Tag Archives: Marie-Claude Bibeau

Remarkable Haitian revolt targets Canada

PROTESTS-HAIT

Haiti is the site of the most sustained popular uprising among many that are currently sweeping the globe. It’s also the most explicitly anti-imperialist, which is part of the reason why it has received the least coverage.

For six weeks much of Port-au-Prince has been shuttered in the longest in a series of strikes since the revolt began 15 months ago. There have been innumerable mass protests by diverse social sectors calling for president Jovenel Moïse to go.

Last week protesters reportedly threw rocks at the Canadian Embassy in Port-au-Prince. On Friday Radio Canada’s Luc Chartrand highlighted the widespread hostility towards the US and Canada: “The walls of Port-au-Prince are covered with graffiti against the UN and also against what everyone here knows as the ‘Core Group’, a group of donor countries, including Canada, the United States, European Union and the Organization of American States, without the support of which no Haitian president can remain in office long. During protests it is common to see people disparaging foreigners and symbols of their presence such as hotels.”

While Haitians have repeatedly criticized Canadian policy over the past 15 years, the Radio Canada report was a rare event in the dominant media. But the intensity of the popular uprising has been making it harder to ignore. The other reason is activism in Canada, an imperial centre. Solidarité Quebec-Haïti #Petrochallenge 2019 founder Marie Dimanche and I met Chartrand and a Radio Canada colleague before they left for Haiti and sent them critical information. They wanted to hear our point of view because Solidarité Quebec-Haïti has aggressively criticized Canada’s role in Haiti by among other means occupying Justin Trudeau’s electoral campaign office.

Since detailing some of Solidarité Québec-Haïti bold actions that generated coverage three weeks ago in “Canadian imperialism in Haiti in the spotlight” the group held a press conference covered by CTV and a rally at Trudeau’s office covered by Global, TVA and other news outlets. We also attempted to disrupt Trudeau’s final election rally, which prompted Radio Canada to describe 10 of us chanting “Canada out of Haiti”. At this point no Canadian journalist covering Haiti can reasonably claim to be unaware that there is criticism of Ottawa’s policy towards that country.

Adding weight to Solidarité Québec-Haïti’s criticism, 150 writers, musicians, professors and activists recently signed an “open letter calling on the Canadian government to stop backing a corrupt, repressive and illegitimate Haitian president”. The signatories include David Suzuki, Roger Waters, Linda McQuaig, Amir Khadir, Will Prosper, Tariq Ali, Michele Landsberg and Yann Martel.

In another sign of dissent, the Concertation pour Haïti, a collection of mostly government funded NGOs who were cheerleaders of Canada/Quebec’s important role in violently ousting Jean-Bertrand Aristide’s government in 2004, has called for a transitional government. Last week’s statement noted: “Haiti is at a pivotal moment. The current government is decried by the overwhelming majority of the population. Nearly all civil society groups have spoken out for the departure of Jovenel Moïse. …. However, the current government seems to have the full support of the international community … We invite Canada to make the right choice and use its influence in the international community to support” a presidential transition.

Despite growing challenges to its policy, Ottawa seems to be staying the course. On Wednesday a new Canadian ambassador was accredited at the national palace and reportedly “renewed Canada’s commitment to continue to accompany President Jovenel Moïse in his efforts to improve the living conditions of his people.” Earlier in the month the government put out an outrageous, if correct, travel advisory, warning Canadians that Haitian “police have used tear gas and live ammunition to disperse crowds.” Apart from this message to Canadians, the government has yet to directly criticize the killing of Haitian demonstrators by a police force that Canada has funded, trained and backed diplomatically since the 2004 coup. On October 15 the UN estimated at least 30 Haitians had been killed since mid-September. Most of them were likely killed by police.

Beyond its involvement with a repressive police force, Canada has provided financial and diplomatic backing to the neo-Duvalerist criminals subjugating Haiti’s impoverished masses. Two weeks ago Le Devoir reported that Canada has given $702 million in “aid” to Haiti since 2016. In February international development minister Marie-Claude Bibeau, who travelled to Haiti on multiple occasions, said “Haiti is one of the biggest development programs we have. Our ambassador in Port-au-Prince is in constant contact with the government.”

The Canadian Embassy has put out a stream of statements defending Moïse (though they are becoming softer). Amidst the general strike in February Bibeau was asked by TVA, “the demonstrators demand the resignation of the president. What is Canada’s position on this issue?” She responded by attacking the popular revolt: “The violence must stop; we will not come to a solution in this way.” But the violence is overwhelmingly meted it out by the Canadian backed regime.

At that time Canadian special forces were quietly deployed to the Port-au-Prince airport. The Haiti Information Project reported that they may have helped family members of President Moïse’s unpopular government flee the country.

Haitians are engaged in a remarkable popular revolt against Canadian policy. Solidarity activists across the country should try to amplify their message.

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Filed under Canada in Haiti, Haiti

Why is ‘aid’ money spent on propaganda inside Canada?

Few are aware that Canada’s aid agency has spent tens of millions of dollars on media projects designed in part to draw journalists into its orbit and shape perceptions of Ottawa’s international policies.

For example, “Find Out How Canada is Back!” was the title of Journalists for Human Rights’ (JHR) Night for Rights fundraiser at the start of October. The keynote speaker at the Toronto Hilton was Minister of International Development Marie-Claude Bibeau.

The minister almost certainly chose not to discuss her government’s arms sales to Saudi Arabia, backing for brutal mining companies, NATO deployments, antagonism towards Palestinian rights, efforts to topple the Venezuelan government, promotion of military spending, etc. Rather than reflect the thrust of this country’s foreign policy the “Canada is Back” theme is a sop to a government that’s provided JHR with millions of dollars.

As part of JHR’s “partnership” with “the Government of Canada and our Embassies abroad”, it has drawn powerful media workers to a worldview aligned with Canadian foreign policy. JHR’s list of international trainers includes CTV news host Lisa LaFlamme, former Toronto Star editor Michael Cooke and former Globe and Mail editor John Stackhouse. It’s also run foreign affairs focused news partnerships with CTV and Global News while the Toronto Star and CBC have sponsored its events. At its annual gala JHR also awards prizes that incentivize reporting aligned with its views.

In addition to the millions of dollars put up for JHR’s international media initiatives, Canada’s aid agency has doled out tens of millions of dollars on other media projects broadly aligned with its “development” outlook. Between 2005 and 2008 the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) spent at least $47.5 million on the “promotion of development awareness.” According to a 2013 J-Source investigation titled “Some journalists and news organizations took government funding to produce work: is that a problem?”, more than $3.5 million went to articles, photos, film and radio reports about CIDA projects. Much of the government-funded reporting appeared in major media outlets.

During the war in Afghanistan CIDA operated a number of media projects and had a contract with Montréal’s Le Devoir to “[remind] readers of the central role that Afghanistan plays in CIDA’s international assistance program.” In another highly politicized context, CIDA put up $2 million for a “Media and Democratic Development in Haiti” project overseen by Montréal-based Réseau Liberté (RL) and Alternatives. As part of the mid-2000s project, RL supported media outlets that were part of L’Association Nationale des Médias Haïtiens (ANMH), which officially joined the Group of 184 that campaigned to oust elected President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, who was overthrown by the US, France and Canada in 2004. RL sent Canadian (mostly Québec) journalists to “train” their Haitian reporters for a month. In an article titled “Embedding CBC Reporters in Haiti’s Elitist Media” Richard Sanders writes:

If RL’s Canadian journalists did not already harbour anti-Aristide sentiments before their intensive ‘coaching’ experiences, they would certainly risk absorbing such political predilections after being submerged in the propaganda campaigns of Haiti’s elite media. … RL journalists would likely return home from Haiti armed with newly implanted political biases that could then be spread liberally among their colleagues in the media and hence to the broader Canadian public.

A number of leading Québec reporters interned with ANMH media outlets. Assistant program director for Radio Canada news, Guy Filion was one of them. Even though ANMH outlets barred Haiti’s elected president from its airwaves in the lead-up to the coup, Filion described those who “formed the ANMH” as “pro-Haitian and they are pro neutral journalistic people … as much as it can be said in this country.” Filion also praised the media’s coverage of the 2006 election in which Haiti’s most popular political party, Aristide’s Lavalas, was excluded. In a coded reference to Aristide supporters, Filion noted, “even thugs from [large slum neighbourhood] Cité Soleil were giving interviews on television!”

A smaller part of CIDA’s “Media and Democratic development in Haiti” project went to Alternatives. The Montréal-based NGO created a “Media in Haiti” website and paid for online Haitian media outlet AlterPresse, which aggressively opposed Lavalas. During the 2007 Québec Social Forum AlterPresse editor Rene Colbert told me there was no coup in 2004 since Aristide was never elected (not even the George W. Bush administration made this absurd claim).

What the supposedly left-wing Journal d’Alternatives’ — inserted monthly in Le Devoir with funding from CIDA — published about Haiti was shocking. In June 2005 the individual in charge of its Haiti portfolio wrote an article that demonized the residents of impoverished neighbourhoods targeted for repression by the installed government. In particular, François L’Écuyer denounced community activists Samba Boukman and Ronald St. Jean, who I’d met, as “notorious criminals.” This was exceedingly dangerous in an environment where the victims of police operations were routinely labeled “bandits” and “criminals” after they were killed.

Seven months earlier L’Ecuyer published a front-page article headlined “The Militarization of Peace in Haiti”, claiming “Chimères, gangs loyal to and armed by President Aristide,” launched “Operation Baghdad” to destabilize the country. Echoing the propaganda disseminated by the Bush administration, it claimed the exiled president was profiting politically from violence. Although Alternatives printed numerous articles about Haiti during this period, their reporting omitted any mention of political prisoners, violent repression of Lavalas activists, or basic facts about the coup.

Why does Canada’s aid agency spend millions of dollars on journalism projects designed to draw journalists into Global Affairs’ orbit and shape perception of Ottawa’s policies abroad? Is that really ‘aid’?

Perhaps the title of the cabinet member in charge should be changed to Minister of International Development and Propaganda.

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Filed under A Propaganda System, Left Right