By Kevin Edmonds*
“I make a distinction between the Canadian government, which I accuse of killing democracy in Haiti, and the people of Canada and Quebec. We need partners, friends. We need the kind of aid which will permit Haitians to lead their country.” L’Aut Journal (Montreal), January 27, 2011
The words of Mario Joseph, Haiti’s most prominent human rights attorney may have come as a complete surprise to many—a misunderstanding, perhaps, built upon anger and misinformation. How could Canada, after all, one of the world’s most peaceful and charitable countries, be killing democracy? But Joseph’s angry words contain a great deal of truth. Canada has played a significant role in the political and economic undermining of Haiti’s democratic institutions. This role, however, is purposefully glossed over in the media coverage more focused on promoting stories of Canadian “peacekeeping” and global “charity.” Despite this concerted spin by the media, Canada has been complicit in promoting and participating in a framework of aid that deepens the dependency of the Haitian people, and profits Canadian businesses.
Canada and the Coup of 2004
In general, we Canadians, when discussing the concepts of imperialism or international intervention, tend to point the finger of blame towards our southern neighbor for its well-publicized exploits around the world. Yet Canada played a key role in the 2004 coup that ousted democratically elected President Jean Bertrand Aristide, providing ideological context, planning, troops, and training to Haitian paramilitaries.
After the coup, Canada was integral in the drafting of the Interim Co-operation Framework (ICF), which created the blueprints for Haitian development through a commitment to neoliberal economic policies that would create an environment favorable to foreign economic interests and the disputed post-coup government, but increasingly harmful to the poor majority of Haitians. In addition to massive cuts in social spending, including health, education and public infrastructure, the ICF called for a further round of privatization which would sell off the Haitian electricity company, Port au Prince Water Board, the telephone company, and the port authorities. The ICF’s fundamentalist free-market vision for Haiti was looked upon by transnational corporations as a platform from which Canadian corporations such as S.M. Group International Inc. would be able to benefit from both the privatization and construction contracts.
Flawed November Elections
The interference of the Canadian government in Haiti has continued up to this day. Canada contributed logistical and political support, in addition to CAN$5.8 million towards the execution of the flawed November 28 elections, despite forewarnings of widespread fraud and the exclusion of several political parties, as documented by various Haitian and international human rights groups.
The silence among the members of the Canadian government regarding the electoral mess can only be taken as complicity in co-signing and validating the fraud, in contrast to some of their more vocal U.S. counterparts. Fifteen political parties were excluded from participating in the election, including the party of former President Jean Bertrand Aristide. Aristide’s Miami-based lawyer, Ira Kurzban, denounced the election as being the equivalent of a U.S. presidential contest between “an unpopular Republican and an unpopular ‘tea party’ candidate, with no Democrat allowed to compete.” In the interview with L’Aut Journal, cited above, Mario Joseph remarked that “In the United States, a group of 45 members of Congress have condemned the fraudulent elections held in Haiti on November 28. In Canada, all members of Parliament—including the Bloc Quebecois and the NDP (New Democratic Party)—have accepted the framework in which the first round was held.”
The neoliberal economic model thrust upon Haiti in the days after the 2004 coup, and ratified by the illegal coup government has not disappeared either. In fact, the ICF shares many striking resemblances to the current proposals for Haitian reconstruction put forward by the Interim Haiti Reconstruction Committee led by Bill Clinton, as it calls for a free-trade development model, drafted without popular consent, and lacking any aspects of transparency. Canadian aid to Haiti has largely been channelled through Non-Government Organizations (NGOs)—as the policies enforced by the United States, Canada, France and the International Financial Institutions such as the World Bank and IMF have stripped the Haitian state of its ability and capacity to provide health, education, and other public goods to the Haitian people.
NGO v Government
The shift from government to NGO funding has become so commonplace in Haiti that it has reached the point where less than one cent of every aid dollar is given to the Haitian government. This strategy is the continuation of a political project whereby state institutions are bypassed, putting essential services in the hands of unaccountable, unelectable, and non-transparent organizations—many of which are suspected of seeing continued poverty in Haiti as a lucrative business opportunity.
The Canadian International Development Agency website lists the approved projects for Haiti, the vast majority of them in the hands of Canadian/International NGOs such as Canadian Red Cross, World Vision, Care Canada, and Oxfam Quebec. By not working in partnership with Haitian organizations, these NGOs are taking away jobs and resources that could be given/redirected to the Haitian people in a time of nearly 80% unemployment. This model of aid and development by Canada (and other major donor nations) is significantly increasing the levels of dependency in Haiti under the guise of assistance. There are numerous contracts ranging from one to 20 million Canadian dollars.
There are also critics of this model who are close to the Canadian government, such as the Haitian-Canadian former Governor General of Canada, Michaelle Jean, who told the Globe and Mail that “Haiti has become in the last decades some kind of huge laboratory for all kinds of projects.… What Haiti needs is investment in people’s capacities, in governance, investing in education. What Haiti is about, really, is supporting a population.… Otherwise, we’ll continue with the same system that is not productive, not constructive, that same cycle of dependency that is very detrimental.” While the criticism from such a high ranking former Canadian official is welcome, it must be remembered that Jean also assumed her position of Governor General in August 2005—and remained mute about Canada’s role in the 2004 coup.
While promoting the model of NGOs providing Haiti’s most essential services, there is one area in which Canada is investing heavily in the Haitian government: its ability and capacity to incarcerate the Haitian people. Some CAN$58 million of Canada’s aid to Haiti has been directed to the building of prisons, and the training and equipping of the police. According to Haitian-Canadian activist and historian Jean St. Vil, this should not come as a surprise, as the Haitian people have not been viewed as an asset in the reconstruction process, but rather as a threat to be contained through military and police activity.
Haiti is Canada’s second largest international commitment (after Afghanistan), yet all evidence shows that it is failing to promote democracy and economic independence. Canada is often given a pass in international affairs, because in the words of former Prime Minister Paul Martin, “We inspire confidence…because we are neither a former colonial power nor a superpower.” Despite the rhetoric of offering a helping hand to Haiti in a time of need, the actions of Canada prove otherwise: It has been lending credibility to Mario Joseph’s statement that Canada is “killing democracy in Haiti.”
*Kevin Edmonds is a NACLA Research Associate. For more details on Canada and Haiti read A Very Canadian Coup by Richard Sanders, Canada in Haiti: Waging War on the Poor Majority by Yves Engler and Anthony Fenton, or visit the Canada Haiti Action Network.