Haiti is 'fixed'
[Canada's role in the de-democratization
by Kevin Skerrett
New Socialist, 12/1/05 (ZNet)
Recent Canadian policy in Haiti has been
remarkably successful, having achieved most of its objectives.
This is the case in much the same way that US policies in places
such as El Salvador and Nicaragua in the 1980s were smashing successes
- quite literally.
At first glance, such an assertion would
appear terribly wrong. Any serious reading of the existing situation
in Haiti (available almost exclusively outside the mainstream
media, within explicitly left-wing vehicles such as New Socialist)
indicates that when Canada, the US and France initiated the February
29 2004 coup d'état that ousted the elected government
of Haiti and installed an unelected puppet regime, they unleashed
a terrifying wave of repression against the desperately poor majority
of the country (see NS issues #46,49, & 52 and extensive coverage
of the coup on Znet). Along with uncounted thousands killed, independent
human rights groups report that over 700 political prisoners have
been jailed without charge, mainly leaders and supporters of (deposed)
President Jean-Bertrand Aristide's Lavalas party. The Canadian-trained
Haitian National Police have been repeatedly seen shooting unarmed
demonstrators, and - most recently - collaborating with machete-wielding
gangs engaged in a terror campaign targeting all those calling
for a return of the constitutional government that most Haitians
However, to conclude that such outcomes
signify a policy failure assumes that Canada's agenda was actually
the establishment of a peaceful, human rights respecting democracy
in Haiti. In fact, the recent episode in Haiti offers us rich
evidence for the view that Canada's actual foreign policy agenda
is to work in tandem with the US and a few other key military
allies in entrenching and stabilizing a world economic system
where safe investment outlets, cheap labour production zones and
unfettered access to natural resources and export markets are
not only established but locked-in by trade agreements which trump
In what follows, I advance this argument
by examining three central objectives of Canada's Haiti policy.
In concluding that these objectives were met, I then offer a brief
reflection on what lessons this "success" might hold
for those of us aiming to challenge and subvert this unconscionable
Objective 1: Further debase the established
concept of national sovereignty
Having joined the coup brigade in Haiti,
Canada needed a rationale to explain why such a patently undemocratic
assault on a poor country was in fact quite legitimate. This rationale
would need to be able to overcome the established attachment to
the concept of national sovereignty and make it revocable, under
certain circumstances (to be defined by the powerful). As eventually
articulated in the May 2005 International Policy Statement, and
in various speeches to the UN, Canada has used its Haiti intervention
(along with the bombing and occupation of Afghanistan) as positive
illustrations of the doctrine now known as "Responsibility
to Protect" (R2P). For some, this concept is merely an update
of the racist "white man's burden" - the notion that
wealthy, militarily powerful countries have an obligation to "protect"
the populations of poorer countries unable to protect (or govern)
Canada's Haiti policy also shows us how
deeply-set racist perceptions of other (non-white) countries can
be effectively mobilized to advance this concept. The established
view of Haiti's (formerly enslaved, extremely poor, African) population
- as "incapable of self-government" - was renewed and
refreshed. When Ottawa Citizen columnist David Warren lamented
on the eve of the coup that Haiti had failed to create "a
people who are susceptible to self-government," it elicited
no particular notice. His racism was echoed more recently by Liberal
MP Beth Phinney, who asked during a June 14 Foreign Affairs committee
hearing: "How can you change the will of the people [of Haiti]
to want to be able to govern themselves?" Such repugnant
views require total ignorance of Haitian history, during which
the population liberated itself from slavery, occupation and dictatorship,
and then managed to democratically elect a president (three times!)
that the US government overtly opposed. If the people of Haiti
have proven one thing in their tragic history, it is their burning
desire - and their capacity - to "govern themselves."
But of course, this is the threat that
the coup in Haiti ended, and that the R2P doctrine is designed
to counter. And, with the concept now "field-tested,"
it is ready to serve usefully in the future should the need to
violate another country's sovereignty (or support the violations
carried out by an "ally") arise again.
Objective 2: Disguise Imperial Domination
Unfortunately, fond recollections of some
of the original redistributive ideals attached to international
development programs have blinded some progressives to the true
function of "development" and development agencies within
the current international system. As a result, we have the social
democratic NDP and many well-intentioned progressives following
the lead of Bono, Bob Geldof, and the recent "Live 8"
showbiz against world poverty concerts calling more or less blindly
for "more aid." Progressive critics of the Liberals
point to their failure to reach the hallowed development aid target
of 0.7% of GDP - and often just stop there.
Canada's relationship with Haiti is a
stark indicator of the simplicity of these calls. When the Canadian
government hosted a secret meeting in early 2003 in order to (it
was later revealed in L'Actualité magazine) plot the overthrow
of Haiti's elected government, they invited representatives of
the US and France, and brought along senior staff from Canada's
international development agency - CIDA. A careful examination
of CIDA's recent programming in Haiti reveals that in politically
sensitive areas (human rights, women's rights, media, etc.), the
Haitian NGOs and agencies that CIDA was funding were without exception
active players within the elite minority political opposition
to Haiti's government.
While CIDA continued to boast publicly
that it was providing substantial assistance to Haiti, the reality
was that in the several years leading up to the coup, it was quietly
supporting the US-led embargo on aid to the highly dependent Haitian
government, in an effort to destabilize it through financial strangulation.
A look at recent international aid flows to Haiti - coming primarily
from Canada, the US and France - clarifies the severity of this
External aid to Haiti
in $US millions 1994-2002
Source: World Bank, International Cooperation
Framework (ICF), July 2004
With the election of George W. Bush in
the US in 2000, US aid to Haiti's government actually stopped
altogether, leaving the nearly bankrupt Haitian government defenceless
and incapacitated. It is telling that the thousands of Haitians
who surely died or suffered badly as a result of these "aid
sanctions" have never even been counted - "unworthy
victims" of an aid policy turned policy sledgehammer.
What must be realized is that this result
was intentional. It was the design and intended consequence of
a program in which CIDA and its American equivalent USAID participated
directly. The question of why this destabilization was carried
out continues to be debated, but many have argued persuasively
that while President Aristide accepted some of the dictates of
Canadian and American neoliberal conditionality, he also resisted
some, such as the demand for wholesale privatization of state
enterprises. (On this, it is worth recalling that in a recent
interview with journalist Naomi Klein, Aristide summarized the
reason for his overthrow in three words: "Privatization,
Of course, none of this has ever been
reported in any detail in the Canadian media, and in fact, Prime
Minister Martin was able to point to Haiti as his main foreign
policy "success story" during the June 2004 federal
leadership debates (to no response from NDP leader Jack Layton
or anyone else for that matter). In this sense, the con - disguising
an utterly cynical and self-interested imperial game as a humanitarian
intervention led by CIDA - has worked quite well. It has shown
that "international aid" can do more than just feed
and dig wells: it can provoke (and legitimize) regime change.
Objective 3: Establish Canada's reputation
as trusted election monitor
Following the coup, it was recognized
that the installed puppet government would not enjoy the full
legitimacy that would be required to truly move Haiti onto the
"correct" neoliberal path. What was therefore required
was what Noam Chomsky and Edward Herman have referred to as a
"demonstration" election - a tightly constrained and
controlled voting exercise that projects the imagery of liberal-democratic
institutions, but whose actual function is to legitimize the "elected"
government. A key function within such elections is the "observation/monitoring"
process, which Chomsky and Herman describe in Manufacturing Consent
"Official observers are dispatched
to the election scene to assure its public-relations success.
Nominally, their role is to see that the election is 'fair.' Their
real function, however, is to provide the appearance of fairness
by focusing on the government's agenda and by channeling press
attention to a reliable source. They testify to fairness on the
basis of long lines, smiling faces, no beatings in their presence,
and the assurances and enthusiasm of U.S. and client-state officials."
Such elections were recently organized
in both occupied Afghanistan (October, 2004) and occupied Iraq
(January, 2005). What is interesting to recall is that in Iraq,
Canada's Chief Electoral Officer, Jean-Pierre Kingsley (head of
Elections Canada) played a leading role in precisely this process.
Barely six weeks prior to the January 30, 2005 vote, Kingsley
was called upon to form an expert "assessment mission"
to evaluate the quality of the planned election. To no one's surprise,
this mission dutifully issued the needed blessing on the day of
the election itself (surely drafted in advance, and released prior
to any possible detailed reporting as to the vote's fairness).
Remarkably, the definitive conclusion brought forward was widely
cited in the pro-war corporate media, despite having been reached
by an "assessment" team physically located in Jordan!
When a similar blessing was needed for
a post-coup occupation election in Haiti in late 2005, the relevant
powers turned once again (in June 2005) to Jean-Pierre Kingsley
to head up an almost identical group of "election experts,"
this time not even offering to "assess" (as in Iraq)
but merely to "monitor." Kingsley was an especially
good choice for advancing the Canadian and American agendas in
Haiti. He is a Board member of a "pro-democracy" NGO
called the International Foundation of Election Systems (IFES),
which has been very active in Haiti in recent years. In fact,
as a detailed report from the University of Miami Law School has
shown, IFES was centrally involved in the organization of Haiti's
small, elite-led political opposition, and was an active supporter
of the forces that brought about the coup. (It is hardly surprising
to find that IFES receives funding from such renowned democracy-lovers
as Exxon-Mobil, Citibank and Motorola).
In order to reach the foregone conclusion
that a "free and fair" election was held in Haiti that
"meets recognized standards," it will be necessary that
the assessment team minimize or ignore the significance of certain
key aspects of Haiti's political climate, such as: hundreds of
political prisoners including prominent leaders of one party in
particular (Lavalas); state terror exercised through police squads
who target victims on a political, as well as class/race basis;
the arrest or even police execution (Abdias Jean) of journalists
willing to report on police atrocities; politically selective
exclusions of vast sectors of the electorate through insufficient
registration and polling station access; the judicial exoneration
and release of convicted paramilitary killers such as Louis-Jodel
Chamblain; reasonable and legitimate boycotts of both registration
and voting by parties who are targets of state terror, etc.
We should anticipate that yet another
sham occupation election will be carried out, buttressed by the
foregone conclusions of the Kingsley/Elections Canada led monitoring
mission, and Haiti will be placed neatly in the Afghanistan/Iraq
category - embarking on a "bold new era of democratic life."
Paul Martin and the Government of Canada will take much credit
for having "democratized" the unruly masses of Haiti
- and a new pro-US, pro-Canadian government will be installed,
ready to embrace the economic policy agenda designed for it in
Washington and Ottawa. The profits available to Canadian companies
engaged in Haiti's "reconstruction," or taking advantage
of its re-disciplined labour market, are already flowing, with
more to come.
Lessons for the Left in Canada
One of the obvious lessons from the foregoing
is simple: "Don't believe the hype." But the fact is
that far too many "progressives," including some involved
in the anti-war movement and within otherwise quite progressive
NGOs, have swallowed the government and the corporate media messaging
about Haiti. In part, this is because certain trusted groups -
such as CIDA-funded NGOs like Development and Peace, Rights and
Democracy and Alternatives - supported the coup. Trust in such
groups needs to be reassessed.
Further, much more work is needed to undermine
and expose the carefully constructed and maintained mythology
of Canada as peacekeeper and democracy-builder. If anything, our
Haiti policy illustrates that neoliberal and neo-colonial rot
has infected and transformed even some of the government programs
and NGOs about which we may have thought better. In some cases,
they now serve as key cogs in the machinery of Canadian imperialism,
no less vital than Foreign Affairs and its corporate partners.
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