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The Canadian Left is Failing to Stand Up for Haiti

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Issue: 20 Section: Accounts Geography: Canada, Latin America Haiti Topics: solidarity

July 21, 2004

The Canadian Left is Failing to Stand Up for Haiti

Haitians are risking their lives to fight an illegal regime that Canada supports

by Yves Engler

At the end of February, Haiti was front-page news. The Globe and Mail's Paul Knox was there and CanWest's eleven daily papers ran stories from the Montreal Gazette's once progressive Sue Montgomery. Both reported on Aristide's authoritarianism, drug connections and "thuggish" supporters, known as the Chimeres. Neither gave much credence to other side of the story and now that Aristide is in exile in South Africa, the Canadian media has lost all interest.

So, what's going on?

No one from Aristide's Fanmi Lavalas party is part of the interim government, even though it is by far the most popular political party in the country. The Gerard Latortue regime, which was appointed by the occupying force's council of "wise men", has defied the constitution by refusing to hold elections within ninety days after the presidency became vacant. None will be held until some undetermined time next year, giving the government and paramilitaries sufficient time to thoroughly repress Lavalas.

And that's what they've done, according to Amnesty International.

"While the authorities have moved swiftly to arrest members of former President Aristide's Fanmi Lavalas party, they have not acted with the same commitment against, for example, those accused or convicted of perpetrating grave human rights violations, some of whom played a prominent role in the recent insurgency," an Amnesty report concluded. The unsavory lot of murderous narco-traffickers, including Guy Phillipe, still openly carry weapons in major cities like Cap Haitien, Gonaives, and Hinche. The Miami Herald reports that "rebels control some towns, police some towns and the two sides share control of others."

The Canadian media's silence regarding police and rebel collaboration is striking since prior to Aristide's ouster, it was full of ominous accounts of the politicization of the police force. Yet now with Aristide gone and Canadian troops supporting Haiti's police, our media ignores their crimes, which include the torture and execution of five Aristide supporters in March, according to Amnesty. Haitian police also fired on a pro-Aristide march in May, killing at least one person and allowed former Prime Minister Yvon Neptune's home to be ransacked. He is now in prison with at least seven other pro-Aristide ex-officials.

Coalition forces aren't merely turning a blind eye towards the paramilitary "rebels" and police repression, they are actively participating in the repression. U.S. troops shot dead at least six Haitians between March 7-12 in Port-au-Prince, and, Amnesty reported, "investigations into these killings have apparently not been undertaken." On May 10, coalition forces raided the home of Annette Auguste, a popular folk singer and Lavalas activist, killing her dog and arresting twelve people.

The economic situation has also deteriorated since the coup. Immediately after Aristide's ouster millions of dollars worth of property was looted and destroyed, much of it by infuriated Aristide supporters who blame the one percent of the population that controls nearly half the country's wealth for Aristide's removal. More significantly, the price of rice has doubled since Aristide's forced departure, worsening life for the poor majority who rely on rice for subsistence. The cost of rice has increased for a couple of reasons including a slight rise in world prices and some disruption of supply routes. But most important Aristide's regime helped stabilize prices and according to Berthony F.A. Mercier, 50, who paints signs in Port-au-Prince, "the people who sell the rice are the people who kicked Aristide out."

The news isn't all bad. After last week's meeting, the Caribbean community (CARICOM) still refuses full relations with the illegitimate Latortue administration, even under intense U.S pressure. This honorable position needs defending.

But what has the Canadian left done? Not much good.

During the federal election debates, Paul Martin and Gilles Duceppe agreed that Canada's involvement in Haiti was a success. The NDP's Jack Layton didn't object, wasting an opportunity to provide an alternative view of Canada's role in the troubled nation. Does he really agree with replacing an elected government by force of foreign troops? If so, who speaks for those opposed to Canada's Haiti policy?

It's for those who believe in self-determination to support the thousands of Haitians risking their lives for the restoration of democracy. It's the least we can do after all the harm our troops and media have done.

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The Dominion is a monthly paper published by an incipient network of independent journalists in Canada. It aims to provide accurate, critical coverage that is accountable to its readers and the subjects it tackles. Taking its name from Canada's official status as both a colony and a colonial force, the Dominion examines politics, culture and daily life with a view to understanding the exercise of power.

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