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Canada in Haiti

Issue: 21 Section: Features Geography: Latin America Haiti Topics: Canadian Foreign Policy

August 25, 2004

Canada in Haiti

Who Engineered the Overthrow of Democracy?

by Anthony Fenton

haiti2.jpg
Around 2,500 Haitians demonstrate for the return of Aristide in Cap Haitien on August 14. Canada’s role, Fenton writes, may have gone well beyond diplomatic complicity. During the US-Canadian-Franco occupation, thousands of pro-Aristide activists have been jailed or murdered. photo: Haiti Information Project

For those seeking to understand the roots of Canada's latest intervention in Haiti, there appears to be no better place to begin than the central figure of the emerging Canada-Haiti controversy, Quebec MP Denis Paradis.

In recent interview aired on CBC's "The Current", journalist Michel Vastel, who had interviewed Paradis numerous times, had the following to say:

"Denis Paradis...had been in Haiti in the year 2000. And he was shocked by the state of the people over there, and he decided, he almost made it a personal goal about the problem of Haiti. Denis Paradis wanted to have a brainstorming session with the players in Haiti." (August 6th, 2004)

In this "brainstorming session," it turns out, "the players" did not include a single Haitian.

In this "brainstorming session," it turns out, "the players" did not include a single Haitian.
It is instructive to explore the path that Denis Paradis, once considered the "top Canadian diplomat for the Americas," and former head of the Quebec Bar Association, tread preceding this meeting.

Back in 2000, the year of Haiti's so-called "deeply flawed elections," Paradis was Parliamentary Secretary for Foreign Affairs minister Lloyd Axworthy.

In May 2000, Haiti held an election. The Organization of American States (OAS) initially declared the procedure "free and fair", but reversed course suddenly a few months later, reporting the election as having been "deeply flawed". Why the change?

In September 2000, Madeleine Albright convened the first "friends of Haiti" meeting. The purpose of the meeting, according to CNN, was to "pressure Haiti to strengthen democratic procedures in advance of presidential and legislative elections in November." That is, the elections that everyone knew Aristide was going to win in a huge landslide.

By this point, the OAS had updated its view of the elections: from minor irregularites, where 10 out of 7000 overall positions were disputed due to tabulation discrepancies, to "serious irregularities and deficiencies."

On this basis, and without providing any further evidence, the Clinton administration had "already vowed to impose economic sanctions on Haiti if it [did] not change its ways," as one CNN report put it. It was at this point also that Luis Lauredo, U.S. ambassador to the OAS, announced that the U.S. government would begin the economic strangulation of Haiti by sending "nearly all bilateral assistance... through private and nongovernmental organizations, thus bypassing the Haitian government." Clinton blocked Haiti from receiving international loans and aid, a policy that continued with the Bush Administration. In four years, over $300 million in aid and loans was blocked; the Haitian government's annual budget is just over $400 million.

The reasons given for Clinton's drastic actions against Haiti cannot be taken seriously. While a series of dictators were in power in Haiti in the 1980s, and the murder of dissidents was a regular occurrence, no such sanctions were imposed. Indeed, millions in US aid flowed freely. For anyone with even a tenuous grasp of US foreign policy, it is clear that Clinton's motives lay not in maintaining democracy, but in maintaining control of Aristide. Indeed, the Clinton administration's rhetoric emphasizes exactly this: "The elation [of the elections] has turned sour as a result of the unwillingness of the Haitian authorities to address the serious irregularities and deficiencies arising in the elections' aftermath"-so said Luis Lauredo, US ambassador to the OAS.

Nonetheless, Axeworthy (presumably with Paradis in tow) threw Canada's weight behind the US plan to back Aristide into a corner, with the eventual goal of replacing him.

Denis Paradis was elevated from the backbenches in January 2002, to "Secretary of State for Latin America, Africa and La Francophonie". Paradis was responsible for Canada's relations with Latin America, Africa, and the 56-member La Francophonie, where Canada, next to France, is the most powerful member.

Fittingly, the term 'francophonie' has colonial origins. According to Canada's own Department of Foreign Affairs:

"La Francophonie was not born yesterday! In fact, the term "francophonie" was coined in 1880 by French geographer Onesisme Reclus (1837-1916) to designate the community of people and countries using French for various purposes... As was the case with all the great powers, France's colonial past served as the foundation that tied France-primarily economically, but also socially and culturally-to its many colonies throughout the centuries."

In December of 2002, Paradis introduced the idea for "the creation of [a] watchdog to clamp down on human rights abuses in the Francophonie grouping of French-speaking nations, some of which have been accused of serious violations," during a gathering of the 56-member La Francophonie group of countries in Lausanne, Switzerland. Said Paradis, "There are eight million French-speakers in Haiti. If there is a place on the planet where the words democracy, good governance and human rights should apply, it's surely in Haiti."

Prior to the December meeting, Paradis had raised the issue of employing the Bamako Declaration (made in Bamako, Mali, by La Francophonie member-countries) in the case of Haiti in the House of Commons. Referring to the upcoming meeting in Switzerland, Paradis said "We have proposed a mechanism, enabling the implementation of Bamako, which will allow us to quickly apply this declaration where there are problems with specific Francophone countries." Ominously, Paradis added, "Whenever the Bamako declaration and its principles are mentioned, I think of Haiti. This is a place where Bamako could be truly meaningful in terms of democracy, human rights and good governance."

Paradis saw in the Bamako declaration an opportunity to formalize intervention so as to "take action against states who fail to meet those standards."

In his interview with "The Current", Michel Vastel went on to describe who participated and what the nature of the January 2003 "Ottawa Initiative" meeting was:

France, La Francophonie, the European Union, the [U.S.] Secretary of State sent two what they call "high ranking officials" [Otto Reich and the OAS's Luigi Einaudi]. And, for Latin America there was the Minister of Foreign Affairs for El Salvador, and the idea was to just search for new ideas. So the meeting took place at the Meech Lake resort, you know the place, the last week of January 2003. It lasted three days over an extended weekend. Once again, all information that I'm giving you is coming from Paradis and from the French government. There was a consensus that 'Aristide should go.' But, how do you do that? This is the French government...who suggested there should be a trusteeship like there was in Kosovo. That was not an intervention, they said, that was their responsibility-all these countries-to protect.

In Vastel's l'Actualite article, Paradis is quoted as saying: "If Canadians treated their animals as the Haitian authorities treat their citizens, they [Canadian authorities] would be jailed," and "In Africa I have seen poverty with dignity... but in Haiti there's not even dignity."

Vastel continues: "Therefore, [Paradis] concludes that the international community wouldn't want to wait for the five-year mandate of President Aristide to run its course in 2005." Quoting Paradis, Vastel writes, "Although the United Nations wouldn't wish for the intervention to lead to a military occupation... that might be inevitable until elections can be held."

Enthusiastically and publicly leading the overthrow of a democratically elected government was a bit much for the Liberal government. Consequently, the overzealous Paradis soon faded into the background. After his interview with Vastel was published, he was quickly removed from the 'Haiti file,' while the plans to overthrow Aristide proceeded, albeit a couple of months behind schedule. The position of Secretary of State for Latin America was subsequently eliminated, and Paradis has since been banished-once again-to the Liberal backbenches. Subsequent meetings took place, such as the one in El Salvador; involving, according to Vastel, "a White House official" and Canada's Marc Lortie, deputy Minister for the Americas, as well as other "friends of Haiti."

According to Paul Martin, Canada's involvement in Haiti was the "morally responsible" thing to do. He has also said that Haiti was a "failed state," that Canada and other "friends of Haiti" intervened at just the right time to restore peace and stability to Haiti. In July, Martin addressed what the Globe and Mail referred to as an "exclusive gathering" of "media moguls" in Idaho. The gathering was closed to the press and the public, but the transcript of Martin's speech noted the following about Haiti:

In short, just as companies have to improve their governance, so do countries. Better governance within fragile, failing or failed states means building effective public institutions. It is true that fragile states often require military intervention to restore stability...we saw this in Haiti.

Almost 10 years ago Canada, the United States and some other countries intervened...The problem is that none of us...though all of us were involved, stayed long enough nor did we take the time and effort...to build these institutions. So 10 years later, here we are, back with the same problem and the same mess, but this time, we have got to stay until the job is done properly.

Measured against the reality on the ground, Martin's claims take on an altogether different meaning.

On July 29th, Lt. Colonel Jim Davis, Commander of the Canadian Forces contingent in Haiti, acknowledged that at least 1000 bodies had been buried in a mass grave in Port au Prince, within one month of "restoring stability." Davis also would not deny the eyewitnesss testimony that spoke of a massacre of Aristide supporters committed by occupying forces on March 12. According to the eyewitnesses, international forces staged an attack in a Port-au-Prince slum, killing dozens of people. These international forces reportedly took all but two bodies away in ambulances. At the time, US, French and Canadian forces were stationed in Haiti. French troops had explicit rules of engagement: they were not to shoot unless they were attacked. Canadian and American occupying forces had no such limitation.

Said Davis: "I do not deny that these things have happened."

* * *

Canada made itself complicit in disinformation about the Haitian elections circulated by the OAS, hosted meetings to plot the overthrow of a democratically elected government, illegally occupied the country, and knowingly participated or was complicit in the murder of Haitians opposed to the coup. For months, Martin's Liberal government ignored Aristide's requests for "a few dozen" peacekeepers. On the day he was escorted out of office by US troops, however, Canada had 500 soldiers available to occupy the country and enforce his departure.

These actions have been carried out openly, but opposition within Canada has been scarce or nonexistent. When asked, NDP leader Jack Layton has simply said that his party "has questions" about the human rights situation; Layton agreed that Canadian troops needed to be sent.

The Globe and Mail, CanWest newspapers, and Canadian Press have actively repeated the OAS allegations that elections were "deeply flawed" as fact, while failing to mention the US funding of "opposition groups".

Paul Martin has not been criticized at all for his use of Madeleine Albright's "failed state" rhetoric to justify "responsible intervention". Canada's elite, it seems, is quite comfortable with its government's increasingly overt colonial practices.

But was Canada's pre-occupation involvement limited to the "diplomatic steps" necessary to remove Aristide?

On February 5, 2004, Pierre Pettigrew met with the self-styled rebel leader, Paul Arcelin. Arcelin had been arrested, along with his "protege" Guy Philippe, for plotting a coup against Aristide in 2003. Why was Pettigrew, whose Montreal riding is populated by many prominent members of the Haitian diaspora, meeting with a known coup-plotter?

During an exclusive post-coup interview with the Gazette's Sue Montgomery, Arecelin revealed that he and Philippe had "spent 10 to 15 hours a day together, plotting against Aristide...From time to time we'd cross the border through the woods to conspire against Aristide, to meet with the opposition and regional leaders to prepare for Aristide's downfall."

Arcelin also describes having "explained the reality of Haiti" to Pettigrew on February 5th, the same day that his paramilitary colleagues entered and took over the city of Gonaives. Arcelin's testimony conflicted with that of Pettigrew's office, who downplayed the meeting in an interview with the Globe and Mail, claiming that "the meeting was part of the minister's 'open-door policy' to the Haitian community in his constituency, and did not affect Canadian policy.,Aeu But Arcelin, whose sister-in-law, Nicole Roy-Arcelin is a former Conservative MP, claims to have taken advantage of these "political connections to meet with Pierre Pettigrew." And, concerning Canadian policy, Arcelin says that Pettigrew "promised to make a report to the Canadian government about what I'd said."

Interestingly, Pettigrew was nowhere to be seen during the crisis, but is now Foreign Affairs Minister, and recently met with Colin Powell to discuss the Haiti 'situation.'

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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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