â€œCanada has made a significant contribution to stability in Haiti,â€ noted George W. Bush, in remarks to the media after meeting with Prime Minister Stephen Harper in July 2006 (1).
Three years after Canada helped lead a coup d’Ã©tat against the democratically elected government of Haiti, almost no one in Ottawa has been held accountable for this crime against the sovereignty of the hemisphereâ€™s poorest nation.
On February 29, 2004, Jean-Bertrand Aristide was spirited out of the country on a plane by US Marines. Canadian Special Forces, allegedly dispatched at the special request of then US Secretary of State Colin Powell, helped secure the airport (2).
A multinational United Nations mission followed to secure the new situation â€“ Aristideâ€™s earlier pleas for UN intervention to maintain the elected government had been ignored â€“ but the initial violent regime change was an operation carried out on the ground by a small number of armed thugs backed by France, the United States and Canada. The â€œuprisingâ€ that drove Aristide from Haiti was anything but spontaneous, however, coming as it did after a concerted campaign to destabilize, isolate, and financially starve the elected government. The Canadian government and a host of CIDA-funded NGOs played an important role in this process leading up to the coup, and have continued to earnestly support this change of regime.
The 2004 coup was, in fact, the second time that Aristide had been violently overthrown. In September 1991, less than a year after receiving an overwhelming democratic mandate, the follower of liberation theology was toppled by conservative elements in the military nostalgic for the days of the Duvalier dictatorship and loyal to the countryâ€™s tiny economic elite. In 1994, the Clinton regime was forced to help restore Aristide to power, but only after imposing strict limitations on his economic program. After both coups, massacres were carried out against popular sectors, with those associated with the Lavalas political movement singled out for terror and physical elimination.
Given Canadaâ€™s intimate involvement in Haiti over the past three years, it is unacceptable that this countryâ€™s elites have not been held accountable, and that the general public has been kept largely in ignorance. A 2006 study, published in the medical journal The Lancet, estimated that an additional 8000 people had died violently in Port-au-Prince alone following the coup.
Massacres have been reported over the three years of military occupation, including some carried out by UN forces. Violent attacks have continued, particularly in the poor slums like CitÃ© Soleil, which are considered strongholds of Lavalas support. The UNâ€™s participation in these operations has been ongoing, despite the February 2006 election of RÃ©nÃ© PrÃ©val, a former close comrade of Aristide who was also the elected president between
1996 and 2001.
The ongoing Canadian intervention in Haiti continues to bring misery and death. Aspects of the overthrow of Aristide were planned at the Ottawa Haiti Initiative meeting in January of 2003, a gathering to which no representatives of the elected Haitian government were invited. Canadian participation in â€“ and justification for — the coup and subsequent occupation has included not just our governing politicians, but also the RCMP, a significant portion of the NGO sector, and key foreign correspondents in the mainstream media.
Ottawaâ€™s foreign policy â€“ in Haiti, Afghanistan and beyond â€“ is marked by its increasingly naked presumption of the right to change regimes abroad, covered only by a maple leaf of humanitarian intentions and democracy-building verbiage.
The reality, however, points to a stunning lack of democratic discussion here in Canada. To take just one example, there was the startling fact that the coup in Haiti did not get a mention from any of the major parties in the last federal election (3). Despite a concerted activist effort to help NDP leader Jack Layton find his voice against the coup, Haiti did not warrant even a line on the partyâ€™s webpage during the 2006 campaign.
Apathy, rampant political opportunism and an uncritical media have combined to let most of the politicians off the hook on Haiti. The one significant exception was Pierre Pettigrew, former Minister of Foreign Affairs, who lost his seat, his re-election campaign having been targeted by activists exposing his complicity in war crimes in Haiti. But what about the rest of the Canadian politicians, military leaders, and some of the compromised NGO staffers who have all been complicit in this latest denial of Haitian democracy and self-determination?
The establishment in Ottawa — especially the elements leading the push for a more aggressive, interventionist foreign policy — needs to be held accountable for this countryâ€™s criminal policy towards Haiti. A full public inquiry on the coup in Haiti could be used to help expose the true nature of Canadaâ€™s role in the world, and to identify specific abusers of Haitian sovereignty. Over a decade ago, an inquiry was needed to make public the extent of the crimes committed by the Canadian military in Somalia, as part of another so-called peacekeeping mission.
Canadaâ€™s crime in Haiti, it must also be stressed, remains in progress.
Regardless of the silence of the politicians on the matter, it must not be allowed to be lost down the memory hole. The guilty parties, past and present, and all those in Ottawa meddling in the sovereign affairs of Port-au-Prince, need to be held to account.
After all, regime change is something that belongs at home.
(1) Bushâ€™s complimentary remarks regarding Canadaâ€™s role in Haiti came during a jovial media session with the Prime Minister in Washington, D.C., which took place on July 6, 2006 â€“ the Presidentâ€™s 60th Birthday. The house broken press corps ended the proceedings by singing â€˜Happy Birthdayâ€™ to the war criminal in chief. The full transcript is available at http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2006/07/20060706.html.
(2) In the fall of 2005, then Liberal Minister of Defense Bill Graham asserted that â€œPowell called me and said Aristide requested a flight out [of Haiti].â€ The remarks came right after a talk at the University of British Columbiaâ€™s Liu Institute, where Graham promoted the Canadian combat operation in Kandahar.
(3) The federal Green Party did adopt, and to a limited extent even publicize, a position condemning the coup in Haiti.