Haiti’s untold story

Written by Tracy Glynn on February 7, 2010

Fredericton university students protest former Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin's talk at the University of New Brunswick in 2007.

Fredericton university students protest former Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin’s talk at the University of New Brunswick in 2008.

The Canadian government uses what it calls the “Responsibility to Protect” doctrine in countries they call “failed states” such as Haiti. The doctrine has been criticized for being an instrument used to justify foreign imperial intervention.

When former Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin spoke at the University of New Brunswick in Fredericton on March 23, 2008, he was met with protests for his government’s role in the overthrow of the democratically-elected government of Haiti on February 29, 2004. Martin proclaimed that Canada has no economic interests in Haiti as he spoke between protest banners, one saying “Canada Out of Haiti and Afghanistan.” A member of the Fredericton Peace Coalition quickly corrected him, citing the Canadian-owned sweatshops.

Clothing maker, Gildan Activewear, based in Montreal, says that it uses third party contractors in Haiti to sew fabric for its clothing. Shortly after President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, a popular leader among the poor people of Port-au-Prince, proposed raising the minimum wage by another dollar per day, his government was overthrown by the U.S., Canada and France.

Market reforms championed by Canada and the U.S. have dumped cheap rice and sugar on Haiti, undercutting Haitian farmers and driving them out of business and into poverty. Foreign mining companies, including Vancouver-based Eurasian Minerals, have demonstrated keen interest in Haiti’s mineral resources. Haiti also has offshore oil reserves. Shortly after the 2004 coup, Haiti’s deep water ports were privatized.

According to Yves Engler and Anthony Fenton in their 2005 book, Canada in Haiti: Waging War on the Poor Majority, Canadian and American aid agencies funded Haitian non-governmental organizations that destabilized Aristide’s government before the coup. Jean Chretien’s Liberal government hosted a meeting at Meech Lake in January 2003. Officially called “The Ottawa Initiative on Haiti,” representatives from Canada, the U.S. and France discussed Aristide’s removal. One year after this meeting, Aristide was deposed, with Canadian soldiers securing the airport for his removal from the country.

Decades of debt entrapment have deprived Haiti of the infrastructure and public services needed to prepare for, and respond to, natural disasters. Before Aristide was removed from power, he demanded that France repay the money it had extorted from Haiti following its independence. In 1825, Haiti agreed to pay France an indemnity of 90 million Francs as compensation for the loss of their colony and its slaves. In return, France agreed to end its military violence against Haiti, and extend diplomatic recognition to it. Haiti finally paid off the indemnity to France in 1947– 122 years later. To pay off the indemnity, Haiti borrowed money at high interest rates from French and American banks, deforested most of its land and closed down rural schools. The earthquake has reinvigorated the calls for France to repay the extorted money, which today would be equivalent to $US 21 billion. The International Monetary Fund, banks, and First World countries have also been the target of demands for the cancellation of Haiti’s debt.

While Haitians are recovering from the devastation of the earthquake, Aristide remains in exile in South Africa and his party, Lavalas, has been banned from ostensibly democratic elections. Haiti continues to be occupied by U.N. forces where they have been involved in killings and rapes. Haiti’s prisons are filled with political prisoners.

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