The following article has been adapted from a talk delivered by the author at the recent Science for Peace Annual General Meeting, held on May 12, 2007.
There is no doubt that Canadian foreign policy is currently undergoing a major shift. We are at a time when the imperial nature of our international role is becoming increasingly evident and a large portion of the Canadian ruling class no longer finds it useful to entertain certain myths and misconceptions about that role. The illegal invasion and occupation of Afghanistan and the leading position that Canadian soldiers, institutions and aid agencies are taking in that country’s colonization and its peoples’ subjugation are examples of this shift; they represent, as Rick Hillier put it, “a glimpse of the future.” This remodeling of the Canadian empire has also had the effect of causing a number of organizations to call for a return to the `traditional role’ of peacekeeping prompted by adherence to some prevalent myths. I believe that by examining Canada’s ongoing criminal intervention in Haiti, done under the auspices of the UN and under the veil of peacekeeping, we can challenge these naive and regressive calls more effectively.
Since its independence over two centuries ago, when the black slaves of Hispanolia overthrew their French Masters in 1804, Haiti has been under constant siege from imperialism. It remains the most frequently singled out region in the world for American interventions, the most notorious of which was the 17-year occupation that began in 1915 and which re-installed virtual slavery and secured in place a brutal American-trained army to be used as an enforcer by a line of dictators who ruled Haiti for decades to come. In 1987, the devastating legacy of that occupation was successfully ended when a grassroots mobilization known as Lavalas overthrew the foreign-financed dictatorship of Jean-Claude Duvalier. It was this same movement that also succeeded in bringing to power, in 1990, Haiti’s first democratically elected president, Jean Bertrand Aristide.
However, within 7 months, the Aristide government was overthrown in a CIA-backed coup headed by General Raoul Cedras of the Haitian Army. After three years of rule by the military junta, during which an estimated 10,000 Haitians were murdered by the army and affiliated death squads in an attempt to neutralize the popular movement, intense international pressure prompted the Clinton regime to re-install Aristide in 1994 with the assistance of Canada and France. However, the nefarious conditions of the assisted return included an imposition of a neoliberal economic agenda – which directly threatened the grassroots democracy – amnesty for the coup leaders, and consent to the presence of a US-led UN Peacekeeping Force. The latter was to remain in the country until 1999, with Canada’s participation, presumably to assure adherence to the political and economic dictates of the negotiation. Aristide completed his term – which was unconstitutionally shortened by the agreements – but not before he disbanded the hated Haitian Army.
In 2000, Jean-Bertrand Aristide was elected a second time with a 92% majority in elections deemed fair and transparent by international observers. However, Canada, the US, the E.U. and Haiti’s economic elite dismissed the elections as fraudulent on the flimsiest of basis, subsequently using this charge as a pretext for a devastating international embargo on Haiti, along with a well-managed destabilization campaign against the new government. A year later, a band of former death squad soldiers who had been involved with the first coup regime, and members of the disbanded Haitian army – all stationed in the Dominican Republic and trained and armed by the CIA – began to make bloody incursions into Haiti’s north, killing poorly armed police officers and supporters of the government. Aristide and CARICOM (Caribbean Community) pleaded with the international community for assistance in ending these violent attacks, but the pleas were dismissed.
By 2004, the attacks increased and the ranks of the rebels swelled as prisons were emptied of criminals who joined the revolt. The beleaguered government struggled against the armed usurpers concurrently withCanadian, Ame-rican and French diplomatic usurpers pressing Aristide to negotiate with the tiny but powerful elite. In late February, US Marines and Canadian commandos arrived in Haiti and the Canadian foreign affairs minister, Bill Graham and US Secretary of State, Colin Powel, publicly called for Aristide’s resignation. By February 29, when the rebels failed to capture the capital, Port-au-Prince, and just as a shipment of arms for the Haitian police were due to arrive from South Africa, the coup was effectively completed when US marines marched into the presidential palace, kidnapped Aristide, and flew him to the Central Republic of Africa, with Canadian special commandos securing the Haitian airport.
Immediately after the coup, on the night of Feb. 29, with unprecedented haste, the UN Security Council voted unanimously for the 3-month deployment of a Multinational Interim Force (MIF), composed of French, American, Canadian and Chilean troops. Canada alone provided 500 soldiers and 6 CH-146 Griffon Helicopters to the 3,600 strong force – a force presented as a constituent of a peacekeeping mission. Over the next 90 days, the MIF conducted heavily-armed patrols throughout the country and mainly in urban slums, and carried out various arrests and detentions. During this time, remnants of the paramilitary group that had attempted to overthrow Aristide began a crazed slaughter of pro-democracy activists and the residents of poor neighborhoods, reminiscent of the attacks against Lavalas supporters following the first coup. The international troops did nothing to stop these murders from taking place, as a National Lawyers Guild report from the time indicates. Interestingly, a draft Counter Insurgency Man-ual recently com-pleted by our Department of National Defense mentions the MIF deployment as an example of a suc-cessful counter-insurgency. Be-sides obvious questions as to why, if this multinational de-ployment was a counter-insurgency mission, it was never presented as such, one has to also wonder that if paramilitary gangs were not being stopped, who were the “insurgents?”
In fact, the force was implicated in a number of abuses, including: the killing of Aristide supporters, such as the massacres of March 12 and 13, 2004, when dozens of protesters calling for the return of Aristide were gunned down by international troops; non-licensed house searches and death threats against Aristide supporters, for which Canadian troops have been specifically condemned in a report by the British Medical Journal, the Lancet; and extra judicial arrests and detentions, the most notable of which was the violent and illegal arrest of community activist and internationally-acclaimed folk-singer, Annette Auguste, by US Marines. The Marines used hand grenades against the unarmed grandmother and blindfolded and handcuffed her grand-children.
It seems that it was Lavalas, Haiti’s popular movement of the poor, to which the Counter Insurgency Manual is referring. The manual actually recognizes that such insurgencies “stem from political and social dissatisfactions and ideas for social change” and “must be defeated through military, paramilitary, political, economic, psychological and civil actions.” The International Force also oversaw the dismantling of an entire elected government structure and the imposition of an illegal dictatorship headed by Gerard LaTortue. The new interim gov-ernment directed the dismantling of social programs, repealing of the minimum wage raise, dismissal of thou-sands of civil sector workers (mostly from the poorest slums), end to food subsidies for the poor … and the list goes on.
The International Deployment was replaced on June 4, 2004, again with notable haste, with an official UN peacekeeping force – The United Nations Stabilization Mission for Haiti, or MINUSTAH – which still remains in Haiti today. The need for this mission was first outlined in the resolution for the MIF deployment, which is based on the premises that Aristide “resigned” and that the source of conflict was the “flawed elections” of 2000, a falsity that Canada promoted. In addition, its mandate, as directed by coup plotters – the US, Canada and France – focused almost exclusively on assisting the illegal LaTortue government in maintaining control over the resistant population. Gerard LaTortue was himself a UN official, had served in a former brutal Haitian junta, had connections with the Haitian elite, and had lived outside of Haiti for more than 15 years. This is a man who had celebrated the rebels as freedom fighters and called for the elimination of 12% of the population in Cite Soleil (Haiti’s largest slum and the base of Aristide’s support) in order to pacify that population.
Canada continues to play an important role in the mission, with 4 Canadian military officers positioned in such a way, according to one of these officers himself, “as to greatly influence every military operation in the country.” In addition, Canada has taken the lead in the section of MINUSTAH dedicated to poli-cing. Under the MINUSTAH Police Mission (or UNPOL), cur-rently headed by Graham Muir of the RCMP, the Haitian National Police ranks have been stacked with former members of the Haitian Army and Death Squads from the first coup against Aristide in 1991. Top positions within the Haitian Police are occupied almost exclusively by ex-members of Haiti’s brutal military. This integration was conducted with the assistance of consultants from the former Kosovo Liberation Army (another brutal paramilitary ally used in a past `peacekeeping’ mission) and with RCMP officers providing training and weapons.
A systematic program of extra-judicial assassinations, bloody repression, warrant-less arrests and detentions, rape, and violent elimination of popular dissent has been, and still continues to be, carried out by this police force, all while they continue to be trained by 1,600 UNPOL forces, including 100 RCMP and Quebec Provincial Police officers. From 2004 to 2006, the Lancet medical journal finds this police force and its civilian attaches to be responsible for over 4,000 deaths and 35,000 rapes in the Haitian capital alone. The mutation of the HNP by the UN into an effective proxy army should not be surprising considering that a full year before the coup, at a confidential meeting of western officials hosted by the Canadian government, called the “Ottawa Initiative on Haiti”, the need for regime change in Haiti was officially recognized, as was the reintegration of the dreaded Haitian army under a UN protectorate.
Besides having maintained the two-year illegal coup government and reinforcing the thugs of the HNP, MINUSTAH has itself conducted massive repression of the Haitian poor majority. Frequent and deadly incursions into slums like Cite Soleil and Bel Air under the guise of `stopping gangs’ has resulted in the death of many civilians, with three large-scale massacres within a year and a half. The first of these took place on July 5, 2005, when UN troops massacred over 60 civilians in Cite Soleil and left scores more injured. Many of the victims were women and children shot at close range. General Auguste Ribeiro, in charge of UN operations at the time, resigned from his post, declaring that he did not want to be brought up on war crimes. He later spoke about the extreme pressure being imposed on him by the US, Canada and France to use violence. Another massacre took place in the early hours of December 22 – days after a protest that called for an end to the occupation – when 400 armored UN troops fired 22,000 rounds of ammunition over 7 hours into the Haitian slum, killing 50-70 people. Not a single medical unit accompanied the MINUSTAH forces, and the local Red Cross accused MINUSTAH of denying them access to the injured – a clear violation of Geneva Conventions, as are the firings on hospitals, schools and churches.
When questioned about these violations and civilian casualties, the Special Representative of MINUSTAH in Haiti, Edmund Mulet, has either denied responsibility or has dismissed the dead as collateral damage, sounding more like a war general than a UN representative of a peacekeeping mission. Of course, MINUSTAH does not take a casualty account after incursions. It is much simpler to group all of their victims as gangsters or kidnappers, just as it is much easier to call all Afghan casualties “the Taliban.” While Edmund Mulet continues to reject MINUSTAH complicity in the deaths of poor men, women, children and the elderly during incursions into Haiti’s slums, other UN officials admit that no investigations are conducted to determine responsibility for these murders.
Peacekeepers in Haiti have approved, assisted, covered up and contributed to the murder of over 10,000 civilians, the arrests and detentions of hundreds of political prisoners, the displacement of 200,000 internal refugees, and a social and developmental setback of years. Their mission has meant a consolidation of the 2004 coup d’etat, the legitimization of and support for a two-year bloody dictatorship, the transformation of a police force into a weapon against its own people, and the crushing of popular movements and a legitimate resistance. The MIF and MINUSTAH in Haiti represent a brutal three-year occupation force, a nightmare that has not ended for the Haitian people and which con-tinues to subvert the sov-ereignty of the newly elected government. This is an occupation force, assembled with “peacemakers” and under the auspices of the UN, which bears a distinct resemblance to the NATO occupation of Afghanistan, or, indeed, the American occupation of Iraq.
It is a mission that is legitimized with a new colonial ideological tool called the “Responsibility to Protect,” an inherently racist doctrine authored by Canada and incorporated by the UN without a vote, which permits some 20 wealthy nations the right to circumvent international law and intervene on the sovereignty of countries that those same 20 nations have classified as “failed states.” Yet above all else, the goal of the MINUSTAH deployment has been, since its initiation, to secure Haiti for the uninterrupted implementation of the economic program of the IMF and the World Bank, which has been consistently and unequivocally rejected by the Haitian masses any time they have had an opportunity to be heard. The goal has been to ensure that Haiti will be yet another dumping ground for American and Canadian surplus goods, and yet another `independent state’ reaped by imperial powers for its most valuable resources – in Haiti’s case, its citizenry, that is, a massive and desperate source of cheap labour.
It is this agenda against which the people of Haiti are struggling, a struggle to which all Canadians of con-science must lend their solidarity. That solidarity re-quires us todemand an independent investigation into Canadian involvement in the coup since the elec-tion of Aris-tide in 2000. We must echo the call of the Haitian poor majority for an end to the UN occupation and demand the withdrawal of Canadian police and military political advisory forces from Haiti under terms set by the Haitian government. We must provide provisions for aid with “no strings attached” that goes directly to the elected government of Haiti, and an end to the practice of subverting funds to suspect “civil society” organizations and donor-directed initiatives. We must call for a release of all political and illegally held prisoners and a cancellation of Haiti’s 1.3 billion dollar odious debt as dictated by international law. We must end the culture of international impunity and demand that Canada pay reparations to the people of Haiti for the significant damage done to Haiti’s economic, political and social infrastructures.
Canada Haiti Action Website: www.canadahaitiaction.ca
Yves Engler and Anthony Fenton, Canada in Haiti: Waging War on the Poor Majority (Fernwood Publishing, 2005).
Paul Farmer, The Uses of Haiti (Common Courage Press, 2005).
Paul Farmer, Infections and Inequalities: The Modern Plague (University of California Press, 2001).