The Brazilian military are having a hard time dealing with death in Haiti. “How are we supposed to explain this to the families? We don’t even understand it ourselves,” declared a high-ranking Brazilian general, referring to the deaths of at least 14 soldiers in the Haiti earthquake.
There was a sad irony in the tragedy. Brazilian soldiers have been in Haiti since 2004 leading the United Nations Stabilization Mission (MINUSTAH) and never has a soldier been killed on duty.
Colonel Pedro Pessoa, at the training center for soldiers who go to Haiti on duty (Centro de Instrução de Operações de Paz – CioPaz), declared that the general feeling at the center was one of consternation.
All soldiers who serve in Haiti go through its training program, they are rotated in and out of the country every six months, so there are many close ties among the soldiers – and, of course, with those who will never be coming back.
Colonel Pessoa said he simply could not imagine that the dead soldiers were really gone. “I just cannot believe they have been killed,” he said. “This was a terrible blow!”
In São Paulo, the main concern at Army headquarters is to identify and transport the dead back to Brazil. It is hoped that will happen quickly.
On Wednesday, the Brazilian Ministry of Defense has confirmed that 11 of its soldiers stationed in Haiti as part of the UN Stabilization Mission (MINUSTAH) died in Tuesday afternoon’s earthquake of 7.0 magnitude on the Richter scale which is reported to have had its epicenter only 22 kilometers from the capital, Port-au-Prince.
Seven or eight other soldiers were missing at that time, at least three of them believed to be buried at one of the posts where Brazilian soldiers were housed, known as Ponto Forte 22, in the capital.
The building was completely destroyed. Another nine soldiers were injured seriously enough to be hospitalized. Two have been transferred to a facility in the neighboring Dominican Republic.
Mourning Zilda Arns
Zilda Arns, 75, was a humanitarian worker. She was a pediatrician, sanitarian and the founder of the Child Pastoral (Pastoral da Criança). Since 1983 her organization has played a central role in improvements in infant morality rates in Brazil.
Haiti was to be the eleventh country that Zilda took the Child Pastoral idea to. She died when a school collapsed where she was speaking to an audience of mostly priests about her longstanding work with children and a new area, the Elderly Pastoral. Many in the audience were also buried in the rubble.
Today in Brazil the Child Pastoral has 260,000 volunteers who work with almost 2 million children. The organization also assists pregnant women in some 42,000 poor communities in over 4,000 municipalities around the country (Brazil has more than 5,200 municipalities).
Zilda was born in 1934 in Santa Catarina. She graduated from medical school in 1959 in Curitiba, Paraná, and began working with children. In 1983 she founded the Child Pastoral. Her work has been recognized internationally. She was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.
She had five children and four grandchildren. Her husband died in 1978. She is the sister of Dom Paulo Evaristo Arns, the former archbishop of São Paulo, now the emeritus archbishop, as he is retired.
Zilda and her brother were both prominent in the struggle to protect human rights and liberty during the years that Brazil was ruled by a military dictatorship (1964-85). Senator Flávio Arns of Paraná is her nephew.