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Declassifying Canada in Haiti: Part II

Issue: 36 Section: Foreign Policy Haiti

April 9, 2006

Declassifying Canada in Haiti: Part II

Did Canada have plans to support another military coup in Haiti?

by Anthony Fenton, Dru Oja Jay

Documents provided by the government under the Access to Information act were heavily censored, and 25 days-worth of documents were omitted without explanation. View all the documents acquired by the Dominion.
According to classified memos obtained by The Dominion through an Access to Information Act request, Canadian officials speculated about working with Haiti's dreaded former military in the weeks before the coup d'état that removed elected President Aristide and thousands of elected officials.

Eighteen days before the military intervention, Canadian Ambassador to Haiti Kenneth Cook wrote of the paramilitary groups that had entered the country days earlier from the Dominican Republic:

There is clearly a military hand in the planning of current anti-government insurrectional events but it is very difficult to say [what] the potential for bringing together a significant force based on the former armed forces [is]. To date it is not considered likely but if someone like Senator (former Major) Dany Toussaint with support of Col. Himmler Rebu were to intervene the scenario would be quite different.

The heavily censored memos acquired by The Dominion leave some doubt as to Cook's intent. In the context of Cook's other comments blaming Aristide for the crisis, however, the Ambassador seems to be suggesting that Haiti's former military, led by Dany Toussaint, could be used to put an end to the crisis. The subsequent (post-coup) integration of former military personnel and officers into the Haitian National Police under the oversight of Canada's RCMP lends further credence to this interpretation.

Variously, Toussaint had been alleged to have involvement in narcotraficking, ties to the CIA, and a possible role in the murder of radio journalist Jean Dominique. In the 1980s, he received training at the Fort Benning, Georgia "School of the Americas." In 2001, then Republican Congressman Porter Goss wrote to Secretary of State Colin Powell that Toussaint is "credibly linked by a number of US government agencies to narcotics trafficking in Haiti."

Interviewed two days after the coup against Aristide, Toussaint referred to paramilitary leader Guy Philippe as "a brave man who has worked for his country." Phillipe is known for his own ties to narco-trafficking, his alleged involvement in murders and at least two previous coup attempts against Aristide, as well as his affinity for former President Ronald Reagan and Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet.

Both Philippe and Toussaint would run for President in 2006, garnering few votes. Both Toussaint and Himmler Rebu agitated with the US- and European-funded "Democratic Platform," demanding the ouster of Aristide.

The former military that Cook refers to is widely acknowledged to be responsible for massive human rights violations, including murder, torture, political repression, and overthrowing a previous democratically elected government. The Haitian military was created during an American military occupation of Haiti during WWI, and disbanded by then-President Aristide in 1994.

Again invoking the "responsibility to protect" (R2P, see part I) theme, Cook describes the situation in Northern Haiti. According to his intelligence sources, "Cap Haitien has become the scene of much violence, stores and banks are closed as are gas stations. The city is for all practical purposes isolated... A solution will have to be found to avoid a humanitarian crisis." Several paragraphs are then censored, followed by: "This is a complicating factor in any consideration of options for a stabilizing police presence here."

Extensive censorship raises as many questions as are addressed by the documents. 25 days of requested documents--from Feb 20 to March 15--were simply omitted without explanation.

Cook's references to the use of military force to remove Aristide, however, fly in the face of the official story. Nine days after Cook's memo, Canadian ministers Graham and Coderre were telling the press that Canada was seeking a peaceful settlement to the crisis, which was largely instigated by Canadian-, US- and European-funded groups within Haiti. Those countries backed the unelected government after it was imposed, and avoided acknowledging evidence of widespread political repression and human rights abuses.

The limited historical perpective available two years after the coup also raises serious questions about the use of the "responsibility to protect" doctrine. Rather than avert a crisis, foreign military intervention in Haiti became the backdrop for a major escalation of atrocities, with thousands killed, hundreds jailed for their political views, and thousands more forced into hiding after the coup.

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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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