- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 24, 2004

BUENOS AIRES — South American countries are taking on a new role as the vanguard of a new U.N. stabilization force in Haiti, and Pvt. Hernan Veron knows the world will be watching.

The 21-year-old army radio operator is one of more than 600 Argentine troops waiting to ship out for Haiti as part of a United Nations peacekeeping mission that will be dominated by South Americans, a new role for their militaries.

“Everybody will be watching to see we do the job right,” Pvt. Veron said during training in Buenos Aires.

The Argentines will work with Brazilian troops leading the force in Haiti. Paraguayans, Chileans and Uruguayans also are expected to participate, with a smattering of troops and military police from China, Nepal and Rwanda.

Analysts say the large presence is part of South American leaders’ efforts to take larger roles in U.N. and multilateral operations. It also is a bid to show less dependence on Washington in resolving regional crises, Argentine political analyst Rosendo Fraga said.

“These countries [are] assuming responsibility for Latin America without waiting for solutions that only come from the U.S.,” he said.

The peacekeeping missions also give countries such as Argentina and Chile a chance to boost their militaries’ democratic credentials only years after authoritarian rule.

“Missions like this one offer these countries an opportunity to give the military a face-lift. It shows that they can cooperate at an international level,” said Jennifer Leight of the Washington-based Council on Hemispheric Affairs.

Argentina was ruled by a right-wing military junta from 1976 until 1983, and Chile was led by Gen. Augusto Pinochet from September 1973 until 1990. A military dictatorship ran Brazil from 1964 to 1985.

The Brazilians will take formal command today from a U.S.-led multinational force. Only a few Americans will stay on.

Pvt. Veron and his fellow soldiers spent the past weeks at the Campo de Mayo base northwest of Buenos Aires conducting mock patrols and disarmament drills.

The Caribbean nation is still on edge nearly four months after President Jean-Bertrand Aristide fled as rebels overwhelmed several cities and threatened to attack the capital.

The 3,600-strong U.S.-led force is ceding responsibility to a U.N. force, which is expected to grow to 6,700 peacekeepers and more than 1,000 international police.

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