Canada in Haiti
Canada in Haiti
I traveled to Haiti in March to see for myself the results of a U.S.-orchestrated regime change. I had been to Haiti many times since 1977. During the 1990s, I organized delegations to investigate human rights violations by the Haitian military junta that ousted Jean-Bertrand Aristide in 1991, after his overwhelming victory in the first democratic election in Haitian history. This year, I found a U.S. occupation not unlike that in Iraq, but one of which very few Canadians or Americans are aware.
The U.S. dominated occupation of Haiti after a violent and U.S.-supported rebellion by vicious thugs and right-wing former military is scheduled to give way June 20 (three weeks late) to a United Nations peace-keeping force, headed by Brazil. The Haitian puppet regime of Gerard Latortue has asked the Americans to remain, but the U.S. seems eager to get most of its troops back to Iraq.
The question that remains unanswered - and mostly unasked - by Canadian politicians and media is: Why did Canada support a U.S. coup in Haiti? That question was implied by a senior diplomat with CARICOM (Caribbean Community), the alliance of 15 of Haiti's Caribbean neighbours: "We're a little disappointed in Canada's response because we're not sure where Canada stood on the whole issue...." The issue is the manner in which Aristide was removed from Haiti on February 29 of this year. The question will continue to dog Canada as some Canadian troops will be involved in the peace-keeping force as well.
It's the same question I asked the Canadian Ambassador to Haiti, Kenneth Cook, during a two-hour interview in Port au Prince on March 29. Cook said, "As far as I'm concerned, there is no evidence of a kidnapping. I don't have a position on the request to the United Nations by the CARICOM countries for an investigation into the circumstances of the removal of Aristide. If there were (one), it should be brief in order not to interfere with the task of rebuilding the country."
"Rebuilding the country," as organized by the U.S., involves similar strategies to the U.S. plan for Iraq - where Canada refused to go along. U.S. marines regularly march into the poor neighbourhoods that remain staunch Aristide strongholds, alongside the reconstituted and militarized Haitian National police, with both the marines and the police firing into houses and groups of people on the street. Bodies appear in the Port au Prince morgues daily from these incursions. Marines also regularly invade private homes, allegedly to search for weapons - which they very rarely find - and they do so with an over-kill that amazes even supporters of the U.S. occupation.
After more than three months in Haiti, some 3,700 troops - the bulk of whom are U.S., but including more than 500 Canadians - have little to show for their intervention. Inflation has spiraled even beyond that for which Aristide was criticized. A New York Times article June 1 reports that a 50-kilogram sack of rice - the most precious commodity in Haiti - sold for $22.50 in January (under Aristide) and has fluctuated between $45 and $37 since then. The Times article, by Tim Wiener, commented: "One lesson of life in Haiti is never say things cannot get worse. They can and they have. People say they have less money, less food and less hope since the February revolt." Although the U.S. Marines spokesperson, Sgt. Dave Lapan, told the Associated Press on May 30 that more than 20,000 weapons remain in the hands of possible combatants, he admitted the marines have seized fewer than 200.
On May 10, U.S. Marines violently attacked the family compound in Port au Prince of a well-known folk singer, Annette Auguste (also known as SÃ² Anne). One of the best known Haitian musicians, she lived and performed for 20 years in New York City. "It seemed like they were going after Osama bin Laden or something," said her son Reginald Auguste, who lives in the Flatbush section of Brooklyn, according to New York Newsday (May 23, 2004). An anti-Aristide commentator asked, "Why did they have to go in with explosives, guns firing? Why did they have to kill her two dogs and shackle even her six-year-old grandson."
On May 18, the marines went further, accompanying police and firing indiscriminately at the tens of thousands of Haitians demonstrating on Haiti's Flag Day, demanding the return of their elected president. The Associated Press reported nine deaths from police fire, but a U.S. reporter on the scene, Kevin Pina, said there were at least 12 deaths, including one person he saw shot by a Marine. (Flashpoints Radio, KPFA, Berkeley,CA, May 18, 2004.)
None of this reaches mainstream media in Canada or the U.S. Even progressive Canadians know little about the Canadian complicity with a U.S. occupation that is almost like that in Iraq. Long after she reviewed data concerning the elections of 2000 - which rebels and the U.S. both used to de-legitimize the Aristide government - Montreal Gazette reporter Sue Montgomery, writing on June 1, continued to parrot the U.S. view - that Aristide's election in 2000 is suspected by some to have been stolen. No election observers ever doubted that Aristide was overwhelmingly elected (92 per cent of the vote with a more than 60 per cent turnout) - only that elections for eight of his Lavalas Senators were problematic. Seven of these resigned to make way for new elections, only to have these boycotted by the opposition.
Montgomery continues to talk about "years of terror" from "pro-Aristide chimÃ¨re" (a derogatory term used by those who hate Aristide's Lavalas movement of Haiti's poorest people). This is despite lack of evidence that such armed gangs in Haiti's slums were controlled or encouraged by Aristide. She fails to mention the widely documented bloody war against Lavalas members. Those who read or listen to most Canadian media assume that Aristide was a dictator who lost his popularity due to corruption and human rights abuses. Nothing could be further from the truth. As Paul Farmer, the internationally renowned physician whose clinic in Haiti treats thousands of AIDS patients, told me, "Everybody knows that Aristide was bad. Everybody, that is, except the Haitian poor - 85 per cent of the population."
CARICOM, joined by most African states, some Pacific nations, Venezuela and Cuba, continues to demand an investigation into what happened. Jamaica welcomed Aristide despite U.S. pressure not to allow him to return to the Caribbean. South Africa, on May 30, welcomed him as continuing head of state and a hero. Canada remains silent about the CARICOM request for an investigation. Meanwhile, in late April in Washington, Prime Minister Paul Martin and President George W. Bush celebrated their joint action in Haiti as an effort to restore democracy and rebuild a shattered country.
CARICOM and the U.S. Congressional Black Caucus insist Aristide did not resign, and was forced to fly to an unknown destination. The U.S. took him to what the State Department calls the "most violent capital in the world," Bangui, Central African Republic. Many have indeed called this a kidnapping. The Creole specialist hired by the State Department to translate what the U.S. called a "resignation letter," says it began, "If I were to resign...." This was clearly not a letter of voluntary resignation. That view was dismissed as "ridiculous" by U.S. officials and most news commentators.
Kenneth Cook told me he had not seen the Creole version and asked me to provide a copy. I sent him the web address of the State Department expert who did the translation. Canadian officials I spoke with seemed clueless about the details of the removal of Aristide and the current U.S.-supported repression. One Canadian diplomat told me, "Really, we have little of our own intelligence on Haiti. We rely on the U.S. for that."
Canada's troops will remain part of the U.N. operation. Had Canada not been part of the U.S.-led occupation, it would be poised to play a clearer role in peace-keeping. A diplomat with an international agency in Haiti told me, "Almost everyone in Haiti believes the U.S. hand was behind the so-called rebellion and the removal of their elected president. Canada, and even France accepted at face value everything the U.S. told them. It is sad that Canada did not carve out an independent position on Haiti."
The reason Canada went along with the U.S. so completely may have little to do with Haiti, and everything to do with Canadian politics. Martin seeks to demonstrate that Canada is not "anti-US" in its foreign policy, despite Canada's independent posture on Iraq. Haiti was the easiest place for this demonstration.
Anthony Fenton, a free-lance Canadian journalist, summarized the Canadian Connection, in a ZNet article about the emergency House of Commons debate in early March on Canada's Haiti role. Stockwell Day for the Conservatives, "referred to Aristide's removal as 'regime change'...quite matter of factly." Foreign Affairs Minister Bill Graham rejected this terminology: "...This was not regime change according to the Security Council."
The NDP's Svend Robinson asked about the conference on Haiti last January near Ottawa, with French, Canadian and U.S. diplomats present but none from Haiti. L'Actualite's Michel Vastel reported (March 15, 2003) that the topic discussed was the removal of Aristide and a UN trusteeship afterward. As Fenton says, "....Robinson received no response, though it is said the hum of paper shredders could be heard echoing throughout the House..."
In a later article, Fenton is more scathing in his critique of Canadian politicians of all stripes, but especially the Martin-camp Liberals. Calling Canada a vassal state of the U.S. empire, Fenton writes: "the consensus in Canada is that people were unanimously calling for Aristide's 'departure'. Where, in the United States, there is existing political opposition to the role of the government in manufacturing the 'Haitian crisis' (however marginal this is), no such opposition can be said to exist in Canada."
After a whirl-wind visit by Graham (it lasted less than 24 hours), he proclaimed the occupation a success, and indicated a long-range Canadian presence. This just may please all quarters of Canadian politics. The NDP and more progressive Liberals can point to Canada's humanitarian approach, while Liberal and Conservative hawks will be pleased to see military intervention.
But it's not likely to please the poor people of Haiti or the CARICOM diplomats. In the long run, Canada may regret not taking the high road of support for Caribbean sovereignty instead of the expedient path of least resistance to U.S. policy goals. If the real story of Haiti is ever told in major Canadian media, the Haitian debacle could be one more nail in Martin's political coffin.
**Tom Reeves has organized nine delegations to Haiti before during and after the first coup against President Aristide in the 1990s. He was Professor and Director of the Caribbean Focus Program at Roxbury Community College in Boston from 1977 until his retirement in 2001.