Tuesday, 6 September 2022 — Yves Engler
Haitian police Port-au-Prince July 7 2022
Rosa Luxemburg popularized the dictum “Socialism or Barbarism”. Since World War I Leftists of various stripes have adopted or modified the maxim. In Haiti the struggle has been between those seeking “poverty with dignity” and oligarchic gangsterism. Unfortunately, Canada has been on the side of barbarism.
In recent months gang warfare has engulfed Port-au-Prince and other parts of Haiti. Many in already difficult circumstances have been further victimized by kidnappings and gang battles.
The dire situation requires immediate action. But, a recent flurry of Canadian calls for international intervention “to help” sound ominous, not reassuring. After the Canadian backed head of the Organization of American States Luis Almagro recently called for the return of United Nations soldiers to Haiti, Canada’s permanent representative to the OAS Hugh Adsett told the body, “Canada is ready, willing and able to accompany Haitians on this path to emerge from the crisis”. Adsett added, “we call on the OAS to engage in constructive efforts and thus act as a force to draw in actors to help them.”
Recently Canada’s ambassador to the UN Bob Rae met both the Secretary General of the UN, Antonio Gutierrez, and the president of the Dominican Republic, Luis Abinader, to discuss Haiti. He did so days after traveling to Port-au-Prince. There he met de-facto Foreign Affairs Minister Jean Victor Geneus and tweeted, “Canada is committed to supporting Haitian-led solutions to the country’s crises.”
Two weeks ago Canada’s ambassador to Haiti, Sébastien Carrière, tweeted about being “heartbroken” at two young women’s brutal murder on the outskirts of Port-au-Prince. He decried “politics ‘as usual’” and “called on all political, social and economic actors to unite in a consensual transition plan and thus put an end to the political crisis. Now.” Carrière also hosted a webinar titled “Haiti, emerging from the crisis: what support from Canada” (“Haiti, sortie decrise: quel accompagnement du Canada”). A major theme of the discussion was the Responsibility to Protect doctrine, which was widely cited to justify NATO’s 2011 bombing of Libya and to a lesser extent the 2004 US/France/Canada invasion of Haiti.
Carrière may be “heartbroken” by the death of two gregarious young women and Canadian officials may be genuinely concerned with the power gangs have amassed, but Ottawa is backing the politician who has overseen Haiti’s descent. More generally, Canada has spent decades empowering violent, corrupt, Haitian actors while undercutting the popular forces seeking to “move from misery to poverty with dignity”, as Jean-Bertrand Aristide famously put it in the country’s first ever free election in 1990.
Threatened by popular, sovereign minded, forces, Ottawa has repeatedly chosen oligarchic gangsterism. In 2019 Haiti was the site of the most sustained popular uprising among many that swept the globe that year. Sparked by an International Monetary Fund imposed (cooking) fuel price increase, the country’s urban areas were paralyzed by a handful of general strikes between July 2018 and late 2019. The longest strike against the corrupt and represses president Jovenel Moïse largely shuttered Port-au-Prince for a month in the fall of 2019. With the overwhelming majority of Haitians wanting him out, the only reason Moïse withstood the protests was because of US and Canadian support. Canadian officials repeatedly criticized the protesters and defended Moïse while maintaining their policing and other assistance.
A year later a new wave of protests gripped the country when Moïse extended his term beyond February 7, 2021. Again, Washington and Ottawa sided with the unconstitutional and unpopular president rather than the popular forces.
Six months later Moïse was killed by elements within his mafioso PHTK political party. After Moïse’s assassination a dispute erupted between the interim prime minister, speaker of the Senate and recently appointed (though not sworn in) prime minister Ariel Henry over who should head the government. Through a tweet the Core Group (representatives of US, Canada, France, Brazil, Spain, Germany, EU, UN and OAS) convinced the power structure to immediately fall into line behind Henry. But, Henry had little popular appeal or constitutional legitimacy and in the hours before and after Moïse’s assassination, Henry had multiple phone calls with the prime suspect in the President’s killing.
Henry was a member of the foreign created ‘Council of the Wise’ that appointed the prime minister after the US, France and Canada ousted elected president Jean-Bertrand Aristide on February 29, 2004. After a multi-year foreign backed campaign to destabilize his government, US Marines forced Aristide onto a plane in the middle of the night and deposed him 8,000 km away in the Central African Republic. When Aristide was forced out, reported American Forces Press Service, “a team of JTF2 [Canadian Joint Task Force 2] commandos… secured the International airport”.
13 months earlier the Canadian government brought top US, French and OAS officials together for a private two day gathering to discuss Haiti’s future. No Haitian officials were invited to the “Ottawa Initiative on Haiti” conference where they reportedly discussed ousting the elected president and putting the country under UN trusteeship.
In May the New York Times solidified the historical narrative regarding the 2004 coup. French ambassador at the time Thierry Burkard admitted Aristide’s call for the restitution of Haiti’s $21+ billion debt (ransom) of independence partly explained why he was ousted in 2004. Burkard told the Times the elected president’s removal was “a coup” that was “probably a bit about” Aristide’s campaign for France to repay Haiti. In the recently released Truth to the Powerless: Canada’s Role in Dismantling Democracy in Haiti and the Americas then defence minister David Pratt said, “Canada, the US and France did what was necessary in terms of removing him [Aristide] from power.”
Pratt claimed Haiti’s most popular ever politician was ousted because he’d become a “big man” leader responsible for “abuses of power”. But, Canada’s allies in overthrowing Aristide and thousands of other elected officials were light skinned oligarchs overseeing profoundly inegalitarian racial capitalism and mercenaries with odious histories.
A lead Canadian ally in the coup was sweatshop owner Andre Apaid Jr. whose father was “close to dictator ‘Baby Doc’ Duvalier” and “one of the chief lobbyists in the U.S.” during the 1991-1994 military coup against Aristide. In 2004 Apaid led the foreign funded Group of 184 “civil society” opposition to the elected government. Angry at Aristide for doubling the minimum wage, the lead contractor for Canadian apparel maker Gildan Activewear Apaid reportedly financed the paramilitary forces led by convicted drug smuggler Guy Philippe and known death squad leader Louis-Jodel Chamblain, whose attacks created the pretext for US, French and Canadian forces to oust Aristide (days after Philippe told a local radio station in 2007 that Apaid funded his forces, the US Drug Enforcement Agency raided Philippe’s home in Les Cayes).
Amidst the rebels’ post-coup campaign of terror, foreign installed Prime Minister Gerard Latortue openly embraced a force largely made up of soldiers from a brutal army Aristide disbanded in 1996. In Gonaives on March 19, 2004 Latortue hailed them as “freedom fighters.” Standing next to Latortue when he made this statement, the head of the OAS special mission to Haiti, Canadian diplomat David Lee, nodded his head in approval. Lee claimed, “we’re tryingto encourage reconciliation.” Many of those who attacked the elected government would be integrated into the police force, which Canada financed, trained and oversaw.
To get a sense of Ottawa’s hostility towards a popular politician “seeking poverty with dignity” Canada responded to the horrific January 12, 2010 earthquake by sending troops rather than Heavy Urban Search and Rescue (HUSAR) Teams. According to internal documents the Canadian Press examined a year after a disaster that left tens, even hundreds, of thousands dead, officials in Ottawa feared a post-earthquake power vacuum could lead to Aristide’s return. One briefing note marked “secret” explained: “Political fragility has increased the risks of a popular uprising, and has fed the rumour that ex-president Jean-Bertrand Aristide, currently in exile in South Africa, wants to organize a return to power.”
To police Haiti’s traumatized and suffering population 2,000 Canadian troops were deployed. They joined over 10,000 US soldiers and 8,000 UN soldiers already there. Even though there was no war, for a period there were more foreign troops in Haiti per square kilometer than in Afghanistan or Iraq (and about as many per capita).
Though Ottawa deployed 2,000 troops they ignored calls to dispatch this country’s Heavy Urban Search and Rescue (HUSAR) Teams, which are trained to “locate trapped persons in collapsed structures”. “The government had opted to send Canadian Armed Forces instead,” the Toronto Sun reported.
Months after the devastating 2010 earthquake the US and Canada pushed for presidential elections. They did not view then President Rene Préval, who won an election Latortue’s government sought to rig against him, as sufficiently compliant. With rubble throughout Port au Prince and hundreds of thousands living in camps, Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon demanded Préval hold elections by the end of the year. They continued to push elections – that excluded Aristide’s Fanmi Lavalas party – even after a deadly cholera outbreak (caused by the UN occupation forces recklessly dumping feces into a stream Haitians drank from). As a result of various obstacles tied to the earthquake and October 2010 cholera outbreak, hundreds of thousands were unable to vote during the November 28, 2010 poll.
Following the first round of presidential voting, Canadian and US officials forced the candidate whom Haiti’s electoral council had in second place, Jude Celestin, out of the runoff. According to the official results, Mirlande Manigat received 31% of the vote, Celestin 22% and Michel Martelly 21%. With no statistical rationale they removed votes from Celestin, who was allied with Préval, until Martelly was in second place. Canada’s foreign affairs minister threatened to cut off aid and US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton traveled to Haiti to press the matter. Emails released through the Freedom of Information Act show that officials at the US Embassy worked with wealthy Haitians to support Martelly.
As president, Martelly surrounded himself with former Duvalierists and death squad leaders who’d been arrested for rape, murder, kidnapping and drug trafficking. When Jean-Claude Duvalier returned to Haiti after 25 years, Martelly told the New York Times no one wanted him prosecuted except for “certain institutions and governments” abroad.
After repeatedly postponing elections the former member of the dreaded Tonton Macoutes held a poll marred by fraud in 2015. Martelly’s hand-picked successor, who he plucked from obscurity, took power after a contested election redo in which Ottawa and Washington interceded on Moïse/Martelly behalf. The two men fell out, according to the New York Times investigation “Haiti’s Leader Kept a List of Drug Traffickers. His Assassins Came for It”. Martelly’s brother-in-law is a leading suspect in Moïse’s murder. Since the president was killed the situation in the country has deteriorated.
Major political, legal and economic changes are required in Haiti. After the US, however, Canada has been the biggest obstacle to popular forces in recent years.
Fortunately, the solution to Haiti’s multiple crisis has been on display recently. Despite repression causing multiple deaths, tens of thousands marched in multiple cities to demand Henry step down. Protesters also criticized growing insecurity and soaring prices.
The largest recent protests were timed to mark the beginning of the 1791 revolt that delivered a massive blow to slavery, colonialism and white supremacy. From the grips of the most barbaric form of plantation economy, the largely African-born slaves of Saint-Domingue launched a 13-year struggle that led to an independent nation with racial equality decades before this idea found traction in Europe or North America.