Tag Archives: Jean-Bertrand Aristide

Haitians right to be angry at UN

The United Nations may be necessary to build a better world, but that doesn’t mean the international body should be above criticism. The case of Haiti reveals how the UN can be part of the problem rather than the solution.

On Sunday tens of thousands demonstrated in Port-au-Prince against the foreign-backed dictatorship of Jovenel Moise. Reports suggest police began firing on protesters as they neared the UN headquarters. Ultimately, one protester was killed and a number of journalists injured. In response James North tweeted, “people elsewhere may not understand why the thousands of pro-democracy protesters would march toward U.N. headquarters. There’s a longer answer, but for now: Haitians believe, with good reason, that the U.N. helps prop up dictator Jovenel Moise.”

Alongside the US, Canada, Spain, France, Germany, Brazil and Organization of American States (OAS), the UN is part of the “Core Group” of foreign ambassadors widely believed to be the real power behind Moïse. The Core Group releases periodic statements concerning the country’s political affairs. The UN Mission, now known as Bureau intégré des Nations Unies en Haïti, has aligned with the US, Canada and OAS against the vast majority of Haiti’s population and institutions in endorsing Moise’s bid to extend his mandate as president. The international body announced it would give $20 million for elections that all the opposition parties reject since few believe a fair election is possible under Moise’s direction. In the summer Haiti’s entire nine-person electoral council resigned in response to Moïse’s pressure and then he unilaterally appointed new members.

As North alludes to, the UN’s current position is part of the international body’s pattern of hostility towards Haitian democracy and sovereignty. After the US, France and Canada ousted President Jean-Bertrand Aristide and thousands of other elected officials in February 2004, the three countries soldiers were incorporated into a UN mission that backed up a coup government’s violent crackdown against pro-democracy protesters. Subsequently led by Brazil, the UN force also killed dozens of civilians directly when it pacified Cité Soleil, a bastion of support for Aristide. The worst incident was early in the morning on July 6, 2005, when 400 UN troops entered the densely populated neighbourhood. Eyewitnesses and victims of the attack claim Mission des Nations Unies pour la stabilisation en Haïti (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”, according to a US embassy file released through a Freedom of Information request. The raid left at least 23 civilians dead, including numerous women and children. The UN initially claimed they only killed “gang” leader Dread Wilme.

Aside from its role in the coup and subsequent political repression, the UN’s disregard for Haitian life caused a major cholera outbreak, which left over 10,000 dead and one million ill. In October 2010 a UN base in central Haiti recklessly discharged sewage, including the feces of newly deployed Nepalese troops, into a river where people drank. This introduced the waterborne disease into the country. Even after the deadly cholera outbreak, UN forces were caught disposing sewage into waterways Haitians drank from.

UN troops were responsible for countless other abuses ranging from beatings to rape.

In August 2010 16-year-old Gérard Jean-Gilles, who ran miscellaneous errands for Nepalese troops, was found dead hanging inside a MINUSTAH base in Cap-Haïtien. Several days earlier, a Nepalese soldier publicly tortured a minor in the country’s second biggest city. The soldier, reported Haitian media, forced “his hands into the youth’s mouth in an attempt to separate his lower jaw from his upper jaw, tearing the skin of his mouth.”

UN troops had illicit sexual relations, sodomized boys and raped young girls. In mid 2017 a Canadian and British academic oversaw a study of 2,500 Haitians who lived near UN bases. They were asked “what it’s like to be a woman or a girl living in a community that hosts a peacekeeping mission.” Without being asked specifically about sexual relations with peacekeepers, 265 respondents talked of children fathered by members of the peacekeeping force, which were widely nicknamed “Pitit MINUSTAH”. Many single mothers were left struggling with stigma and poverty when the soldiers departed. Respondents described girls as young as 11 sexually abused and impregnated by UN representatives. Officially, UN soldiers are prohibited from having sexual relations with locals.

Canada’s biggest contribution to a UN mission over the past 15 years has been in Haiti. During that time and before the UN has been a tool of imperialism. Full stop. As anti-Aristide insurgents made their way to Port-au-Prince in February 2004, the international community ignored the elected government’s requests for “a few dozen” peacekeepers to restore order in a country without an army. On February 26, three days before removal, the OAS permanent council called on the UN Security Council to “take all the necessary and appropriate urgent measures to address the deteriorating situation in Haiti.” CARICOM called on the UN Security Council to deploy an emergency military task force to assist Aristide’s government.

Despite ignoring appeals for support from Aristide, CARICOM and the OAS in the preceding days, soon after US/French/Canadian troops ousted the elected government the UN Security Council passed a motion authorizing an intervention. In a three-minute Sunday night meeting — between 9:52 and 9:55 PM, according to the official UN summary — the Security Council “authorized the immediate deployment of [a] Multinational Interim Force for a period of three months to help to secure and stabilize the capital, Port-au-Prince, and elsewhere in the country.”

Today Haitians live with the results. If Canadians blindly promote an organization that has been a key organizer of repression and misery what should Haitians think of us?

 

On February 28 the Canadian Foreign Policy Institute is hosting a discussion of Haiti Betrayed, a powerful indictment of Canada’s role in the 2004 coup and subsequent policy in the country. In the week leading up to the event the film will be available to watch for free for those who register in advance.

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Trudeau government’s blackface in Haiti

_108872197_trudeau_blackface_3_compJustin Trudeau recently apologized for dressing up in blackface. He acknowledged that it was a racist act. But he has continued the much more significant racism of his government’s actions towards Haiti, the country that delivered the greatest ever blow to anti-blackness.

In an example of racist double standards, the government recently put out a travel advisory warning Canadians that Haitian “police have used tear gas and live ammunition to disperse crowds.” Apart from this message to (white?) Canadians, the government has yet to directly criticize the killing of Haitian demonstrators by a police force that Canada funds and trains.

Beyond its involvement with a repressive police force, the Trudeau government has provided financial and diplomatic backing to a band of neo-Duvalerist criminals subjugating Haiti’s impoverished black masses. Despite a popular revolt against President Jovenel Moïse, Canada continues to prop up a corrupt clique of politicians who’ve recently fired bullets at protesters outside the Senate and admitted to receiving payments for votes in parliament. A Miami Herald headline explained: “That there is corruption in Haiti isn’t a surprise. But then a senator admitted it openly.” An investigation by Haiti’s Superior Court of Auditors and Administrative Disputes details the scope of Canadian-backed corruption. It concluded that Moïse’s companies swindled $2 million as part of $2 billion embezzled from a discounted oil program set up by Venezuela under Moïse’s mentor Michel Martelly. A vulgar, clownish, musician, Martelly was put in place by Washington and Ottawa not long after the deadly 2010 earthquake.

Previous Canadian governments have acted as if Haitians were incapable of running their own affairs. This has been motivated by racism, corporate interests and loyalty to the US empire.

Early in the morning on February 29, 2004, US Marines flew the learned, polyglot and popular President Jean-Bertrand Aristide out of the country. For over two years the US, France and Canada imposed an “illegal” interim government headed by a man, Gérard Latortue, who had been living in the US for 15 years.

The effort to oust Aristide began in earnest as Haiti prepared to celebrate its bicentennial. To get a sense of Washington’s thinking, then Assistant Secretary General of the OAS Luigi Einaudi told journalist/activist Jean Saint-Vil and others at Hotel Montana in Port au Prince on December 31, 2003: “The real problem with Haiti is that the ‘International Community’ is so screwed up and divided that they are actually letting Haitians run Haiti.” Eleven months before Haiti’s bicentennial Jean Chrétien’s Liberal government took a major step to ensure Haitians weren’t running Haiti. They organized the “Ottawa Initiative on Haiti” to discuss that country’s future. No Haitian officials were invited to this assembly where high-level US, Canadian and French officials decided that Haiti’s elected president “must go”, the dreaded army should be recreated and that the country would be put under a UN trusteeship. Thirteen months after the Ottawa Initiative meeting President Aristide and most other elected officials were pushed out and a quasi UN trusteeship had begun. The Haitian military has been partially re-created.

The bicentennial independence celebration heightened the racist contempt directed at Haiti since the country’s 1791-1804 revolution dealt a crushing blow to slavery, colonialism and white supremacy. From the grips of the most barbaric form of plantation economy, the largely African-born slaves led maybe the greatest example of liberation in the history of humanity. Their revolt rippled through the region and compelled the post-French Revolution government in Paris to abolish slavery in its Caribbean colonies. It also contributed to Britain’s move to abolish the trans-Atlantic slave trade in 1807.

The Haitian Revolution led to freedom for all people regardless of color, decades before this idea found traction in Europe or North America. But, within three years of independence the lighter-skinned plantation owners overthrew and murdered the country’s liberation hero Jean-Jacques Dessalines (the French having killed famous revolutionary, Tousaint Louverture, prior to independence). In a remarkable act of imperial humiliation, two decades after independence Haiti was compelled to begin paying $21 billion (in 2004 dollars) to compensate French slaveholders for their loss of property (land and now free Haitians). Haiti promised to repay its former exploiters under threat of military invasion and the restoration of slavery. Additionally, the light skinned elite wanted an end to the embargo against the country so they could access international markets. Haiti’s independence debt took 122 years to pay off.

For over half a century Haitian politics were shaped by the “politique de doublure”. Basically, the light skinned elite chose an ignorant/old black general as figurehead president. The “politique de doublure” largely ended with the US occupation of 1915– 34 (Washington kept control of the country’s treasury until 1947). For the most part the Marines simply chose a member of the light skinned elite to ‘lead’ Haiti.

A look at the individuals who dominate Haiti’s economy today highlight ongoing racial exclusion. These wealthy, light skinned Haitians generally work with North American and Dominican sweatshop, mining and other capitalists with even paler complexions.

Trudeau is likely ignorant of the history/social reality his policies in Haiti are entrenching. But, it’s unlikely he understood that blackening his face for a laugh at a party also flowed from/contributed to centuries of racial subjugation. It was just popular in the elite social circles he operated in. The same can be said of his humiliation of the impoverished black masses in Haiti today.

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US says Trudeau adopts “America First” foreign policy, media ignores it

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Wouldn’t you think the corporate media would be interested in the US embassy’s reaction to the appointment of a new Canadian foreign minister? Especially if that reaction was to claim Ottawa had decided to adopt an “America First” foreign policy? Wouldn’t some big newspaper or TV station, dedicated to telling the truth about what our governments, corporations and other institutions are doing, find it noteworthy enough to report the existence of an embassy memo claiming Justin Trudeau appointed Chrystia Freeland foreign minister in order to promote the interests of President Donald Trump?

Surprise, surprise, no!

The reason? The best this long-time observer of Canadian foreign policy can come up with? Embarrassment.

At the start of the month Communist Party researcher Jay Watts disclosed a dispatch from the US embassy in Ottawa to the State Department in Washington entitled “Canada Adopts ‘America First’ Foreign Policy.” Uncovered through a freedom of information request, the largely redacted cable also notes that Justin Trudeau’s government would be “Prioritizing U.S. Relations, ASAP.”

The March 2017 cable was authored just weeks after Freeland was appointed foreign affairs minister. US officials concluded that Trudeau promoted Freeland “in large part because of her strong U.S. contacts” and that her “number one priority” was working closely with Washington.

The Grayzone’s Ben Norton wrote an article based on the cable. Appropriately, the New York based journalist linked the memo to Canadian policy on Venezuela, Syria, Russia, Nicaragua, Iran and elsewhere. A number of left-wing websites reposted Norton’s article and RT International invited me on to discuss the memo, but there was no other mention of the dispatch .

While the blackout was media wide, most striking was the lack of reaction by one of the most left-wing commentators afforded space in a corporate daily. In December Toronto Star columnist Heather Mallick described Freeland as “likely winner of Canadian of the Year, should that prize exist.” In a number of previous columns she called Freeland “Canada’s famously feminist Foreign Minister”, a “brilliant and wonderful Liberal candidate” and lauded “a stark, extraordinary speech [Freeland delivered] in Washington on Wednesday after receiving a diplomat of the year award at the Foreign Policy forum.”

While she praises Freeland, Mallick is hostile to Donald Trump. I emailed Mallick to ask if she’d seen the cable, whether she planned to write about it and if she considered it ironic that US officials thought her “Canadian of the Year” was pursuing an ‘America First’ policy. She didn’t respond to two emails, but on Tuesday she praised Freeland again.

Clearly the media establishment understands that covering the memo would embarrass Freeland and the broader foreign policy establishment. Most Canadians don’t want Ottawa following US policy, particularly with a widely disliked individual as president.

For Freeland and the foreign policy power structure there are few ways to discuss a relatively straightforward memo that would not embarrass them and reveal the lie at the heart of the ‘Canada is a force for good’ mythology that is this country’s foreign policy self-image. So the best tactic is to take no notice.

But that’s not the case with many other international issues in which Ottawa is pursuing aggressive, inhumane, policy. In the case of Venezuela, for instance, the media can detail important elements of Canada’s campaign to oust the government since they’ve spent years demonizing it. In fact, Canada’s naked imperialism in Venezuela is often portrayed as benevolence!

While the dearth of coverage of the ‘America first’ Canadian foreign policy memo is outrageous, it isn’t surprising. In A Propaganda System: How Canada’s Government, Corporations, Media and Academia Sell War and Exploitation I detail extreme media bias in favor of power on topics ranging from Palestine to East Timor, investment agreements to the mining industry. The suppression of critical information regarding Canada’s role in Haiti over the past decade and a half is particularly stark. Below are three examples:

  • On Jan. 31 and Feb. 1, 2003, Jean Chrétien’s Liberal government organized an international gathering to consider overthrowing Haiti’s government. At the “Ottawa Initiative on Haiti” Canadian, French and US officials discussed ousting elected president Jean-Bertrand Aristide, putting Haiti under UN trusteeship and re-creating the disbanded Haitian army. A year later the US, France and Canada invaded Haiti to overthrow Aristide’s government. Still, the dominant media all but ignored the “Ottawa Initiative on Haiti”, even though information about it is easily accessible online and solidarity activists across the country referenced it repeatedly. A Canadian Newsstand search found not one single English-language report about the meeting (except for mentions of it by me and two other Haiti solidarity activists in opinion pieces).
  • The media largely refused to print or broadcast a 2011 Canadian Press story demonstrating that Ottawa militarized its response to the horrible 2010 earthquake to control Haiti’s traumatized and suffering population. According to an internal file the Canadian Press uncovered through an access to information request, Canadian officials worried that “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 government documents also explain the importance of strengthening the Haitian authorities’ ability “to contain the risks of a popular uprising.” While 2,000 Canadian troops were deployed (alongside 10,000 US soldiers), a half-dozen Heavy Urban Search and Rescue Teams in cities across the country were readied but never sent.
  • On February 15, 2019, the Haiti Information Project photographed heavily-armed Canadian troops patrolling the Port-au-Prince airport in the midst of a general strike calling for the president to resign. I wrote a story about the deployment, wondering what they were doing in the country (The Haiti Information Project suggested they may have helped family members of President Jovenel Moïse’s unpopular government flee the country.) I was in contact with reporters at the Ottawa Citizen and National Post about the photos, but no media reported the Canadian special forces presence in Haiti.

The dominant media’s coverage of Canadian foreign policy is heavily biased in favor of power. It highlights the importance of following, sharing, contributing to and funding left and independent media.

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Filed under A Propaganda System, Haiti, Justin Trudeau