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Canadian Politicians Travel to Haiti on Eve of Elections

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Issue: 36 Section: International News Haiti Topics: elections

April 22, 2006

Canadian Politicians Travel to Haiti on Eve of Elections

by Anthony Fenton

Meeting Plans 'Confidential'

[Corrected, April 24, 5:20 PM EST - (details)]

A delegation of Canadian parliamentarians arrived in Haiti on April 20 as Haitian voters prepared to participate in run-off elections slated for April 21st. Members of the Liberal Party, who engineered Canada's involvement in the leadup and aftermath of the coup d'état that threw the island nation into chaos in February 2004, are not among the high-level delegation. The trip was authorized by the new Foreign Affairs Minister of the Conservative government, Peter MacKay.

New Democratic Party MP Alexa McDonough, the NDP's former leader and current foreign affairs critic, is part of the Canadian delegation to Haiti. Anthony Salloum, assistant to McDonough, could not provide specific details of the trip. In a message acquired by the Dominion, the itinerary for the trip was said to be "confidential." According to the email, members of the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs' itinerary included "tentative meetings with Preval's team, [meeting with] Latortue, [visiting] polling stations, NGO's, MINUSTAH [United Nations forces in Haiti], visits to a 'penitencier,'" but specifics were not available.

McDonough's spokesperson did confirm that she has scheduled a screening of the documentary film "Aristide and the Endless Revolution" upon her return to Ottawa. The controversial but critically acclaimed film contests the version of events in Haiti offered by Canada, the US, and France - the leaders of the February 2004 invasion of Haiti. According to the film, the US whisked elected President Jean Bertrand Aristide into his second forced exile in as many times he had held office. Evidence also suggests that Canadian troops secured key locations in the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince during the coup d'état.

A source close to the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) operations in Haiti told the Dominion that visiting dignitaries in Haiti are limited to the areas where "things are working a little bit."

"They're brought wherever people want to show them things are working reasonably [well]," the source said.

In the Haitian elections, thirty Senate seats and ninety-seven Chamber of Deputy seats are up for grabs. Haitian President-elect Rene Preval awaits the news that will determine how his popular Lespwa coalition of parties fared against a largely foreign-backed opposition representing Haiti's minority classes.

Without a majority in Parliament, Preval will be under severe pressure to stray from his mandate to eradicate poverty, end repression, free the hundreds of political prisoners, and give Haiti's impoverished majority a say in the country's affairs. Foreign donors and Haiti's elites are pressuring for structural reforms and eventual privatization under the tutelage of international financial institutions such as the World Bank, IMF, and Inter-American Bank.

With voter turn-out for run-off elections traditionally low, and with a high level of foreign and Haitian elite support for opposition parties, it is plausible that Preval's Lespwa coalition will lack a majority in the upcoming parliament. On April 19, Reuters reporter Joseph Guyler Delva quoted Preval as saying, "Without support from Parliament, there is not much a president can do."

The head of Elections Canada, Jean-Pierre Kingsley, leads an international elections monitoring mission in Haiti (IMMHE), a position that he has held for overseeing recent elections in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Palestine. The IMMHE works closely with the International Federation of Electoral Systems (IFES), a controversial US organization that receives funding from the US State Department and USAID. Kingsley sits on the IFES Board of Directors. The Chairman of IFES is William Hybl, a former Bush appointee to the UN and former advisor to President Ronald Reagan, who also sits on the board of directors of the International Republican Institute (IRI). Both the IRI and IFES are widely believed to have helped destabilize Haiti's democratically elected government by supporting the largely elite-based opposition that agitated for Aristide's ouster prior to his overthrow in 2004.

On April 21 the Ottawa Haiti Solidarity Committee held a demonstration demanding Kingsley's resignation. A press release said that "Kingsley's appalling silence in the face of grave human rights violations and political repression throughout Haiti's election process demonstrate a profound partisan bias that is simply unacceptable."

"His performance is a disgrace, and he should resign immediately."

Referring to the April 21st run-off and February 7th elections as "profoundly flawed," the committee decried Kingsley's failure to address well-founded accusations of fraud and ballot manipulation. They write that a recent IMMHE report on the February elections "completely ignores these accusations and minimizes the importance of the burning ballots." It hails the election as a "laudable democratic exercise." The protesters are also calling for the release of Haiti's political prisoners.

The Canadian government has played a leading role in Haiti's "transition" under UN-led military occupation, pouring millions of dollars of funding into programs that support Haiti's right-wing and former opposition to Lavalas. Canadian-based transnationals such as Gildan Activewear, own and contract out sweatshops in Haiti. According to a CIDA spokesperson, at least one other Canadian-based textile company is currently considering moving to Haiti where conditions are favorable due to Haiti's low wages, tax holidays, and favorable trade and labor conditions.

Critics of Canada's role in Haiti have long encouraged politicians to acknowledge the reported abuses that have been carried out by the interim government and UN forces. UN forces include at least 100 RCMP officers and an undisclosed number of Canadian Forces and possible Special Forces. A Canadian has commanded the 1,700 strong UN police contingent since it's inception under the MINUSTAH umbrella in mid-2004. At least five of the RCMP are devoted to intelligence gathering and surveillance.

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