OUANAMINTHE, Haiti -- After hopping off a helicopter, she makes her first stop at a container-built office complex where she greets workers, flowing easily between French and Spanish. Inside a hospital courtyard a few hours later, she switches to flawless Creole.
Where did she come from? a surprised Haitian National Police Northeast Department Director Charles Nazaire Noel wondered.
Its a question many are asking in this northeast Haiti border town, and elsewhere as Sandra Honoré begins the arduous task of improving a battered United Nations relationship with Haiti and preventing the country from slipping deeper into political chaos. The Trinidad-born negotiator, who was appointed in May as the first woman to head U.N. peacekeeping operations here, has unusual linguistic skills and is an enigma.
Reserved and controlled, Honoré is making an impression not by what shes saying but by what she isnt.
Shes very attentive, Haiti Foreign Minister Pierre-Richard Casimir said shortly after Honorés arrival last month to lead the U.N. Stabilization Mission in Haiti, better known as MINUSTAH.
More listening may just be what Haiti needs, say foreign and Haitian observers who are increasingly worried about the countrys deepening political uncertainty. Disagreements between opposition leaders and President Michel Martelly over long-overdue legislative and local elections are at a fever pitch.
Rhetoric against foreign influence also is growing. And some U.N. contributing nations, increasingly impatient with Haitis politicians, are joining the call by Haitis Senate and others for early withdrawal of the 8,793-member blue-helmet peacekeeping mission.
After nearly 10 years in Haiti, the U.N. is facing sharper criticism not only because of Haitis slow progress building institutional and political stability, but also due to a string of sex scandals involving peacekeepers and increasing evidence that U.N. peacekeepers were responsible for sparking a deadly cholera epidemic after Haitis Jan. 12, 2010 earthquake.
Ive been told that I arrived in Haiti at an interesting moment. And I keep saying, All moments in Haiti are interesting, Honoré said. Is it the best time to be in the mission, or to be heading the mission? I think the results will have to speak to that.
As U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moons special representative, it will be up to Honoré to guide the U.N. Security Council on decisions about MINUSTAHs eventual departure. She also must help determine the scope of a down-sized mission, focused on police and judicial reform, by 2016. Ban is recommending that Haitis U.N. troops be reduced by 15 percent. A working group in Haiti, made up of U.N. personnel and Haitian officials, already has been set up to look at the future of the mission.
Honoré is scheduled to brief the council on Aug. 28. In March, the council warned Haiti it risks losing international support if long overdue elections for one-third of the 30-member Senate and more than 4,000 local posts were not held by December.
What the council does next will be taken up in the coming weeks, ahead of the opening of the U.N. General Assembly in September. The deadline for a decision on the renewal of MINUSTAHs mandate is Oct. 15.