Canada is acting just like the junior imperial power it is in a part of the world this country has long considered its backyard.
Washington is asking Ottawa to lead a military mission to Haiti. The Canadian government in turn is leveraging its influence to get Caribbean countries to staff and sell a Haiti force.
Justin Trudeau would prefer to put a black face on his military intervention and Caribbean Community (CARICOM) troops are his preference. On Friday Canada’s PM said, “I’m so pleased that there is such an interest by the Caribbean countries to be part of any solution” in Haiti.
Trudeau has repeatedly met CARICOM to discuss Haiti. On Tuesday the Jamaica Gleaner reported, “Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has, within a one-week period, held a second round of talks with Caribbean Community (Caricom) leaders on the rapidly deteriorating humanitarian and security situation in Haiti.”
The direct outreach to CARICOM is on top of a broader Canadian campaign, which has included Caribbean leaders. Last month Trudeau hosted a meeting on Haiti at the United Nations headquarters in New York while foreign affairs minister Melanie Joly held a gathering to discuss that country at the Organization of American States summit in Peru.
The prime minister of the Bahamas said they would send troops if the Caribbean Community okayed the mission. “If CARICOM decides that the Haitian situation requires the deployment of security troops, then The Bahamas will abide by the outcome of the organization’s resolution,” declared Philip Brave Davis. Jamaica’s Information Minister Robert Morgan echoed that comment.
If Ottawa convinces CARICOM members to join its imperial endeavor it would highlight Canada’s leverage among the mostly small CARICOM countries. Ottawa’s influence in the region dates to when the Canada First Movement sought “a closer political connection” with the British West Indies in the 1870s. By the early 1900s, Canadian policy supported annexing the British Empire’s Caribbean possessions (the various islands as well as today’s Belize and Guyana). At the end of World War I, Ottawa asked the Imperial War Cabinet if it could take possession of the British West Indies as compensation for Canada’s defence of the empire. London balked.
Canada’s sizable financial sector drove these efforts. With their presence in the region dating to the 1830s, Canadian banks were major players by the late 1800s.
Canadian banks continue to be influential. After independence Canadian politicians, businessmen and Bank of Canada officials developed banking and taxation policies in a number of Caribbean countries.
The Caribbean Development Bank is a half century old multilateral bank that provides Ottawa with influence over the region’s economy. Initially staffed by Canada and the UK, those two countries each control 9.31% of of the bank’s voting shares (down from 20%).
Canada has also played an important role militarily in the region. Canada, notes Canadian Caribbean Relations in Transition, “cooperated closely with Jamaica in setting up the latter’s national security organizations” after the country’s independence. Over the past half-century Canada has regularly trained Jamaica’s security forces and has a small military base on the island.
If Ottawa convinces CARICOM to send forces to Haiti it will reflect Canadian influence in the region. Imperial powers always want others to do their dirty work.