Yolanda Tsangarakis interviews Kevin Skerrett
Yolanda Tsangarakis interviews Kevin Skerrett
Yolanda: Kevin Skerrett, from Ottawa, is a researcher at CUPE and a member of Canada-Haiti Action Network (CHAN) and Ottawa-Haiti Solidarity here to talk to us about a very important direct action at a recent international conference that took place on Haiti in Montreal. Good morning, how are you doing?
Kevin: Very good.
Yolanda: So Kevin, the Canadian Government held a restricted meeting, as you are aware, June 16, 17 in Montreal, with the aim of reviewing the current situation in Haiti and preparing for the upcoming elections, currently slated for October. Kevin, tell us a little about the purpose of this meeting.
Kevin: Yes, well, my understanding, I mean my sense of this meeting, this is one in a series of meetings that date back to the International Donors Meeting last July where the World Bank organized - donors organized - to basically set out the new structural adjustment plan for post-coup Haiti. That was then followed by a major gathering in Montreal in December. There was a meeting, I can't remember exactly the date, a month or so ago, in Guyana, and then this one in MontrÃ©al, these are a series of meetings which I would suggest are organized to try to show, to try to give the impression that the international community, the governments, involved in supporting this coup are busily working on the Haiti file and try to put together a show of putting together humanitarian assistance but really I believe the underlying objective is to legitimize the last year in Haiti and also provide some sort of cover for the terrific violence that is actually intensifying on the streets in Port au Prince.
Yolanda: Kevin, so Pierre Pettigrew, of course Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister, was hosting this as well as Aileen Carroll, who I believe is our International Cooperation Minister, can you tell us who else was there? I understand there were also Senior Officials from the US and Haiti, of course?
Kevin: That's right and in fact the main window that I had on it; I had the chance to join a demonstration of Montreal area Haiti solidarity activists across the street from the Hotel where this was taking place. Then on Friday I had a chance to go into the final press conference itself so I could see, at least some of the participants that joined Pierre Pettigrew on stage. It involved Juan Valdez, who is one of the UN representatives responsible for Haiti, two senior Ministers in the coup government cabinet; Herard Abraham, who is the Foreign Affairs Minister for Haiti and Henri Bazin, Finance Minister. They both played prominent roles. And then behind the three of them, behind Pettigrew was a whole line of fifteen or eighteen officials from the Canadian government, from CIDA, from foreign affairs, also from the interim-Haitian government, so you could get the sense that it was quite a list.
Yolanda: Kevin we have been talking a lot about what is going on in Haiti and the role of Canada in Haiti but for the listeners; perhaps that are not familiar with what Canada has been doing, could you just quickly frame for us what the Canadian government is claiming that they're doing in Haiti and then just tell us what the reality of what Canada's role in Haiti is.
Kevin: It is a bit of a story, I'll try to put it as quickly as I can, as people are probably familiar, there was a coup in Haiti in 1991 that overthrew the elected president Jean Bertrand Aristide. Aristide was reinstated by the U.S. government in 1994 but quickly fell out of favor
with the United States and to a different degree to Canada and France. And so from that time in the mid-90s on, there was actually a serious destabilization campaign and in fact I would say character assassination campaign against Aristide and his movement partly because of its populist, left-populist character. There is a lot of interesting detail about how that campaign worked but the end result was a second coup d'etat last February 2004 that Canada basically joined the U.S. and France and the business community and the elite of Haiti in helping make that happen. And then have spent the time since last Feb. 29, 2004 attempting to scramble to legitimize the thing, because they've put together an unelected interim government that seems to be essentially hand-picked by primarily the U.S. State Department but with input from Canada, France and the business leaders in Haiti and that's why I say this conference that took place last week in Montreal is part of a whole series of machinations to try to essentially make this regime change happen but under the radar. In a way that's less dramatic and violent as we saw in Iraq. And of course the key to really understand why this is so terrible is if you take away a very popular, elected leader from a country and dump him in Africa and try to impose an unelected government on a population, many people will be angry and we now have for a couple of months now a very active mobilization of the Haitian population particularly the poor majority that are organizing and demonstrating to demand the return of their constitutionally elected government. And we have an unelected government in charge of the Haitian National Police who are carrying out a terrible repression of these demonstrators and this population so we have from human rights organizations listing the terrible crimes, summary executions by the police, massacres in the country; so the jails are full of political prisoners, it really is a terrible story which unfortunately our mainstream media have almost entirely missed when they pay attention to it its been downplayed and thatâ€™s why there's a rising frustration rising among those of us solidarity activists and organizers, who are trying to draw attention to this situation and this is one of the reasons, perhaps, that you have seen, that there was an incident at that press conference that I talked about where one activist actually took the step of disrupting things by splashing red paint on the hands of Pierre Pettigrew to illustrate the point that Pierre Pettigrew and the Canadian government actually has blood on it's hands.
Yolanda: So I was going to ask you about that very important direct action and what it symbolizes. Just before we do that though, Kevin, just so that our listeners are familiar with what the Canadian government's version of what is going on in Haiti. And that is that they have claimed that Haiti is a failed state and that they are helping Haiti to restore or implement democracy, is that correct?
Kevin: Yes, that's exactly right. It is sort of a painful irony. They are trying to claim that a coup d'etat and the removal of an elected government have been carried out in the interest of democracy and human rights. Itâ€™s just such a terrible development that they are able to use this Orwellian language to carry out a very different agenda. But the way this was accomplished is really important for people to understand. When I saw that there was a destabilization and character assignation campaign, what I mean partly by that, it's not that government officials were lambasting Aristide and government. It was much more insidious than that. Over a number of years, various non-government organizations, popular organizations, trade unions, peasant groups in Haiti were financed, infiltrated, influence, bullied by various arms and agencies of the Canadian, the American and the French governments to shift their political orientation and this had a dramatic effect suddenly you had most of the foreign financed NGOs In Haiti joined the bandwagon of opposition to President Aristide. What that led to was a whole avalanche of incredibly hostile condemnation of President Aristide. accusations of terrible human rights abuses, accusations of corruption, drug dealings, I mean, just a whole wild assortment of accusations; a vast majority of which were never documented, justified or substantiated but all it took was the reports and accusations which got circulated In the mainstream media and it set up the situation last year where the Canadian government can claim, "Oh, well! Aristide has clearly lost his support and he's no longer a democrat" and this justifies this regime change. Personally I think this was primarily the objective and the mission of the Bush Administration and the American government. What is sad and really pathetic here is that the Canadian government essentially followed suit, a little more quietly, just as insidiously and used their influence through CIDA, (Canadian International Development Agency) and other quasy non-government organizations to essentially advance the same agenda. Now they're in a phase when they have to cover their tracks and you have a situation like at that press conference last Friday. Pierre Pettigrew is in a position where he has to dismiss all of the human rights reports that have come out in the last year about Haiti and say they're propaganda. I mean, he's started to sound like Donald Rumsfeld or Condoleezza Rice having to basically say that these reports are all propaganda and it really is a terrible situation. Fortunately there's more and more resistance being organized and solidarity actions happening across the country and I'm hoping that we're going to be able to turn this around.
Yolanda: So, just to go back to your comment about the activist Yves Engler who's also a member of the Montreal Haiti Action throws paint, symbolizing or representing the blood of the Haitian people on the hands of Pierre Pettigrew; so you're basically saying that he did that to show what it is in fact Canada is doing and is responsible for. I understand that the charges were dropped. Do you care to speculate as to why the charges were dropped?
Kevin: Absolutely! I will speculate and others are as well. I think, to me, it's very clear that Minister Pettigrew was completely caught off guard by this action on Friday and the extent and intensity of opposition to what he's doing. Initially I think he was quite intent on pressing charges against Yves. And it's just ridiculous; they were claiming that he was assaulted with a weapon! The weapon supposedly being, you know liquid, that ended up on his hands. Just a really ridiculous sort of claim and I think our view is that this minor inconvenience to Pettigrew pales in comparison with the pain and suffering that's going on Haiti today. And this was, I think, Yves' message. So, yes, the charges, most of the charges have been dropped. I think there may still be some 'disturbing the peace' charge that Yves is going to have to deal with. But it's a really good sign. I think basically the Minister's realized that if he were to pursue these ridiculous charges, what it's going to do is just, lead to more questions about what the point was. And I think he's embarrassed by that and wants to shut down the discussion. So our job is to ensure that this doesn't happen.
Charles Boylan: Well, Kevin, it's also a fact that had Pettigrew gone through with this charge then he would have to appear in court which would put him completely vulnerable to hostile cross-examination as to his role into whether this was a justifiable and defensive act on Yves' part. So he's now got himself off that hook.
Kevin: I think thatâ€™s exactly right. I think that would make a lot of sense as I saw, they are so afraid, the Canadian government is so afraid of that kind of scrutiny and obviously they're not confident in their own ability to defend their record so what they've now done is decided to do things like this conference in Montreal. It was closed to the media. The people that participate are hand picked from the international community and from Canada. They've carefully screened, carefully stage managed to make sure that no one goes off script; it really is just the opposite of any kind of transparent and democratic process that they're claiming to be championing for Haiti. Itâ€™s quite an irony!
Yolanda: Kevin, do you recall at the media gallery was there any talk about the possibility of the employment of U.S. marines or increasing the number of occupation forces because of the upcoming elections? Was that discussed at all?
Kevin: Well, this didn't come up in the press conference that I saw unfold. As you may know, the US ambassador to Haiti, James Foley, has actually openly requested that same sort of group of Marines be sent but this is being apparently, kind of being evaluated, they really are in a mess; in some turmoil about how they're going to handle this. Different major countries like China and Brazil are involved and playing their own sort of weird games relating to their international ambitions and really it is the people of Haiti who are paying the price. One thing to add though about what did come up in that press conference; what was very disturbing to a number of us, it was four or five of us from the solidarity activist community that were there in the press conference and we were just shocked. We had a chance to ask some challenging questions to Minister Pettigrew, all of which he dismissed. What was so disturbing is that none of the mainstream media journalists asked a single question that would indicate they were informed in the file. They knew some of the problems that were underway, none of them, there were six or seven questions, it was really revealing to see how that press conference unfolded.
Charles: You have to give Yves our congratulations. It was a justified and audacious action and congratulations to him and all those who supported him in that action; for dramatizing the crimes the Canadian government has committed against a heroic Haitian people.
Kevin: Absolutely and in fact, those of us in Ottawa/Gatineau pass on our solidarity and support as well. One of the things we've done in response and that I'd encourage others to do, we're writing letters to the editor and also to Minister Pettigrew and government officials to emphasize that Yves is not alone in this. There are now hundreds of people that are becoming more and more aware of what's happening and support what Yves did. And we're not going away. If anything we're going to get bigger and more angry as time goes on unless Canadian policy on Haiti changes.
Yolanda: Kevin, thanks so much for that, again, very important update and hopefully we'll be seeing and hearing about more direct actions against the duplicitous role of the Canadian government that they're playing in Haiti. Again, Kevin, thank you very much and hopefully we'll do this again soon.
Kevin: Absolutely, thanks for your interest.
*Transcribed by Feezeman
The audio version of this interview is archived at www.wakeupwithcoop.org'>http://wakeupwithcoop.org/Wakepast.htm">www.wakeupwithcoop.org
Learn more about Canada's role in Haiti. Visit outofhaiti.cahttp://outofhaiti.ca/">outofhaiti.ca>