â€œHaiti is not for sale,â€ â€œLiberate Haiti’s political prisonersâ€ and â€œLatortue assassin â€” Paul Martin complicitâ€ were just a few of the chants last weekend in Montreal (in French of course).
Friday and Saturday, the Canadian government held a conference with an Ã©lite few of Haiti’s two-million person Diaspora to discuss the future of that country. Canadian officials interested in legitimating the February 29 overthrow of elected president Jean-Bertrand Aristide and improving western companies’ short-term economic prospects on the Caribbean island, selected participants accordingly. The Haitian Lawyers Leadership Network labeled the gathering the â€œChalabis of Haitiâ€.
About 400 of the Diaspora Ã©lite living in Canada, the U.S. and France accepted invitations to hobnob with puppet Haitian Prime Minister Gerard Latortue, recently appointed Canadian Special Adviser for Haiti, Denis Coderre and Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin.
On the other hand, the 75 protesters on Friday and 125 on Saturday who braved bone-chilling, snowy weather were uninterested in helping the Canadian government build support for Haiti’s illegal regime. Conference attendees were denounced as occupation and coup d’etat collaborators. Angry protesters distributed pamphlets claiming that 7,000 people, mostly poor supporters of Aristide, have been killed over the past nine months.
This number, while impossible to confirm, may not be far from the truth. Reports about dead bodies are commonplace and morgue officials describe huge increases in the number of dead. All this has happened with little attention from the Canadian media even when newswires make the reports available.
On December 9, for instance, Reuters reported that up to 60 people were killed by police at the state penitentiary. This â€œmassacreâ€ took place at a prison where hundreds of political prisoners are being held, but few Canadian or international media outlets picked up the story.
Fortunately last weekend’s demonstrations did generate some coverage in Montreal’s major French and English newspapers plus TV news reports across the country at least made mention of the disagreement over Canada’s role in Haiti.
While the demonstration was a start, this minimal attention to the situation on Haiti is a drop in the bucket compared to what is needed to end the repression and restore constitutional order. All but a few on the street in Montreal were from the Diaspora. Haiti seems to be off the radar for much of the Canadian Left.
Massive numbers of Canadians are willing to march in the streets to criticize the U.S. over Iraq but seem unwilling to denounce our own government’s substantial role in deposing the elected president of the hemisphere’s poorest country.
One reason may be the dominant media’s disregard for Haiti. Another possible explanation is confusion regarding Haiti’s domestic politics. Protesters chanted: â€œWho is our President? Aristide!â€ and most definitely support his return to power. Some left-wing groups, such as Batay OuvriÃ¨re (Workers’ Fight), criticized Aristide’s rule. But this doesn’t change the fact that he was elected and is still popular (as late as January 2004, Canadian officials said Aristide would win a presidential election).
Still, none of this changes our duty as Canadians to hold our government accountable for what it is doing in our name.
Haiti is a country with a long history of foreign meddling and lately Canada seems to have joined in. In March of 2003 Canada organized the â€œOttawa Initiative on Haitiâ€ that brought together U.S., French and Canadian officials to discuss overthrowing the elected president and establishing a protectorate. During the â€œrebellionâ€ (by former army thugs and convicted drug runners) in February, our Liberal government refused a request from Haiti’s government for troops to protect the constitutional (and popular) authority. Soon thereafter Canada sent troops to help depose Aristide and to occupy the country.
Today we actively support, with our conferences and military officers in charge of all aspects of the logistics planning for the multinational UN force, the unconstitutional and murderous nine-month tenure of the â€œinterimâ€ Haitian government.
Is it any wonder then that Blackcommentator.com calls Canada â€œthe Great White Northâ€ â€” both snowy and racist or that the Jamaica Observer refers to the country as the â€œnew Canadaâ€ for its colonial policies (how new those are is open to question).
But there is no question that Canada has aligned itself with Haiti’s traditional colonial powers, the U.S. and France. A week ago, the Brazilian commander of the UN mission, General Augusto Heleno Ribeiro, told a congressional commission in Brazil: â€œWe are under extreme pressure from the international community to use violence.â€ He cited France, the U.S. and Canada as countries pressing for stronger measures against â€œgangsâ€, which refer not to the armed paramilitary thugs who overthrew the elected government and still control large areas of the country but to supporters of Aristide living in the slums of Port au Prince.
The Canadian government must support democracy in Haiti. The first step is to stop providing cover for the terrible repression going on. Canada must remove itself from all discussions about withholding Haitian sovereignty or making Haiti a UN protectorate. Canada must call for the return of the elected president, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, and begin paying reparations to those victimized in the past nine months. Then, we should provide proper levels of aid to build both human and physical infrastructure.
Will Canada do this? Only if we build a movement for Haitian solidarity.
Yves Engler is a writer and activist in Montreal.