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Where Is Brazil on Haiti?

As Haiti descends into chaos once again, many eyes naturally turn to Washington. Should the US intervene, as it has done - so poorly - in the past? Or should Haiti's former colonial master, France, send in troops, as Paris is now considering?

No, on both counts.

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The United States has wisely pushed other states in the Western Hemisphere to take the lead to quell the violence in Haiti and negotiate a political solution. Last year, as the crisis escalated, it gave $1 million to the Organization of American States (OAS) to broker a deal. And the US has worked with Caribbean leaders on a specific plan.

Despite its superpower status, the US often prefers to put regional players on the front lines. Nigeria, for instance, has undertaken peacekeeping in West Africa. Japan, Australia, and other Asian nations have helped resolve crises in Cambodia and East Timor.

Among Latin American nations, Brazil sees itself as the natural leader in the region. It commands the world's eighth-largest economy and has a population greater than Russia's. Its populist president, Luiz Inacio "Lula" da Silva, claims he won't let the US use its "big stick" in the region. And he's told his military that "Brazil will be respected in the world only when it turns into an economic, technological, and military power."

Now is the time for Brazil, the "sleeping giant," to display its would-be power by taking a more aggressive lead in Haiti. If it truly wants to challenge US dominance in the hemisphere and create a new regional order with itself as leader, it can't passively hide behind failing OAS diplomacy.

But "Lula" has other priorities. While he's worked with the US to some degree on the troubles in Colombia and Venezuela, his more assertive foreign policy has been in taking jaunts to Cuba, Syria, and Libya.

He shouldn't wait for France, the US, or even the United Nations to send in "a buffer force" to protect the embattled Haitian president, Jean-Bertrand Aristide. With a phone call to the other regional power, Mexico, he could gather enough troops together within days and, with a US airlift, put boots on the ground in Haiti.

The Monroe Doctrine, which has let the US treat Latin America as its own backyard, is now ripe for a challenge.

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Will Brazil take that challenge?