.
With the situation calming somewhat as US troops increase security and aid organizations spread out beyond the capital, Haitians were turning to the Brazilians in hope of reducing their daily plight.
Lines of locals hoping for work on the base, even for a day, stretched in front of the facility. For menial work, many were looking for nothing more than water and food.
While it was relatively calm during the day, the tenser moments are during the nighttime patrols, because the entire city is dark and there is always the risk of disorder with the distribution of humanitarian aid, Bernardes said.
In the Cite Soleil slum, where the Brazilian maintain a post, a crowd has formed around a pipe broken to get at its undrinkable water.
The Brazilians stepped in to organize the crowd, prompting several Haitians to respond, some even in Portuguese.
We don t have any food or water, and no medicine, said one, Fabio Junior, a 15-year-old speaking Brazilian Portuguese almost without an accent. Around him, the crowd asked what he said, and applauded when he translated into French. -AFP