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CIDA: foreign “aid” in name only?


A Senlis Council report released in August detailed the failure of Canadian programs supposedly aimed at alleviating poverty in Kandahar province. The mainstream media criticized the Canadian International Development Agency’s (CIDA) inability/unwillingness to successfully distribute aid and even questioned Canada‘s justification for a military presence in Afghanistan.

 

Six months earlier, the media was abuzz over a report that called for the abolition of CIDA because of its failure to alleviate poverty in Africa. On the surface this criticism seems reasonable. All government spending should be effective. But what if this focus on the effectiveness of aid to alleviate poverty narrows the parameters of the debate and excludes the real questions that should be asked?

 

For example, exactly who is “aid” designed to aid? Or, is “aid” always aid in the sense that ordinary people use the word?

 

To answer those questions perhaps we need to look at CIDA’s 20-year-old policy of pushing structural adjustment programs on African governments. Rather than “aid” people this seems to have been a major contributor to the continued impoverishment of the population. Or perhaps we should discuss CIDA’s role in liberalizing African mining laws – to the benefit of Canadian corporations. (Africa is home to some 600 Canadian mining concessions).

 

Researching a book on Canadian foreign policy, I have come across numerous examples of Canadian “aid” that benefited the rich at the expense of the poor.

 

In the late 1980s, for example, millions in Canadian aid flowed to the elite in the Negros region of the Philippines who were blocking much-needed land reform, sometimes with paramilitary violence.

 

Canada has been one of the world’s leading financiers of large hydro dams in the global south that have displaced indigenous and subsistence communities while major corporations (including Canadian engineering firms) reap the benefits.

 

In Haiti the use of Canadian “aid” as a tool of class war is well established. But you probably haven’t read about it in the local paper; it’s only come to light through the work of the Canada Haiti Action Network.

 

The media has failed to tie the massive rise in “aid” to Haiti, which shot up from a few million to a hundred million dollars a year, to Canada‘s role in overthrowing the country’s elected government headed by President Jean-Bertrand Aristide.

 

For the first 15 months of the post-coup regime, the deputy justice minister, Philipe Vixamar, was an employee of CIDA. His ministry was responsible for hundreds of political prisoners and a brutal police force. (The minister was an employee of USAID).

 

For the past three and a half years, the major recipient of Canadian aid has been the Haitian National Police (HNP), which without an army is the country’s only armed force (aside, of course, from the 7000 UN troops occupying the country). The salaries received by a hundred or so Canadian police officers in Haiti are counted as part of Canada‘s aid contribution. A Quebec police commander working with the HNP told a University of Miami human rights investigation in November 2004 that he “engaged in daily guerilla war.” And the government’s new counterinsurgency field manual cites Haiti as an example of Canadian counterinsurgency activities.

 

The primary role of Canadian police has been to train and assist the HNP. This coincided with a brutal campaign of political repression waged by the HNP against supporters of the overthrown government. According to The Lancet medical journal, in the 22 months after Aristide was toppled the HNP killed an estimated 1700 people in Port-au-Prince alone.

 

Last month, Le Devoir quoted an unnamed official who said CIDA is spending $25 million to create a police academy to train Haitian officers. The article failed to mention the recent brutality of the HNP and their militarization under Canada‘s watch.

 

In the months following the coup, nearly all new police were former military and, according to Reuters in March 2005, “Only one of the top 12 police commanders in the Port-au-Prince area does not have a military background, and most regional police chiefs are also ex-soldiers.”

 

The current head of the police, Mario Andresol, who was appointed by the de facto government, is a former military man who still wears his combat garb. The new HNP (which the head of the UN wants to triple in number) are responsible for all aspects of policing in the country, from beat cops and border patrol to the SWAT team and palace security.

 

This concentration of the armed force command structure puts those in charge in a better position to overthrow a government or exert political influence in other ways.

 

As the media exalt Canada‘s role in building the HNP, they miss an important historical parallel dating back to 1918 when US forces established a Haitian army three years after invading. The US used this ‘Haitian’ military to maintain their 19-year occupation, and once US troops left the country the army became a primary tool for the US to retain power. Until its dissolution by the Aristide government in 1995, this army never fought a foreign power. Its sole use was to repress the domestic population.

 

Immediately after that army was disbanded, the US tried to mold the newly created police force (the army had been responsible for policing activities). The US worked to militarize the police until the Haitian government finally expelled US police trainers and Washington responded by withholding aid.

 

Historically, the Haitian elite and their foreign backers have had near absolute control over the country’s armed forces. This control was weakened from 1995 to early 2004, which made it necessary for US marines and Canadian forces to invade the country to overthrow Aristide — a process more laborious than past coups, when the army simply killed or expelled the head of state (with US support of course).

 

Since the February 2004 coup, tens of millions in Canadian “aid” dollars have been spent to reestablish foreign and elite control over Haiti‘s armed forces. Accomplished almost entirely under the radar of the media, if this police force overthrows the next government attempting to narrow Haiti‘s class divide, Canadian officials will be able to claim they had no role in the affair.

 

So, who have our “aid” dollars really helped?

 

 

Yves Engler is the author of two books: Canada in Haiti: Waging War on the Poor Majority (with Anthony Fenton) and Playing Left Wing: From Rink Rat to Student Radical. Both books are published by RED/Fernwood.

 

 

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