The Canadian government is following through on its commitment to “take the lead” in Haiti on behalf of the Bush Administration.
It has been almost one year since the nature of this request was made explicit in Canada’s Parliamentarian Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs. During one of several meetings which took place about one month after the removal of President Jean Bertrand Aristide, Carlo Dade of the Canadian government funded hemispheric policy think-tank, FOCAL (Canadian Foundation for the Americas), had this to say on April 1, 2004:
“The U.S. would welcome Canadian involvement and Canada’s taking the lead in Haiti. The administration in Washington has its hands more than full with Afghanistan, Iraq, and the potential in Korea and the Mideast. There is simply not the ability to concentrate… [T]o really succeed in Haiti, you need long-term attention at the highest levels… This is a chance for Canada to step up and provide that sort of focused attention and leadership, and the administration would welcome this.”
Dade also made it clear that “this was something of interest” to Assistant Secretary of State Roger Noriega, and USAID Latin America administrator Adolfo Franco, who had visited Ottawa just days earlier.
Dade’s comments were somewhat facetious, given that the Canadian government had already been playing a key role in the pre-coup destabilization of Haiti’s Lavalas government. Most notably, Canadian MP Denis Paradis hosted a “high-level roundtable meeting on Haiti” January 31-February 1, 2003 (see HaVti ProgrPs, Vol. 20, No. 51, 3/5/2003).
According to the original internal communiquÃ©s, recently obtained through an Access to Information Act request, the meeting was supposed to address “the current political situation in Haiti.” Notably, the affair was “envisaged to be of a restricted and intimate nature.” This, “in order to facilitate a free exchange of views and brainstorming among the invited participants.”
Nowhere among the invitees were any Haitian representatives. Aristide government officials were only told about the meeting after Paradis leaked the details of it to L’ActualitÃ© reporter Michel Vastel in March, 2003, which facilitated a predictable period of “damage-control.” Paradis told Vastel that the themes of Aristide’s possible removal, the potential return of Haiti’s disbanded military , and the option of imposing a Kosovo-like trusteeship on Haiti, were discussed during the meeting. Vastel published this information, which caused a considerable stir in Haiti, the U.S., and Ottawa, forcing Paradis and the Canadian government to deny that such things were considered. Paradis was subsequently stripped of his position as Secretary of State for Latin America, and was replaced as Minister of La Francophonie, under whose auspices the meeting was hosted. Denis Coderre replaced Paradis, and today functions as Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin’s Special Adviserto Haiti.
Significantly, Vastel continues to stand by the original article, claiming not only Paradis told him the details but that French officials corroborated them. On January 31, 2003, both Vastel and French Minister Pierre-Andre Wiltzer, spoke on the same panel, the title of which was “Obligation morale internationale; Perspectives, idÃ©es nouvelles et dÃ©marches B explorer.” During a September 11, 2004 interview, Paradis repeatedly invoked the notion that he was misinterpreted by Vastel, that the meeting could, essentially, be boiled down to the “responsibility to protect,” a Canadian-made “humanitarian intervention” doctrine that, if adopted by the UN through a process that Martin is now attempting to facilitate, powerful countries would give themselves the right (or “responsibility”) to militarily intervene in a country that they deem to have reached a state of “failure.”
Whether or not military intervention was discussed explicitly, as Vastel contends, or implicitly, as Paradis insists, the important fact is that military intervention did take place, Aristide was removed, the Haitian army has effectively returned, and a de facto trusteeship is being imposed on the Haitian people.
JUSTIFYING THE INTERVENTION
In order to pull the intervention off and assume thereafter a key “leadership role,” the Canadian government has gone to considerable lengths to cover, albeit poorly, its tracks. This is a process that also has its origins in the pre-coup period. Documents recently obtained from the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) show that, with exclusivity, organizations that are ideologically opposed to Aristide and Lavalas are receiving Canadian government funding. The list includes the likes of ENFOFANM, SOFA, Kay Fanm, GARR, CRESFED, PAJ, POHDH/SAKS, and the Haiti branch of the National Coalition for Haitian Rights (NCHR).
In the months prior to Aristide’s ouster, virtually all of these organizations assisted the official Canadian government policy toward Haiti. The most telling example of this can be found in a document entitled “Haiti: a Bitter Bicentennial,” which was produced by the similarly CIDA-funded “Rights and Democracy,” a “Canadian institution with an international mandate.” In September 2003, Rights and Democracy sent a delegation to Haiti. Seeking to “make a contribution to” resolving the “enduring crisis” in Haiti, Rights and Democracy determined “several approaches to intervention,” that might assist Haiti through the crisis. Besides providing legitimacy for the political opposition fronts Democratic Convergence and Group of 184, the report clearly lays the blame for Haiti’s political turmoil on Aristide and Lavalas.
While the details of the report are of themselves interesting, herein it is the list of those organizations that Rights and Democracy met with at the time that we should find particularly revealing. But for a single representative of the Haitian government, the remaining Haitians met with were aligned with the political opposition. All the organizations listed above, today receiving CIDA funding, are on this Rights and Democracy list. It is possible that several of the groups were receiving Canadian funding prior to the coup.
What is known for certain, and perhaps most insidiously, is that NCHR received $100,000 for the specific purpose of juridical, medical, psychological, and logistical assistance for the “victims” of the alleged La Scierie massacre. On March 9, 2005, HaVti-ProgrPs put NCHR into proper context in this respect: “The illegal government has charged both [former Prime Minister] Neptune and [former Interior Minister] Privert with involvement in a supposed ‘massacre’ on February 11, 2004 in St. Marc, an event which reporters and human rights groups almost universally agree never happened. Only the pro-coup U.S. government-backed National Coalition of Haitian Rights (NCHR) charges that some 50 people were slaughtered by pro-Lavalas partisans. Pierre EspÃ©rance, the NCHR’s Haiti bureau chief, says that the remains of the supposed victims were ‘eaten by dogs’ to explain the absence of any forensic evidence” (see HaVti ProgrPs, Vol. 22, No. 52, 3/9/2005).
At this point it is doubtful that many Canadian taxpayers are aware that they are funding such a partisan and thereby illegitimate “human rights” organization such as NCHR. In an independent report published around the same time that the Canadian Embassy in Haiti announced the funding for NCHR (April 14, 2004), the National Lawyers Guild laid out NCHR’s deficiencies as a human rights organization. NCHR “could not name a single case in which a Lavalas supporter was a victim,” and took the delegation to a room “where the wall was adorned with a a large ‘wanted’ poster featuring Aristide and his cabinet.” Unanimously, the NLG report concluded: “We condemn the National Coalition for Haitian Rights (NCHR) in Haiti for not maintaining its impartiality as a human rights organization.”
Despite this, NCHR remains the most often cited human rights organization in Haiti by the international and local elite-owned media. Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin has echoed Pierre EspÃ©rance, who insists that “there are no political prisoners in Haiti.” Rather, the 700 or more imprisoned without charge, are common criminals who just happen to be Lavalas. On the whole uncritical of the hand-selected Latortue government, the NCHR has played an critical role in legitimizing the coup and keeping international public opinion confounded on the issue of human rights abuses directed against pro-democracy activists.
With several independent human rights reports recently and exhaustively exposing the systematic repression of perceived supporters of Aristide and/or constitutionality, the NCHR is gradually being seen as naked, not unlike the emperors on whose behalf they are working. In a March 11 press release, the director of NCHR-New York, Jocelyn McCalla, who himself has been criticized widely in the past for being partisan, publicly distanced his organization from EspÃ©rance’s Haiti-based NCHR: “Neither Mr. EspÃ©rance, nor any member of the staff of NCHR-Haiti, speak for or on behalf of the National Coalition for Haitian Rights (NCHR), its board or its staff.”
McCalla accused EspÃ©rance of “defending a dysfunctional Haitian judicial system which delivers little other than injustice.” Here, McCalla was referring to the continued detention of Neptune despite having “not been formally charged” by Haitian authorities for his alleged involvement in the “massacre” in St. Marc on February 11, 2004. Neptune’s three-week long hunger strike, which protested the “dysfunctional Haitian judicial system” while demanding his and Privert’s unconditional release, came to an end when he was brought to a UN hospital and treated for dehydration on March 11.
Author and co-ordinator of the Committee for the Defense of the Haitian People’s Rights, Ronald Saint-Jean, has documented and analyzed the circumstances surrounding NCHR’s role in what he characterizes as the fabrication of the “massacre” in St. Marc. (See: “A propos du “GÃ©nocide de la Scierie”: Exiger de la NCHR toute la veritÃ©,” 2004) Saint-Jean was in Ottawa and Montreal earlier this month and denounced Canada’s funding of NCHR, telling officials and the press that if Neptune dies his blood is on Canada’s hands.
The author is an independent journalist based in Vancouver.