By Yves Engler
After a deadly earthquake rocked Haiti 15 months ago, most Canadians worried about uncovering those trapped, getting survivors water and connecting family members. But in the halls of power, it seems they were concerned about something very different.
According to internal documents examined by the Canadian Press this month, Canadian officials feared a post-earthquake power vacuum could lead to a “popular uprising”. Obtained through access-to-information legislation, one briefing note marked “Secret” explains, “Political fragility has increased the risks of a popular uprising, and has fed the rumour that ex-president Jean-Bertrand Aristide, currently in exile in South Africa, wants to organize a return to power.” The documents also explain the importance of strengthening the Haitian authorities ability “to contain the risks of a popular uprising.”
To police Haiti’s traumatized and suffering population 2,000 Canadian troops were deployed (alongside 10,000 American soldiers). At the same time several Heavy Urban Search and Rescue Teams in cities across the country were readied but never sent because, Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon noted, “the government had opted to send Canadian Armed Forces instead.”
The files uncovered by the Canadian Press go to the heart (or lack thereof) of Canadian foreign-policy decision-making. Almost always strategic thinking, not compassion, motivates policy. One is hard-pressed to find an instance where compassion was more warranted than post-earthquake Haiti.
The files also tell us a great deal about Ottawa’s relationship to the hemisphere’s most impoverished nation: Canadian officials think they run the place. And they are right.
Since hosting the Jan. 2003 round-table meeting dubbed the Ottawa Initiative on Haiti, Canada has been a dominant player in Haitian life. At that meeting high level U.S., Canadian and French officials discussed overthrowing elected president Jean-Bertrand Aristide, putting the country under international trusteeship and resurrecting Haiti’s dreaded military. Thirteen months after the Ottawa Initiative meeting Aristide had been pushed out and a quasi UN trusteeship had begun.
Since that time the Haitian National Police has been heavily militarized and the winner of the recent presidential elections, Michel Martelly, plans to divert scarce state resources to re-creating the military.
Canada helped the right-wing Martelly rise to office (with about 16 per cent of voters support, since the election was largely boycotted). Canada put up $6 million for elections that excluded Haiti’s most popular political party, Fanmi Lavalas, from participating. After the first round, our representatives on an Organization of American States Mission helped force the candidate the electoral council had in second place, Jude Celestin, out of the runoff. The Center for Economic and Policy Research explained, “The international community, led by the U.S., France, and Canada, has been intensifying the pressure on the Haitian government to allow presidential candidate Michel Martelly to proceed to the second round of elections instead of [ruling party candidate] Jude Celestin.” Some Haitian officials had their U.S. visas revoked and there were threats that aid would be cut off if Martelly’s vote total wasn’t increased as per the OAS recommendation.
Half of the electoral council agreed to the OAS changes, but half didn’t. The second round was unconstitutional, noted Haïti Liberté, as “only four of the eight-member Provisional Electoral Council (CEP) have voted to proceed with the second round, one short of the five necessary. Furthermore, the first round results have not been published in the journal of record, Le Moniteur, and President Préval has not officially convoked Haitians to vote, both constitutional requirements.”
The absurdity of the whole affair did not stop the Canadian government from supporting the elections and official election monitors from this country gave a thumbs-up to this farcical exercise in “democracy”. Describing the fraudulent nature of the elections, Haiti Progrès explained “the form of democracy that Washington, Paris and Ottawa want to impose on us is becoming a reality.”
One reason for this intense political interest in Haiti is the interest of Canadian investors. Canadian banks are among the very few foreign operators in Port-au-Prince and Montreal-based Gildan, one of the world’s biggest blank t-shirt makers, was the second largest employer (after the state) before the earthquake. The mining sector is almost entirely Canadian with many companies entering the country over the past few years. One Vancouver-based company, Eurasian Minerals, acquired prospecting licenses that cover approximately 10 percent of Haiti’s land mass.
To protect these foreign investors and the one percent of Haitians who own half of the country’s wealth, a 10,000-strong UN military force has been occupying the country for seven years. In a bitter irony, soldiers from one of the poorest countries in Asia, Nepal, gave Haiti a disease that thrives in impoverished societies, which lack adequate public sanitation and health systems. In October a new deployment of Nepalese troops brought a strain of cholera to Haiti that has left 5,000 dead and hundreds of thousands more ill. According to the British medical journal the Lancet, up to 800,000 Haitians will contract cholera this year.
The back story to this affair has gone largely unreported. The waste company managing the UN base, Sanco Enterprises S.A., disposed the fecal matter from the Nepalese troops into pits that seeped into the Artibonite River. Locals drank from the river, which is how the first Haitians got infected with cholera.
It’s hard to imagine a company working for the UN in Canada disposing of sewage in such a manner. But, then again the UN occupation force doesn’t much value Haitian life. The same could be said for the Canadian government.