Haiti’s ‘Ambassador’ to Canada

It happened quick and in the very heart of Canada’s capital. Early  this morning of June 29, 2005 when colleague Kevin Skerrett and I  arrived to cover the story, for a brief moment, we worried that other  news media had somehow scooped our insider’s information. Cameras and  various recording materials left little standing room for the many  journalists crowded in the waiting room at Rideau Hall.

Adding panache to the situation, a dedicated staffer quietly enters the waiting room and hushes that Governor General Adrienne Clarkson and the first of two distinguished guests are about to meet.  They will allow us to record the brief encounter but no questions are allowed. So, we complied.

Within a matter of minutes, Robert Hans Tippenhauer enters the room and  hands over the envelope to Mrs. Clarkson. Those in attendance barely noticed when, a visibly nervous  Tippenhauer drying his hands on his suit, referred to  “celui qui me pré-décédait” (the one who has “pre-deceased” me!). “Uh ! Mon prédécesseur!”(the one  who preceded me), he quickly corrected, before proceeding to tell the Governor General about his high school days spent in the province of Québec. Aside from this suggestive Freudian slip,  Tippenhauer did relatively well. He and Mrs. Clakrson exchanged a few words, smiled  and posed happily for the cameras and - the deed was done. Officially, the Dominion of Canada and its Queen  had accepted the credentials of the new “Ambassador” of Haiti to Canada.

Knowing that there were skeletons in Tippenhauer’s closet,  I reiterated to the friendly Rideau Hall staffer the official request to interview the new “Ambassador”. This shouldn’t be difficult to obtain considering, as we had by then realised, all the other media present came to cover the new U.S. Ambassador who was next to present his  credentials to Mrs. Clarkson. After an hour’s wait, Kevin and I were  told that Mr. Tippenhauer declined our request.  Reason? – too busy – no can do, no time!  So, we decided to take our time and patiently waited by the entry  along with the other reporters.

Contrary to schedule, Wilkins, the new U.S. Ambassador, was the first to come out. He  took all sorts of questions, including one which he dodged about his impression on  Canada’s performance in Haiti.  Then, came « Ambassador »  Tippenhauer, the former Chair of the Canadian-Haitian Chamber of  Commerce, of whom Vancouver-based journalist Anthony Fenton wrote: “Should the Canadian government accept Tippenhauer’s credentials, it will mark Canada’s clearest official alignment with Haiti’s right-wing elites”. With his May 16, 2005 ZNET article titled “The Canadian Corporate/State Nexus In Haiti”, Fenton was the first journalist to break news of Tippenhauer’s nomination. A revelation that shocked many, especially members of Canada’s Haitian community, who had fresh in mind how, following the Feb. 29, 2004 coup that toppled the democratically elected President of Haiti, Tippenhauer played a key part in a series of diplomatic blunders that led to Haiti’s post-coup regime’s total ostracism by its Caribbean neighbours.  Tippenhauer, a Port-au-Prince based businessman of German extraction who was also playing the role of Jamaica’s honorary consul in Haiti at the time, had decided on Mar. 15, 2004 to raucously announce his resignation from that honorary position. This, in protest to the decision by the Jamaican government to temporarily host exiled former President Jean Bertrand Aristide. Haitians have not forgotten this  recent episode where it effectively took a brazen rescue mission lead by Jamaica’s Prime Minister Percival Patterson and Black American author and human rights activist Randall Robinson to  facilitate Aristide’s return to this hemisphere and reunification with his two young daughters.  The children were not in Haiti the night of the coup, when U.S. Marines surrounded the president’s residence and took him and his wife in an unmarked white plane to the Central African Republic where they knew no one.

So, as Robert Hans Tippenhauer made his way to the exit, I scrambled to decide what to ask him first. Should I ask him why activists in Montreal keep  accusing Canada’s Foreign Minister, Pierre Pettigrew, of aiding  criminals in Haiti? Should I ask him why the non-elected government  that he represents is often characterized by Haitians everywhere as being an  illegal, brutal puppet regime, imposed on them by the U.S., France and  Canada? Should I ask him why the Caribbean Community, Venezuela, the  53 nations of the African Union, Nelson Mandela’s African National  Congress, prominent Congressmen and Congresswomen from the U.S. Congressional Black Caucus… all refuse to recognize his regime in  Haiti? Should I ask him to comment on the fact that countless activists from PEI to Victoria, B.C. have accused Canada of participating in a racist  coup that brought to power through violent means a group of Haitians  who happen to be, like him, of European origin?

So, I began:

Q: Your nomination was not ratified by the Haitian Senate. Some contend  it is illegal…?

Tippenhauer: Well, everyone is entitled to his own opinion which I do  respect. However, there has been an accommodation with the «  international community » to provide our country with an interim  government that will, indeed, permit us to achieve credible and honest  elections and make it possible to hand power on February 7th to a President who would have been elected by the Haitian People.

Q: Therefore, in the interim, during the transitional period, the  Haitian constitution is not being followed because it stipulates, for instance, that « the President of the Republic, following approval by  the Senate, names ambassadors»?

Tippenhauer:  But, this is an exceptional case because, we do not have  a government – at that time. We did not have an elected government.  It’s only now, you know that and we are doing all that is possible for  us to do in order to have a government and precisely where the president will swear in on February 7, 2006. And, we are  working towards that.

I was not sure whether the “Ambassador” had just acknowledged representing a non-existent government. But, knowing that even in Washington, D.C., the regime’s representative, Mr. Raymond Joseph, bears the title of Chargé d’Affaires, I pursued…

Q:  But, the normal procedure would have been to name a « Chargé d’Affaires » since you are not constitutional…?

Tippenhauer: No! You are the one who says that I am not constitutional.

Q:  But, it’s the Constitution that…?
(showing him a copy with the relevant section highlighted in yellow)

Tippenhauer: As it now stands, the Constitution is somewhat…uh! An exception was made because, as I have told you and am repeating  it, there has been an international consensus, you know, to go over  this difficult and fragile transition that we are currently subject to – that the country is subjected to. And, precisely, to allow the  country to have a president who is elected and who will be elected – an  elected government…

“A legitimate one !”, I tried to interject.

Tippenhauer:… coming from elections, you know that will take place…uh! at the end of this year.

Thus, Robert Hans Tippenhauer, who was fraudulently named Ambassadeur  Plenipotentiaire de la République d’Haiti on June 29, 2005, confirmed that the Constitution of the Republic he represents has effectively been put on hold. He came close to saying it in so many words. But, even more important than his statements, it is Tippenhauer’s actions that have the most dire consequences for millions of people.

My colleague Kevin Skerrett probing Tippenhauer’s views on the well-documented dreadful  Human Rights situation in post-coup Haiti, asked him about the country’s most recognizable of over 1000 political prisoners:

Q: Mr. Tippenhauer, former Haitian Prime Minister Yvon Neptune is still in jail and his health situation is quite serious and we hear  that no evidence has been presented against him. What can you tell  us  about his situation?

Tippenhauer: Well, uh! As far as his situation, he is at the disposition of Haitian justice which, precisely, by the separation of the justice from the  legislative and … the executive, Haitian justice is independent. And, he is in the hands of Haitian justice.

Q : But, what is your reaction to the condemnation by Amnesty  International and by Juan Gabriel Valdes, chief of MINUSTAH (U.N.  Mission in Haiti), on Mr. Neptune’s situation? Your reaction?

Tippenhauer: And, what is that reaction?

Q : Mr. Valdes recently declared that Mr. Neptune’s situation is a violation of his rights. And, this is consistent with comments made  by Mr. Fagart as well as several others.

Tippenhauer: I am totally ignorant of this declaration. Therefore, I  cannot comment on it.

Such were the reflections of the man officially confirmed this June 29, 2005, “Ambassador of the Republic of Haiti” by Her Majesty the Queen of Canada.

Along  with all the other unlawfully appointed leaders of Haiti, Tippenhauer is now fully habilitated to take state-binding decisions, including  signing multi million contracts, on behalf of an impoverished people that never had chosen him to be their representative. Not surprisingly, among the beneficiaries of lucrative contracts with Haiti’s illegal regime are Canadian companies: SNC-Lavalin and Gildan Active Wear.

If the corporate incentives to lend a blind eye to the illegal nature of this regime are plain enough, what might be the mid-to-long term impact of Prime Minister Martin’s pro-coup Haiti policy on Canada’s image in the Caribbean? Can our Department of Foreign Affairs truly pretend not to have realized the evident flaws in the “credentials” presented by Mr. Tippenhauer?

In a sensitive area like foreign affairs is it not important to be mindful of perceptions? If Haitian-Canadians taking part in recent Ottawa call-in shows are any indication, the response of the Haitian community to the nomination of Tippenhauer is unequivocal: “He does not represent us”, “He is no ambassador”, “His nomination is illegal”.  Such reactions were rather predictable since it is no secret that the Tippenhauer family counts some of the most prominent supporters of the coup that toppled Haiti’s constitutional government in 2004. In addition to Robert Hans Tippenhauer’s own reactionary credentials, his nephew, also named Hans Tippenhauer, a former member of the Washington establishment’s Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) and a sweat-shop magnate is a key member of the E.U. and USAID- funded Group of 184 opposition front. He is credited to be the first to have assigned the term “freedom fighters” to the murderous paramilitaries, some of whom are convicted criminals, who paved the way to the coup. Tippenhauer’s Group 184 is prominently led by two other white businessmen operating sweatshops in Haiti, Charles Henri Baker and the American Andre Apaid.

Considering all these facts,  accepting Tippenhauer’s credentials, not only mark Canada’s official alignment with Haiti’s right-wing elites, it also gives credence to the disturbing allegations of an insidiously racist dimension to the 2004 overthrow of Haiti’s elected government.

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