CAF supports elections and humanitarian work in Haiti

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Article / January 4, 2017

By: Canadian Joint Operations Command Public Affairs

Since deploying on Operation HAMLET, Colonel Mark Gasparotto and his task force of four other Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) members have been working tirelessly to support Haiti during a difficult time.

Hurricane Matthew struck the country on October 4, 2016, leaving many Haitians displaced and destroying homes and infrastructure. At the same time, Haiti was preparing for a presidential election following a period of political challenges.

Operation HAMLET is the Canadian contribution to the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH), whose mandate includes supporting Haiti’s electoral process. When circumstances call for it, MINUSTAH will also refocus to provide humanitarian aid, as it did after the 2010 earthquake and again after the recent hurricane.

Knowing that the hurricane was coming, MINUSTAH sent infantry and military engineers close to its path so that they would be ready to help once it passed. Immediately following the storm, the engineers worked diligently to open up roads into cut-off areas.

At the same time, infantry guarded landing zones and secured beaches where helicopters and boats were bringing in supplies and aid. They also guarded supply warehouses and provided convoys for NGOs. Further, MINUSTAH deployed a detachment of its Role 2 medical facility to provide medical services.

While the five members of the Canadian task force remained focused on their primary duties under Operation HAMLET, they also supported MINUSTAH’s humanitarian work from the headquarters.

On two occasions, Colonel Gasparotto, in his role as MINUSTAH Chief of Staff, went forward to see how the headquarters could better help the approximately 500 MINUSTAH military component personnel working in affected areas. Flying over Haiti by helicopter, he bore witness to the destruction.

“When Hurricane Matthew hit, it left a swathe of devastation. It was something that I had never seen before,” he explains. “By no means was that a pleasant experience, but it was certainly one that remains etched in my memory.”

MINUSTAH continues to support the humanitarian efforts, with about 100 military members working in affected areas.

The 2016 presidential election was initially delayed by the storm, but eventually took place on November 20, 2016. The CAF task force had a key role in the planning leading up to it.

The country has faced political challenges after a revolt against the government in 2004. Since then, MINUSTAH has worked to stabilize the country, and part of this mandate is to provide security and logistics support during Haiti’s elections.

Colonel Gasparotto strategized to determine how MINUSTAH units would work together, and also how they would work jointly with various organizations, including the United Nations Police and the Haitian National Police, to provide security during the election. Meanwhile, CAF members focused on planning for the specific logistical and security requirements of the election, which meant that they needed to have a clear understanding of both the police plan and the election plan, working closely with key stakeholders.

Following the election, the mission remains focused on providing stability. The security situation is tense as Haitian political parties and their supporters contest the results of the election. Further, MINUSTAH will be required to provide security and logistics support for local, senate and parliamentary seat elections scheduled for January. The CAF contingent will be heavily involved in the planning.

Asked what he has gained from this mission since deploying in July, Colonel Gasparotto explains that “the challenges are what make it rewarding.”

One of these challenges is being unfamiliar with Haiti and its culture.

“There is an incredible amount of context and subtlety,” he explains. “Even being here six months or a year in my case, you’re just starting to scratch the surface of the reasons why certain things happen.”

An advantage that the Canadians have when working with the Haitians is their French-language skills. Because of this skill, and because of Canada’s staff training, the five members of the Canadian task force occupy key positions in the headquarters.

The Canadians also work with MINUSTAH members from 19 different countries with their own cultures. All work to break down cultural and linguistic barriers to reach a common goal.

“I’ve found working in a multinational context has always been rewarding,” Colonel Gasparotto remarks. “Every day is different, and you need to constantly interrogate your own mental models, your own beliefs, your own assumptions, because the cultures are so different.”

The current members of the Canadian task force were deployed over the summer and continue to work to support the country in the challenges it faces.

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