Tag Archives: Haiti

The lies told to justify Canadian foreign policy

Lies, distortions and self-serving obfuscations are to be expected when political and business leaders discuss far away places.

In a recent Toronto Star column Rick Salutin observed that “foreign policy is a truth-free, fact-free zone. When leaders speak on domestic issues, citizens at least have points of reference to check them against. On foreign affairs they blather freely.”

Salutin vividly captures an important dynamic of political life. What do most Canadians know about our government’s actions in Afghanistan or Haiti? Most of us have never been to those countries and don’t know anyone living there, from there or even who’ve been there. We are heavily dependent on media and politicians’ portrayals. But, as I detail in A Propaganda System: How Canada’s Government, Corporations, Media and Academia Sell War and Exploitation, international correspondents generally take their cue from the foreign policy establishment or diplomats in the field.

Journalists are prepared to criticize governments and corporations to a certain extent on “domestic” issues, but the spirit of “challenging power” largely disappears regarding foreign policy. One reason is that nationalism remains an important media frame and the dominant media often promotes an “our team” worldview.

Another explanation is the web of state and corporate generated ideas institutes, which I review in A Propaganda System, that shape the international discussion. In a forthcoming second volume I look at the Canadian Left’s contribution to confusing the public about international policies.

The state/corporate nexus operates largely unchallenged in the Global South because there is little in terms of a countervailing force. Instead of criticizing the geo-strategic and corporate interests overwhelmingly driving foreign policy decisions, the social democratic NDP has often supported them and contributed to Canadians’ confusion about this country’s international affairs. The NDP endorsed bombing Serbia and Libya and in recent years they’ve supported military spending, Western policy in the Ukraine and the dispossession of Palestinians. The NDP has largely aligned with the foreign policy establishment or those, as long time NDP MP Libby Davies put it, who believe a “Time Magazine version” of international affairs.

Closely tied to the NDP, labour unions’ relative indifference to challenging foreign policy is another reason why politicians can “blather freely” on international affairs. On many domestic issues organized labour represents a countervailing force to the corporate agenda or state policies. While dwarfed by corporate Canada, unions have significant capacities. They generate hundreds of millions of dollars in annual dues and fund or participate in a wide range of socially progressive initiatives such as the Canadian Health Coalition, Canadian Council for Refugees and Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives. But, unions rarely extend their broader (class) vision of society to international affairs. In fact, sometimes they endorse unjust international policies.

To the extent that politicians’ “blathering” is restrained it is largely by other countries. The recent political conflict in the Ukraine provides an example. Canadian politicians have aggressively promoted a simplistic, self-serving, narrative that has dominated the media-sphere. But, there is a source of power countering this perspective. Moscow financed/controlled media such as RT, Sputnik and others have offered a corrective to the Western line. A comparatively wealthy and powerful state, Russia’s diplomats have also publicly challenged the Canadian media’s one-sided portrayal.

An important, if rarely mentioned, rule of foreign policy is the more impoverished a nation, the greater the gap is likely to be between what Canadian officials say and do. The primary explanation for the gap between what’s said and done is that power generally defines what is considered reality. So, the bigger the power imbalance between Canada and another country the greater Ottawa’s ability to distort their activities.

Haiti provides a stark example. In 2004 Ottawa helped overthrow Haiti’s elected government and then supported an installed regime that killed thousands. Officially, however, Ottawa was “helping” the beleaguered country as part of the “Friends of Haiti” group. And the bill for undermining Haitian democracy, including the salaries of top coup government officials and the training of repressive cops, was largely paid out of Canada’s “aid” to the country.

A stark power imbalance between Ottawa and Port-au-Prince helps explain the gulf between Canadian government claims and reality in Haiti. Describing the country at the time of Jean-Bertrand Aristide’s ouster, former Globe and Mail foreign editor Paul Knox observed, “obviously, in the poorest country of the Americas, the government is going to have fewer resources at its disposal to mount a PR exercise or offensive if it feels itself besieged.”

With a $300 US million total budget for a country of eight million, the Haitian government had limited means to explain their perspective to the world either directly or through international journalists. On the other hand, the Washington-Paris-Ottawa coup triumvirate had great capacity to propagate their perspective (at the time the Canadian International Development Agency and Foreign Affairs each spent 10 times the entire Haitian budget and the Department of National Defence 60 times). The large Canadian embassy in Port-au-Prince worked to influence Canadian reporters in the country and their efforts were supplanted by the Haiti desks at CIDA and Foreign Affairs as well as the two ministries’ communications departments and Canadian military officials.

While an imbalance in communications resources partly explains the coverage, there is also a powerful ideological component. The media’s biased coverage of Haiti cannot be divorced from ‘righteous Canada’ assumptions widely held among the intelligentsia. As quoted in an MA thesis titled “Covering the coup: Canadian news reporting, journalists, and sources in the 2004 Haiti crisis”, CBC reporter Neil McDonald told researcher Isabel McDonald the Canadian government was “one of the most authoritative sources on conflict resolution in the world.”

According to Isabel McDonald’s summary, the prominent correspondent also said, “it was crazy to imagine Canada would be involved in a coup” and that “Canadian values were incompatible with extreme inequality or race-based hegemony”, which Ottawa’s policies clearly exacerbated in Haiti. (Neil Macdonald also said his most trusted sources for background information in Haiti came from Canadian diplomatic circles, notably CIDA where his cousins worked. The CBC reporter also said he consulted the Canadian ambassador in Port-au-Prince to determine the most credible human rights advocate in Haiti. Ambassador Kenneth Cook directed him to Pierre Espérance, a coup backer who fabricated a “massacre” used to justify imprisoning the constitutional prime minister and interior minister. When pressed for physical evidence Espérance actually said the 50 bodies “might have been eaten by wild dogs.”)

The Canadian Council on Africa provides another example of the rhetoric that results from vast power imbalances and paternalist assumptions. Run by Canadian corporations operating on the continent, the council said it “focuses on the future of the African economy and the positive role that Canada can play meeting some of the challenges in Africa.”

Similar to the Canadian Council on Africa, the Canadian American Business Council, Canada China Business Council and Canada-UK Chamber of Commerce also seek to advance members’ profit-making potential. But, the other lobby groups don’t claim humanitarian objectives. The primary difference between the Canadian Council on Africa and the other regional lobby organizations is the power imbalance between Canada/the West and African countries, as well as the anti-African paternalism that dominates Canadian political culture. A group of Canadian corporations claiming their aim was to meet the social challenges of the US or UK would sound bizarre and if they said as much about China they would be considered seditious. (Ironically the US-, Britain- and China-focused lobby groups can better claim the aid mantle since foreign investment generally has greater social spinoffs in more independent/better regulated countries.) But, paternalist assumptions are so strong — and Africans’ capacity to assert themselves within Canadian political culture so limited — that a lobby group largely representing corporations that displace impoverished communities to extract natural resources is, according to the Canadian Council on Africa’s previous mission statement, “committed to the economic development of a modern and competitive Africa.”

To counter the “fact free zone” individuals need to educate themselves on international issues, by seeking alternative sources of information. More important, we should strengthen internationalist social movements and left media consciously seeking to restrict politicians’ ability to “blather freely”.

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Filed under A Propaganda System

Message to reporters: Do you enjoy being duped?

When reading wild propaganda about Canada’s role in Haiti I often wonder if the reporter is a sycophant or whether they’ve been duped.

With the Caribbean nation set to hold its most credible presidential election in sixteen years Ottawa announced it was withdrawing support for the October 9poll. The Trudeau government’s decision to follow Washington in seeking to undermine the election was confirmed in an anti-Haitian screed titled“Canada showing Haiti some tough love”. In it CBC reporter Evan Dyer ignores Washington and Ottawa’s intervention in the 2010 election to bring far right president Michel Martelly to power and how their and Martelly’s attempt at a rerun sparked the popular backlash that postponed last year’s vote. Dyer also ignores Canada’s role in plotting, executing and consolidating the 2004 coup against Jean Bertrand Aristide’s government or the fact his Fanmi Lavalas party has been effectively excluded from elections since.

Dyer describes Canada as “Haiti’s most loyal backer”, working tirelessly to advance democracy in the Caribbean nation. In a particularly embarrassing bit he turns Canada’s role in the post-coup election, which followed widespread political repression and excluded Haiti’s most popular political party, into a noble democratic exercise. Dyer reports:

In 2006, Canada’s then-chief electoral officer, Jean-Pierre Kingsley, personally led a team of Canadian observers to Haiti. One of them, Cheickh Bangoura of Ottawa, was shot in the arm carrying out his duties in Port-au-Prince, but was back at his post observing the vote the next day.

Lauding Kingsley and Canada’s role in Haiti’s 2006 election is comical. After widespread fraud in the counting, including thousands of ballots found burned in a dump, the country was gripped by social upheaval. In response, the chair of the International Mission for Monitoring Haitian Elections released a statement claiming, “the election was carried out with no violence or intimidation, and no accusations of fraud.” Kingsley’s statement went on to laud Jacques Bernard, the head of the electoral council despite the fact that Bernard had already been widely derided as corrupt and biased even by other members of the coup government’s electoral council.

Kingsley’s connections in Ottawa put his impartiality into serious doubt. In addition, his close ties to the International Foundation of Electoral Systems (IFES), which received about 80 percent of its funding from the US government, helps explain his partisan statements. At the time of Haiti’s election, Kingsley sat on the board of IFES and a year after the election Kingsley stepped down from Elections Canada to become president of IFES. A University of Miami Human Rights Investigation that appeared more than a year before the election summarised the “multi-million dollar” IFES project in Haiti:

IFES workers … completely take credit for ousting Aristide. … IFES … formulated groups that never existed, united pre-existing groups, gave them sensitization seminars, paid for people to attend, paid for entertainment and catering, and basically built group after group. … They reached out to student groups, business … [and] human rights groups which they actually paid off to report human rights atrocities to make Aristide look bad. … They bought journalists, and the IFES associations grew into the Group of 184 that became a solidified opposition against Aristide…. Gérard Latortue, the [coup] prime minister, was an IFES member for a couple of years before the ouster of Aristide. … Bernard Gousse, the [coup] justice minister … in charge of prisons and police, was in [IFES] for many years.

Dyer is probably ignorant of this history. Someone at Global Affairs Canada likely fed him the bit about Kingsley to build their “we’ve tried to bring democracy to Haiti” storyline and Dyer didn’t bother looking into the sordid affair.

Dyer is not the first mainstream reporter to make a mockery of facts and logic when covering Canada’s role in Haiti. With evidence of the coup government’s violence mounting Marina Jimenez published an article puppeting the Canadian-backed regime’s perspective on the killings. In a January 2005 story headlined “Backyard Baghdad”, she wrote that ousted President Aristide “from his South Africa exile” is “funding” and “directing” a “war.” Jimenez reported about a purported pro-Aristide campaign to murder police officers, “Operation Baghdad”, but the story made no mention that independent observers said this was an invention of the coup government to justify their attacks on the pro-Aristide slums. Or that a month before her article appeared more than ten thousand pro-constitution demonstrators marched in Cap Haitien behind a banner claiming “Operation Baghdad” was a plot created by pro-coup forces to demonize Aristide supporters.

Efforts to communicate with the then Globe and Mail reporter had little impact. A year and a half later Jimenez would smear the author of a Lancetmedical journal study detailing widespread human rights violations in the 22 months after Aristide’s ouster. After the report received front-page coverage in the Montréal Gazette and National Post, with quotes from Haiti Action Montréal adding political context, Jimenez sought to discredit a study that estimated 8,000 were killed and 35,000 raped in Port au Prince. Jimenez quoted Nicholas Galetti, in charge of Haiti at the Canadian government’s Rights and Democracy, baselessly claiming the peer-reviewed study was “based on flawed methodology.”

Former Montréal Gazette reporter Sue Montgomery’s coverage of Haiti reveals how a journalist can be duped, but also the importance of pressuring journalists to investigate troubling claims about this country’s foreign policy. Given only two days to prepare for her assignment, Montgomery was ripe to be manipulated by the Canadian ambassador and Ottawa-funded organizations in Haiti. In “Parachute Journalism” in Haiti: Media Sourcing in the 2003-2004 Political Crisis Isabel Macdonald writes:

Montgomery recalled being given anti-Aristide disinformation when she called the Canadian embassy immediately after she had been held up by armed men while driving through Port-au-Prince days before the coup. Canada’s ambassador to Haiti, Kenneth Cook, told her, ‘We’ve got word that Aristide has given the order to the chimeres [purported pro-Aristide thugs] to do this kind of thing to international journalists because he’s not getting any support.’ According to Montgomery, Cook had urged her to tell the other international journalists who were staying at the same hotel: ‘I think you should let all your colleagues at the Montana know that it’s not safe for them.’

Though she later realized the ambassador’s claim was ridiculous, Montgomery told other journalists at Hotel Montana (where most international journalists stay in Port-au-Prince) that Aristide’s supporters were targeting them. The ambassador’s disinformation also coloured her reporting in the critical days before and after the February 29, 2004 coup.

A few months after the coup I described Montgomery as “once progressive” in a piece criticizing her coverage of Haiti. The article sparked the hoped-for reaction, contributing to a re-evaluation of her position. Over the next year and a half she performed a 180° turn on the issue and during the 2006 federal election campaign Montgomery wrote an opinion piece titled “Voters should punish MPs for Haiti”. It argued that Foreign Minister Pierre Pettigrew and the prime minister’s special advisor on Haiti, Denis Coderre, should lose their seats for undermining Haitian democracy.

When seeking to understand coverage of Canada’s role in Haiti one should probe the structural forces shaping the flow of information. But, within the prevailing structural constraints individuals have some flexibility in whether they ‘comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable’ or serve power.

I invite readers to email Dyer (ac.cbc@reyd.nave) to ask if he was duped by Canadian officials.

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Where seeking mainstream media attention leads

Do Black (Haitian) lives matter to Canada’s leading ‘left-wing’ foreign-policy think tank? Apparently not as much as having the corporate media mention their work by getting in bed with militarism disguised as peacekeeping.

At the start of Black History Month the Ottawa-based Rideau Institute co-published Unprepared for Peace?: The decline of Canadian peacekeeping training (and what to do about it). On the cover of the report a white Canadian soldier, with a massive M-16 strapped around his shoulder, is bent over to hold the hand of a young black boy. In the background are Canadian and UN colours.

A call for the Canadian Forces to offer its members more peacekeeping training, Unprepared for peace? is premised on the erroneous notion that UN missions are by definition socially useful. And it repeatedly implies that Canada’s most significant recent contribution to a UN mission — the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) — was an operation we should be proud of.

The lead author of the report is Rideau Institute board member Walter Dorn, who has worked with and publicly lauded the UN mission in Haiti. “With financial support from the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade”, Dorn wrote, “the United Nations sent me on research trips to the UN missions in Haiti” and elsewhere in 2006. During a sabbatical that year Dorn served as a consultant to the UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations and later briefed the “Military Directors of the UN Mission in Haiti” on “Technologies for Peacekeeping”. With help from MINUSTAH he published Intelligence-led Peacekeeping: The United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH), 2006–07. In it Dorn claims the intervention to overthrow Haiti’s elected government in 2004 was designed “to create basic conditions for security and stability.” The report largely focuses on UN intelligence activities in Cité Soleil, Port-au-Prince’s poorest neighbourhood.

In applauding UN operations in Cite Soleil, Dorn ignores MINUSTAH’s political role. After helping oust Jean-Bertrand Aristide and thousands of other elected officials, 500 Canadian soldiers were incorporated into a UN mission that backed up the coup government’s violent crackdown of Haiti’s pro-democracy movement from March 2004 to May 2006. The UN force also participated directly in pacifying the slums, which left dozens of civilians dead in Cité Soleil (a bastion of support for Aristide).

Dorn has delivered a number of lectures and interviews in favour of the UN force. In 2010 he presented on “The Protection of Civilians: The United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti.” The next year he told CBC Radio’s The World This Weekend the world is “crying for Canada” to expand its military role within the UN, noting “we have a long-standing police contribution in Haiti but we could easily contribute to the military side.”

He also rebuked critics of the UN. In 2012 the author of a Council of Hemispheric Affairs report, Courtney Frantz, told IPS MINUSTAH “perpetrated acts of violence” and had “become an instrument of the U.S., France and Canada in terms of their economic interests (including privatisation in Haiti).” In the article, Dorn countered Frantz, saying UN forces delivered “law and order”.

The next year Dorn told the Canadian Press that adding 34 Canadian soldiers to MINUSTAH was a “positive development. It helps Haiti. It helps the United Nations, the United States and Brazil.”

While dispatching Canadian soldiers may have helped the US and Brazil (the country leading the military mission), most Haitians see the UN as an occupying force responsible for innumerable abuses. Aside from the above-mentioned political repression, the UN’s disregard for Haitian life caused a major cholera outbreak, which left at least 8,000 Haitians dead and 750,000 ill. In October 2010 a UN base in central Haiti discharged sewage, including the feces of newly deployed Nepalese troops, into a river where people drank. This introduced the water-borne disease into the country.

Haiti represents but one example of Dorn’s support for Canadian backed UN violence. In writing about the early 1960s UN mission in the Congo Dorn ignores that mission’s role in the assassination of elected Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba. Similarly, he provides a wildly one-sided version of the early 1950s “UN police action” in Korea, which left as many as four million dead.

Dorn promotes greater Canadian engagement in UN military actions, but doesn’t mind if this takes place alongside US/NATO led wars. Last March he wrote, “the two approaches can coexist. It’s not one or the other and nothing in between. We can excel in combat and excel in peacekeeping.”

Sympathetic to Washington’s worldview, Dorn isn’t troubled by UN forces standing in for NATO. In Unprepared for Peace? he writes: “In the post-Afghanistan period, the burden of addressing emerging international crises is increasingly shifted towards the United Nations, with NATO limiting its intervention primarily to air strikes such as those used in Libya in 2011.”

In the case of the Canada/France/Britain/US war in Libya, Dorn called for a UN force to mop up a conflict he deemed, even four years after, “justified… easily passing a Just War threshold.” Five months into that war the Independent reported him saying, a “peacekeeping mission in Libya would present the UN with an opportunity to overcome its surprisingly outmoded attitude to new military technology.”

As he campaigns for improved UN military capacity, Dorn enthused about the Obama administration’s commitment to strengthening UN weaponry. “The U.S. effort is genuine”, he said in March. “I’ve been to Washington three times in recent months to talk with the (U.S.) Department of Defense on helping bring United Nations peacekeeping technology into the 21st century.”

Dorn attracts corporate media interest, which presumably explains the Rideau Institute’s interest in collaborating. Unprepared for Peace? was cited throughout the dominant media and the Toronto Star editorial board even praised its conclusions.

But, Dorn’s establishment standing is largely due to his position at the Royal Military College and Canadian Forces College. The military’s website describes Dorn as a “professor at the Canadian Forces College and Chair of the Master of Defence Studies programme at RMC [Royal Military College].” Dorn survives, even thrives, at the military run colleges because elements of the Canadian Forces have long viewed “peacekeeping”, which demands a military force, as a way to maintain public support for its budget.

An indication of his opinion towards military spending, in 2014 Ipolitics reported, “[Dorn] said he is satisfied with the current size of the military. He said anything smaller would mean Canada is spending less than 1 per cent of GDP on its Armed Forces – and, as a professor of defence studies, that’s not something he could support.”

Perhaps some might argue that the “foreign policy left” should be a broad coalition that includes anyone who is in favour of anything called “peacekeeping” or that the Rideau Institute has simply not thought through the implications of promoting Dorn’s views. But how do you square either argument with Richard Sanders, coordinator Coalition to Oppose the Arms Trade, appeal to peace activists attending a 2010 Rideau Institute sponsored event with Dorn: “Knee-jerk support for anything with the UN ‘peacekeeping’ brand can lead folks to supporting mass murder of innocent civilians.”

Unfortunately, Canada’s preeminent ‘left-wing’ foreign policy think tank has spurned demilitarization and anti-imperialist voices to promote the views of the liberal end of the military. The Rideau Institute works with an individual who aggressively supported Canada’s worst foreign-policy crime of the first decade of the 21st century. But the victims were poor black Haitians so apparently that does not matter.

Happy Black History Month.

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Filed under Black Book of Canadian Foreign Policy, Canada in Haiti

Canada in Haiti: Is this how friends act?

Reading the comments below a recent Toronto Star op-edreminded me of an important, if rarely mentioned, rule of Canadian foreign policy: the more impoverished a nation, the greater the gap is likely to be between what Canadian officials say and do.

In a rare corporate daily breakthrough, solidarity activist Mark Phillips detailed a decade of antidemocratic Canadian policy in Haiti. But, a number of readers were clearly discomforted by the piece titled “Hey Canada, stop meddling in Haitian democracy.”

“Money pumped into this dysfunctional country, is money down a rat hole,” read one. Another said, “Yes — let’s stop ‘meddling’ and while were at it — let’s stop sending them our hard-earned money!!!!.”

While these statements ought to be condemned, one should feel some sympathy for the comment writers. Assuming they only peruse the dominant media, Phillips’ op-ed ran counter to all they’d ever heard about Canada’s role in Haiti.

Over the past 12 years Canadian officials have repeatedly boasted about their good deeds in the Caribbean nation all the while aggressively undermining Haitian democracy and supporting violent right-wing political forces. In January 2003 Ottawa hosted a roundtable meeting dubbed the Ottawa Initiative on Haiti where 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.

Ottawa helped overthrow Haiti’s elected government and then supported an installed regime that killed thousands. Officially, however, Ottawa was “helping” the beleaguered country as part of the “Friends of Haiti” group. And the bill for undermining Haitian democracy, including the salaries of top coup government officials and the training of repressive cops, was largely paid out of Canada’s “aid” to the country.

Even after a deadly earthquake rocked Haiti in 2010, Canadian officials continued their inhumane, antidemocratic, course. According to internal documents the Canadian Press examined a year after the disaster, officials in Ottawa feared a post-earthquake power vacuum could lead to a “popular uprising.” One briefing note marked “secret” explained: “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 explained the importance of strengthening the Haitian authorities’ ability “to contain the risks of a popular uprising.”

To police Haiti’s traumatized and suffering population 2,050 Canadian troops were deployed alongside 12,000 U.S. soldiers and 1,500 UN troops (8,000 UN soldiers were already there). Even though there was no war, for a period there were more foreign troops in Haiti per square kilometer than in Afghanistan or Iraq (and about as many per capita). Though the Conservatives rapidly deployed 2,050 troops they ignored calls to dispatch this country’s Heavy Urban Search and Rescue (HUSAR) Teams, which are trained to “locate trapped persons in collapsed structures.”

While they were largely focused on “security,” the Harper Conservatives knew the public wanted Canada to aid earthquake victims. As such, they claimed Canadian troops were deployed to alleviate Haitian suffering. Harper told the press: “Ships of the Atlantic fleet were immediately ordered to Haiti from Halifax, loaded with relief supplies.” Not true. A [Halifax] Chronicle Herald reporter and photographer embedded with the military for the mission observed that they didn’t have much food, water, medical equipment or tents to distribute, beyond what they needed for their own crews. Nor did the other Canadian naval vessel dispatched have supplies to distribute.

The files uncovered by the Canadian Press about the government’s post-earthquake concerns go to the heart (or lack thereof) of Canadian foreign policy decisionmaking. Strategic thinking, not compassion, almost always motivates policy. And what is considered “strategic” is usually what corporate Canada wants.

To conceal this ugly reality officials boast about aid contributions and democracy promotion. But the primary explanation for the gap between what’s said and done is that power generally defines what is considered reality. So, the bigger the power imbalance between Canada and another country the greater Ottawa’s ability to distort their activities.

Unfortunately, the Toronto Star comments suggest Canadian officials have been quite effective in deceiving the public.

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Filed under Black Book of Canadian Foreign Policy, Canada in Haiti, The Ugly Canadian

Suggestions for real organizing during elections

By Dru Oja Jay and Yves Engler
Election season can be the worst time to be a radical. Which is to say, it’s tough to be someone who believes that fundamental systemic change is needed when the parties that have our democratic imagination in a sleeper hold are sucking the air out of the living rooms of the nation pitching their tweaks to the status quo.
There’s not much to do for those who believe in dealing with environmental destruction, colonial pillage, alienation and inequality: the fundamental features of capitalism. If you see radicals out and about during election season, they’re either eating ballots or sporting a cynical grin as they wrangle volunteers at a temporary NDP campaign office for some fast cash. If they’re not decrying the pitifully limited range of debate, they’re probably just crying.
We can either join the flock of Shepherd Mulcair or assume the role of black sheep, baying from the edge of the field, but too weak to face down any wolves alone. Does it have to be this way? Is there something better? We believe so.
Elections can be a unique opportunity to bring up issues and assert some “radical” influence. Here’s an example.
During the 2006 election, a small group of Haiti solidarity activists mounted a campaign to defeat then-Foreign Minister Pierre Pettigrew. Pettigrew had played a role in overthrowing Haiti’s elected government, and covering up the human rights violations and killings that followed.
We didn’t back a candidate; our only goal was to unseat Pettigrew. We fashioned some posters featuring Pettigrew’s image with the words “WANTED FOR CRIMES AGAINST HUMANITY IN HAITI”. It wasn’t subtle, but it had the virtue of being true, and the Minister had declined several opportunities to change course. We mustered a crew of a dozen or so activists and saturated the riding, handing out over 12,000 flyers at metro stops and on the street. We put up 2,000 posters in the riding and organized a few actions. Our message was hard to avoid.
We even got a little overzealous, and postered over some of Pettigrew’s election signs — a federal offense. In one instance, Pettigrew’s campaign manager saw two of us and called the police. But even that hurt the Foreign Minister. We sent out a press release concerning our arrest, and were rewarded with our first coverage in two years of campaigning in the crime-obsessed tabloid paper, Journal de Montreal. A photo of our poster appeared on page five.
So thoroughly had we saturated the riding with our propaganda, that in the last week of the campaign, we got cocky and tried to go after Denis Coderre (who also helped the coup d’etat) in a riding further to the north.
When the votes were counted, Pettigrew went from holding one of the highest offices in the land to having extra time on his hands as a private citizen. His successor as the MP of Papineau? Viviane Barbot, a woman of Haitian descent running for the Bloc Quebecois. (She understandably distanced herself from our campaign early on, but the symbolism nonetheless spoke loudly.)
Montreal dailies La Presse and Le Devoir credited our campaign with playing a spoiler role for Pettigrew. Elections Canada paid us the compliment of sending a retired cop to investigate if we had broken any rules. (The all-volunteer campaign was well under the spending limit.)
It was exhilarating, even if the victory was ultimately overshadowed by a Conservative minority government. It’s disappointing, but not surprising, that there have been few campaigns since that have followed anything like the “Pettigrew model”.
Today, much of the “anyone but Harper” campaigning that’s happening suffers from lowest-common denominator political messaging designed to tell people what the messengers believe people want to hear. We believe that more bold messaging and an aggressive tactical approach can both change the terms of the debate and achieve electoral outcomes. In fact, we think it’s more likely to succeed in defeating sitting Conservative MPs in close ridings.
A few Haitians and solidarity activists pulled it off with minimal resources, but it’s important to note the factors that led to success in the Pettigrew case. The riding, Papineau, is small, low income, and has a significant immigrant population, including many people of Haitian descent. It also has a number of metro stops and a vibrant commercial district, which means lots of foot traffic: high visibility for posters and easy flyering.
We had a small group of highly-motivated people who agreed on the basics: that Canada orchestrated a brutal coup d’etat, and Pettigrew must go. None of us had a problem with members of the group risking tickets or arrest. Because of these factors, we were able to make our message nearly unavoidable to residents of Papineau.
How many people got educated about the coup d’etat, and became convinced? It’s hard to know. We can imagine that the saturation provoked a few dinner table conversations. It probably shaped a lot more: it’s harder to declare your support for someone when their face is on wanted posters pasted on every street corner. Our campaign coincided with a wave of revelations about Liberal scandals, which probably demoralized constituencies that would normally turn out. We helped make the decision to stay home a little easier.
But we don’t want to undersell the accomplishment either. A Haitian woman running for the Bloc Quebecois beat a well-financed star candidate and high-ranking cabinet minister in what was historically a Liberal stronghold (it’s now Justin Trudeau’s riding). We think that’s enough to be able say that this kind of electoral intervention is underutilized. But for mostly obvious reasons, groups like LeadNow, Council of Canadians and Unifor are unlikely to undertake this kind of campaigning. So it’s up to small, independent groups of motivated and organized people who want to set the agenda.
See original story at  The Media Co-op

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Filed under Canada in Haiti

Why did Canada help overthrow Haiti’s government?

This is the last in a four part series leading up to the 10th anniversary of the February 29 2004 overthrow of Jean-Bertrand Aristide’s government in Haiti.

Why did Canada help overthrow Haiti’s elected government? That’s a question I heard over and over when speaking about Canada in Haiti: Waging War on the Poor Majority, a book I co-authored with Anthony Fenton. Most people had difficulty understanding why their country — and the U.S. to some extent — would intervene in a country so poor, so seemingly marginal to world affairs. Why would they bother?

I would answer that Canada participated in the coup as a way to make good with Washington, especially after (officially) declining the Bush administration’s invitation (order) to join the “coalition of the willing” that invaded Iraq in 2003. Former Foreign Affairs Minister Bill Graham explained: “Foreign Affairs view was there is a limit to how much we can constantly say no to the political masters in Washington. All we had was Afghanistan to wave. On every other file we were offside. Eventually we came on side on Haiti, so we got another arrow in our quiver.”

It is also worth noting that at the start of 2003 the Haitian minimum wage was 36 gourdes ($1) a day, which was nearly doubled to 70 gourdes by the Aristide government. Of course, this was opposed by domestic and international capital, which used Haiti’s lowest wages in the hemisphere as a way to beat back workers’ demands in other countries. Canadian capital was especially hostile to raising the minimum wage. One of the largest blank T-shirt maker in the world, Montréal-based Gildan Activewear was the country’s largest employer after the state, employing up to 8,000 Haitians (directly and indirectly) in Port-au-Prince’s assembly sector by 2007. Most of Gildan’s work was subcontracted to Andy Apaid, who led the Group 184 domestic “civil society” that opposed Aristide’s government. Coincidentally, two days after the coup, Foreign Affairs stated “some Canadian companies are looking to shift garment production to Haiti.”

It is also clear that some Canadian mining companies saw better opportunities with a post-Aristide government. In 2007, reported the Toronto Star, “Another Canadian-backed company recently resumed prospecting in Haiti after abandoning its claims a decade ago. Steve Lachapelle — a Québec lawyer who is now chair of the board of the company, called St. Genevieve Haiti — says employees were threatened at gunpoint by partisans of ex-president Jean-Bertrand Aristide.”

Another reason for the intervention came out of the contempt, heightened during the country’s 200-year anniversary of independence, directed at Haiti ever since the country’s 1791-1804 revolution dealt a crushing blow to slavery, colonialism and white supremacy. The threat of a good example — particularly worrisome for the powers that be, since Haiti is so poor — contributed to the motivation for the coup. Aristide was perceived as a barrier to a thorough implementation of the free market agenda, particularly because of his opposition to the privatization of the country’s five remaining state-owned companies. The attitude seems to have been, “if we can’t force our way in Haiti, where can we?”

But one must look at the history of Canadian foreign policy to fully understand why Canada helped overthrow the elected Haitian government.

The Canadian government, from its beginning, was part of the command and control apparatus of the world economic system. At first Canada served as an arm of the British Empire, but given the country’s location as well as racial and economic makeup, it quickly became intertwined with the USA. Canada’s role over the past six decades, as assigned by the dominant power, has typically been some sort of “policing” operation, usually called peacekeeping. Since Canada has primarily been a “policing” rather than “military” power one must look to the language of policing to discover the motivations for our Haitian policy.

Over the past decade there has been much discussion of something called “pulling our weight” in external affairs. In laymen’s terms this means spending more of the country’s resources on defending and expanding the ability of Canadian capitalists in particular, but also for the system in general, to make a profit around the world. While the less sophisticated neoconservatives simply call for more military spending and a pro-U.S. foreign policy, the more liberal Canadian supporters of capitalism have been busy creating an ideological mask, called the “responsibility to protect” that will accomplish the same end.

The “responsibility to protect” is essentially a justification for imperialism using the dialect of policing instead of the old language of empire and militarism. It says there are “failed states” that must be overthrown because they do not provide adequately for their own citizens and because they threaten world order. This is the international equivalent of the “zero tolerance” (also called the “broken window”) strategy of the New York City police department. The policy is to aggressively police petty crimes in order to create an environment that discourages more serious law breaking. In the same fashion, the international community should go after “failed states” not because they threaten other countries with invasion but since they create an environment where “crime” may thrive. (Noam Chomsky has used the Mafia analogy to explain the less sophisticated, older imperialist version of this policy. Any and all challenges, even minor ones, must be met with violence until “order” is established. The “responsibility to protect” differs in form but not in substance.)

The coup in Haiti was a Canadian-managed experiment in the use of the “responsibility to protect” doctrine. Aristide was overthrown precisely because Haiti is so unimportant to the world economic system and because cracking down on it is the international economic equivalent of the New York City police cracking down on graffiti writers. Once again Haiti was an example to the rest of the world, a message from the world’s rich and powerful: “We, the 0.01%, run the world in our interests and you better listen to what we say.”

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The Haiti occupation continues

Those who forget the past are often condemned to repeat its mistakes.

On February 29, 2004 the US, France and Canada overthrew Haiti’s elected government. The foreign military intervention led to an unmitigated human rights disaster.

In the three weeks after the coup at least 1,000 bodies were buried in a mass grave by the State Morgue in Port-au-Prince, a fact acknowledged by Lieutenant-Colonel Jim Davis, Commander of Canadian Forces in Haiti, during a July 29, 2004, media teleconference call. In the year and a half after the coup, investigations by the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti, the University of Miami, Harvard University and the National Lawyers Guild all found significant evidence of persecution directed at Aristide’s Lavalas movement.

The most authoritative account of the post-coup human rights situation was published in the prestigious Lancet medical journal. The August 2006 study revealed that there were an estimated 8,000 murders, 35,000 rapes and thousands of incidents of armed threats in the capital in the 22 months after the toppling of Aristide’s government. Of the 8,000 people murdered — 12 people a day — in the greater Port-au-Prince area, nearly half (47.7 percent) were killed by governmental or other anti-Aristide forces. 21.7 percent of the killings were attributed to members of the Haitian National Police (HNP), 13 percent to demobilized soldiers (many of whom participated in the coup) and 13 percent to anti-Aristide gangs (none were attributed to Aristide supporters and the rest were attributed to common criminals).

Throughout the March 2004 to May 2006 coup period the Haitian police killed peaceful demonstrators and carried out massacres in poor neighbourhoods, often with help from anti-Aristide gangs. Canadian troops and later police trainers often supported the Haitian police operations, usually by providing backup to the police killers. Canada commanded the 1,600-member UN police contingent mandated to train, assist and oversee the Haitian National Police.

Throughout the period investigated by the researchers, Canada was heavily involved in Haitian affairs. Ottawa provided tens of millions of dollars in foreign aid to the installed government, publicly supported coup officials and employed numerous officials within coup government ministries. Haiti’s deputy justice minister for the first 15 months of the foreign-installed government, Philippe Vixamar, was on the Canadian International Development Agency’s payroll (the minister was a USAID employee). Later he was replaced by long-time CIDA employee Dilia Lemaire. During this period hundreds of political prisoners, including Aristide’s prime minister and interior minister, languished in prolonged and arbitrary detention.

There is some evidence that Canadian forces in Haiti participated directly in the political repression. The Lancet researcher noted above recounted an interview with one family in the Delmas district of Port- au-Prince: “Canadian troops came to their house, and they said they were looking for Lavalas [Aristide’s party] chimeres, and threatened to kill the head of household, who was the father, if he didn’t name names of people in their neighbourhood who were Lavalas chimeres or Lavalas supporters.” A January 2005 human rights report from the University of Miami quoted a Canadian police officer saying that “he engaged in daily guerrilla warfare.” Afghanistan and Haiti were cited by the Canadian Forces 2007 draft counterinsurgency manual as the only foreign countries where Canadian troops were participating in counterinsurgency warfare. According to the manual, Canadian Forces have been “conducting COIN [counter-insurgency] operations against the criminally-based insurgency in Haiti since early 2004.”

While our security forces fought a counterinsurgency campaign Canadian diplomats pressured others to contribute to the fight. In early 2005 the head of the UN force (MINUSTAH), General Augusto Heleno Ribeiro, told a congressional commission in Brazil that “we are under extreme pressure from the international community [specifically citing Canada, France and the U.S.] to use violence.” Not long after Ribeiro complained about pressure to get tough, UN forces committed their worst massacre in Haiti. Marketed by its architects as an action against a “gang” leader, at dawn on July 6, 2005, 400 UN troops, backed by helicopters, entered the capital’s densely populated slum neighbourhood of Cité Soleil. Eyewitnesses and victims of the attack claim MINUSTAH helicopters fired on residents throughout the operation. The cardboard and corrugated tin wall houses were no match for the troops’ heavy weaponry, which fired “over 22,000 rounds of ammunition.” The raid left at least 23 civilians dead, including numerous women and children. The UN claimed they only killed “gang” leader Dread Wilme. For their part community members responded to Wilme’s death by painting a large mural of him next to one of Aristide and Che Guevara.

In the months just prior to the February 2006 election there was a spike in UN military operations. After nominally democratic, but largely powerless, President René Preval took office repression subsided. But Haiti’s business elite and the international powers began to demand further UN repression of “gangs.” In a January 15, 2007, interview with Haiti’s Radio Solidarité Canada’s Ambassador Claude Boucher praised the UN troops, urging them to “increase their operations as they did last December.”

Boucher’s public support for operations “last December” was an unmistakable reference to the December 22, 2006, UN assault on Cité Soleil. Dubbed the “Christmas Massacre” by neighbourhood residents, Agence France Presse indicated that at least 12 people were killed and “several dozen” wounded. A Haitian human rights organization, AUMOHD, reported 20 killed. The Agence Haitienne de Presse (AHP) reported “very serious property damage” following the UN attack, and concerns that “a critical water shortage may now develop because water cisterns and pipes were punctured by the gunfire.” Red Cross coordinator Pierre Alexis complained to AHP that UN soldiers “blocked Red Cross vehicles from entering Cité Soleil” to help the wounded.

After his interview, Boucher got what he wanted. A UN raid on Cité Soleil on Jan. 25 left five dead and a dozen wounded, according to Agence France Presse. On February 3 the UN killed several people in Cité Soleil, including two little girls, Alexandra and Stephanie Lubin. And a week later, MINUSTAH operations in Cité Soleil left “four dead and 10 injured all of which were innocent civilians” according to AHP. (Kevin Pina’s film Haiti: We Must Kill the Bandits documents the chilling brutality of UN forces.)

Largely due to the work of solidarity activists, some information about post-coup human rights abuses was published by major Canadian media outlets. But most rights violations went unreported and Canada’s complicity therein was almost never mentioned.

In the lead up to the 10th anniversary of the coup will any major media outlets mention Canada’s complicity in the worst human rights disaster in the Western Hemisphere this century?

Or will ordinary Canadians be condemned to once again be responsible for their government’s crime against the people of Haiti?

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