Malign Neglect or Imperialism?

Malign Neglect or Imperialism? NGOs Blind to Canada’s Crimes in Haiti
by Nikolas Barry-Shaw
ZNet (October 24, 2005)

What is happening right now in Haiti is probably Canada’s worst foreign policy crime in the last 50 years. The Canadian government helped plan and carry out the destabilization of Haiti’s elected government, culminating in the February 2004 coup d’état/kidnapping of President Jean Bertrand Aristide by U.S. Marines and Canada’s Joint Task Force 2. Since then, the coup-installed government and its death squad allies have waged an all-out war against Aristide’s Lavalas movement and its supporters with the full and enthusiastic backing of Paul Martin’s Liberal government.

Organizing repression

Canadian police lead the UN police mission (UNPOL) responsible for training, vetting and overseeing the new Haitian National Police (HNP). Under their watch, hundreds of former Haitian Army (FAd’H) officers, death squad members and individuals who “have been involved in drug rackets, kidnappings, extra judicial killings or other illegal activities,” have been integrated into the HNP, according to the Catholic Institute for International Relations. The result has been massacres, violent and indiscriminate raids on poor neighborhoods, summary executions, attacks on journalists and peaceful demonstrators and arbitrary mass arrests. Thousands have been killed and thousands more have gone into hiding or taken exile in another country. When asked about reports of these abuses by human rights groups and mainstream news agencies, Foreign Affairs Minister Pierre Pettigrew has scornfully dismissed all evidence as “propaganda which is absolutely not interesting.”

Canada is also deeply involved in the functioning of Haiti’s justice system. Deputy Justice Minister Philippe Vixamar is a direct employee of the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) and was assigned to his position by the Agency. In an interview, Vixamar revealed that the U.S. and Canadian governments play key roles in the criminal justice system, including paying high-level government officials. The prison system is massively overcrowded with hundreds if not thousands of political prisoners, including Lavalas presidential candidate and Amnesty International “prisoner of conscience” Father Gerard Jean-Juste. Meanwhile, death squad leaders such as Louis Jodel Chamblain are acquitted in sham trials. Special Advisor to the PM on Haiti Denis Coderre has been exceptionally duplicitous on the matter, claiming, without apparent irony, “Canada would not get involved in Haiti’s justice system.”

The bitter neoliberal pill

Repression is the only means of holding power available to an illegitimate government pushing through an anti-popular program, as the installed regime of Prime Minister Gerard Latortue has amply demonstrated. Canada helped craft the neoliberal plan for post-coup Haiti and has played a crucial part in propping up the corrupt cabal of technocrats and supporters of the former Duvalier dictatorship that forms the interim government. As part of this plan, subsidies for Haiti’s impoverished farmers have been slashed, the minimum wage has been reduced and an extremely successful adult literacy program has been dismantled by the Latortue regime, while large businesses have been given a three-year tax holiday and ex-FAd’H soldiers have been paid the outrageous sum of $30 million in “back wages”. The ground is also being prepared for the privatization of Haiti’s state enterprises, a policy vigorously opposed by the Haitian people. The Interim Cooperation Framework (ICF), a document outlining the priorities of the “transitional government” and the donor countries, touts “private sector participation” in state enterprises and makes clear the anti-democratic nature of these reforms: “The transition period . . . provide[s] a window of opportunity for implementing economic governance reforms . . . that may be hard for a future government to undo.” Canada helped draft the ICF and has donated $147 million in support of it.

Straightforward graft is flourishing under the installed government. Early on, the Office of the Prime Minister was rocked by a corruption scandal that involved diverting 15,000 bags of rice destined for the poor of Port-au-Prince, resulting in the suspension of two high-level officials close to Gerard Latortue. Youri Latortue, nephew of the Prime Minister and security chief of the National Palace, has been dubbed “Mister 30 Percent” by the French press for the cut he takes on favours, and is reportedly involved with smuggling drugs and guns. Recently, the Haitian news service Agence Haitien de Presse revealed that the government had been writing monthly checks for 6,000 police officers, despite there being only 4,000 officers in the HNP.

Despite (or perhaps because of) this atrocious record, the Canadian government has used every diplomatic means available in an effort to provide legitimacy to the installed government. High-level Canadian officials, such as Paul Martin, Pierre Pettigrew and Denis Coderre have made numerous visits to Haiti since the coup to “underline Canada’s support of the interim government and [their] intention to remain involved for the long term.” Canada has also organized and hosted international conferences with the Latortue government and chided other nations to disburse their aid more quickly. Paul Martin has even chastised CARICOM (the group of Caribbean countries) leaders for their refusal to recognize the installed government and their continued calls for an independent investigation into the removal of President Aristide. CARICOM is not alone in its opposition to the coup: Venezuela and the 53 nations of the African Union have also withheld recognition of the Latortue regime, and the ANC, South Africa’s governing party, has launched a campaign calling for the return of democracy to Haiti.

Unlikely allies

It hardly comes as a surprise that Canadian government officials and their PR flaks to have sought to deceive the public while carrying out their nefarious dealings in Haiti. Yet the government has received help in this endeavour from some unlikely sources: various self-denoted “left” or “progressive” NGOs have misrepresented the causes of the human rights disaster in Haiti and ignored Canada’s intervention almost completely, thus becoming complicit, wittingly or not, in the government’s “perception management” operations. Pierre Beaudet’s piece “Haiti: Where should the left stand?” defending his organization Alternatives’ position on Haiti is but the most recent example. While his distortions of Haiti’s history since 1995 (especially concerning the 2000 elections and after) are significant, it is Beaudet’s assessment of the present that we will look at here.

Beaudet seriously minimizes the ruthless violence of the interim government and its Canadian-trained police force, devoting all of one sentence to the repression of Lavalas and voicing only tepid opposition to it. Moreover, Beaudet prefaces his trite reference to the anti-Lavalas witch hunt with the discredited notion of Aristide using “hard nosed gangs” to “create havoc”, implicitly laying the blame on the victims. Indeed, the Lavalas movement is portrayed as little more than a gang of criminals and drug runners in Beaudet’s article. Yet the depth of support Lavalas continues to enjoy belies such characterizations. First of all, the large majority of Lavalas’ base is located in the countryside, where at least 65% of the population lives. Rural Haiti is not exactly the preserve of ganglords and drug dealers, as Dr. Paul Farmer, renowned for his work against AIDS, malaria and TB in the Central Plateau and other parts of Haiti, explains: “I personally, in all my years in Haiti, have never once seen a peasant with a gun. And almost all of the ones around these parts are members of Famni Lavalas (Aristide's party). Now I've tended to many gunshot wounds, but they've been inflicted by former soldiers, police, or people who have cars to drive - not peasants.” In the cities, Lavalas has mobilized tens of thousands of people for demonstrations many times since the coup, despite the (frequently realized) threat of police using gunfire to break up protests. Even observers as hostile as the American and Canadian embassies have acknowledged that Lavalas is still the most popular political movement in Haiti.

While rhetorically opposing imperialism, Beaudet’s actual critique of the foreign powers’ current involvement in Haiti boils down to an accusation of malign neglect: Canada has not been “generous” enough with its aid policies and the international community have failed to “clean the mess” in Haiti as promised. Yet UN troops have been trying to “clean the mess” by carrying out frequent raids into pro-Lavalas slums, with deadly consequences for the population, and contrary to Beaudet’s belief, Canada has been extremely generous to the de facto Haitian government it helped install. What is Beaudet’s criticism of Gerard Latortue’s government, an exceedingly corrupt and undemocratic administration that is repressing its political opponents on a massive scale and reordering Haiti’s economy along neoliberal lines? Merely that it has been “ineffective”.

The hypocrisy (and serviceability to power) of this stance is worth noting: Aristide was accused of having these very same flaws (undemocratic, corrupt, neoliberal) and received unrelenting condemnation from NGOs such as Alternatives, yet no such opprobrium is forthcoming from Beaudet when it comes to the U.S./Canada puppet regime. Indeed, Beaudet seems more interested in talking about “the crimes that everyone knew Aristide had committed,” than about the serious and ongoing crimes of Canada and the interim government, crimes for which we, as Canadian citizens, hold far more responsibility. In short, Aristide is not the issue; Canada’s role as a junior partner to U.S. imperialism is the issue.

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