Canada, Haiti, the UN
by Aaron Lakoff
www.znet.org, January 21, 2006
In his book "The Uses of Haiti",
author Paul Farmer writes;
"...the world's privileged are protected
from suffering violence, they are protected from having to perpetrate
it - directly - and they are protected from having to apologize
for it. This, then, is the political economy of brutality. Just
as the violence of the poor must be understood as imbeded in their
poverty - the structural violence done to them - so, too, must
the 'goodness' of the rich be measured against their power and
Here, I hope to illustrate how my country,
Canada, is profiting from this political economy of brutality
that Farmer describes here in Haiti.
Admittedly, I came to Haiti having known
very little about the country just six months prior. My voyage
here was very much an attempt to relay information, to the best
of my abilities, to Canadians, in order to further expose Canada's
role in Haiti. Just as Canada is now carrying out its brutal policy
of Responsibility to Protect, a modern version of 'white man's
burden', I feel that citizens of the Canadian state like myself
have a responsibility to confront the real issue in Haiti - that
of Canadian imperialism.
To follow Farmer's analytical framework
of a political economy of brutality, let us first examine who
is suffering from this violence. Yesterday, we visited the Ste-Catherine's
hospital in Cite Soleil, the largest and poorest area of Port
au Prince. While ailing patients lay hooked up to I.V. Tubes in
rows of beds, it was impossible to not notice that the exterior
and interior walls of the hospital were covered with bullet holes.
In a shocking image that will never leave my mind, there was a
large bullet hole in a glass window looking in on cribs in the
children's ward. Eyewitnesses told us that at around 11pm the
previous night, the hospital came under heavy fire, and the perpetrators
were MINUSTAH (United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti)
troops. Opening fire on a hospital is a serious war crime under
the Geneva Convention, and here, in Cite Soleil, we were looking
at the evidence of war crimes committed by the very body which
is supposed to uphold international law.
On the ground floor of the hospital, we
met Valencia, an 8-year old girl who was recovering from a gunfire
wound she sustained the night before, when MINUSTAH let loose
a few rounds on her house. Her father, standing beside her bed,
still looked like he was in shock.
Dead bodies were strewn throughout the
streets on Thursday morning. The death toll of the day, even before
noon, was three. Residents said all three were killed by MINUSTAH,
and all three were unarmed. We saw the dead body of one unidentified
man, still baking in the hot sun, who was gunned down just blocks
away from a large cart that he used to deliver groceries and other
goods for a living.
This week's death toll in Cite Soleil
was already over ten, all killed by UN forces. For many like myself,
we have been raised by the myth that the UN, the infamous and
benevolent 'casques bleus', operate around the world to protect
peace and security. Now the UN is even publicly admitting that
they have killed civilians as 'collateral damage' in some of their
Two important questions must be asked;
who constitutes this collateral damage, and why is the UN killing
and not saving lives?
The answer to the first question is simple
and well-documented. Just like hundreds of thousands of Madeline
Albright's little targets in Iraq, the collateral damage in Haiti
is found amongst the nation's poorest. They are the ones suffering
the brunt of this violence.
The answer to the second question is slightly
more complicated, and leads into the second part of Farmer's thesis.
It also begins to uncover Canada's not-so-well hidden interests
in the country. In a nutshell, the UN is committing acts of violence
in Haiti because the country's privileged are protected from having
to perpetrate that violence directly. They are putting pressure
on the UN to do their dirty work for them.
Haiti's privileged and wealthy, represented
by the Group of 184, a so-called 'civil society' group that orchestrated
the bloody coup d'etat against democratically-elected president
Jean-Bertrand Aristide in 2004, have a lot at stake right now.
In order to protect their carefully planned coup, they need two
things to happen; a) that their favored candidate (and sweatshop
owner), Charles Henri Baker, get elected as president, and b)
that the support base for Lavalas candidate Rene Preval, traditionally
found in poor areas like Cite Soleil and Bel Air, be effectively
demobilized and crushed.
The Group of 184 is taking steps to ensure
these things happen before the elections on February 7th. In order
to put pressure on MINUSTAH to get tough on crime and 'terrorism',
they called for a general business strike on January 9. On January
16th they held a sit-in in front of the UN mission headquarters
in the capital. Indeed they got their wish, and MINUSTAH killed
four more people the same day as the demonstration.
The Group of 184 is led by a shady cast
of characters. Their spokesperson, Andy Apaid Jr., is the owner
of Alpha Industries, the largest garment producer in Haiti. In
his factories, more aptly called sweatshops, workers toil to produce
clothing for Montreal-based Gildan Activewear. Most are women
between the ages of 18-30 years old, and are paid a measly 75
Gourdes (Less than $2 US) per day.
Another important Group of 184 player
is Reginald Boulos, head of the Haitian Chamber of Commerce. According
to the Haiti Information Project, Boulos was also implicated in
the death of 60 children after his company, Pharval Pharmaceuticals,
produced a poisonous cough syrup distributed throughout poor neighborhoods
of the capital. . Patrick Elie, a Haitian activist we met the
other day, recounts to us how he applied for a job with a pharmaceutical
company in Canada. When he told his prospective employers that
he used to work for the Boulos family in Haiti, they replied,
"You know, those guys are killers..."
So how does a group of rich maquiladora-owners
and mad scientists maintain even a shred of credibility on the
international scene? Through plenty of funding and support from
the USA, France, and Canada.
Since the 2004 coup d'etat, Canada has
lent its explicit support to the Group of 184, not only in sending
500 soldiers to aid in the process of ousting Aristide, but also
by funding many of the opposition groups in the Group of 184 via
CIDA (Canadian International Development Agency). Seemingly progressive
Canadian NGO's such as Alternatives and Rights and Democracy have
helped maintain the Group of 184's credibility by affirming that
they are indeed a 'civil society' group.
Through this support for the Group of
184, Canada has also supported de facto all the institutions that
are committing human rights abuses in post-coup Haiti, including
the interim Haitian government. Thousands of political prisoners
continue to sit behind bars without charges since the coup, while
Paul Martin has denied their very existence as such. At the same
time, known killer and coup leader, Guy Phillipe, who was trained
by the CIA in Ecuador, is running for president. The Canadian
Embassy in Haiti, who was quick to support the removal of Aristide,
has had little to say about this.
Furthermore, through its support for the
Group of 184, Canada is also turning a blind eye to the killings
of MINUSTAH. Haiti's poor know quite well who is responsible for
these attacks. As Jean-Joseph Joel, a resident of Cite Soleil
put it, "MINUSTAH must cease being manipulated by the private
business sector - stop taking orders from the hands of Baker,
Boulos, and Apaid, at the detriment of the masses, to destroy
the people of Cite Soleil, Bel Air, Laforcette, to destroy all
who live in the popular neighborhoods".
Canada's Responsibility to Protect, a
racist doctrine itself, on the ground looks like poor Haitians
So to bring us to the third and final
part of Farmer's political economy of brutality, we have to turn
close to home. This is where we find the perpetrators who are
protected from having to apologize. I am Canadian (as an anarchist,
that's a hard admission), and my concern is primarily what my
government is doing in Haiti, in my name.
Canadians are going to the polls for a
federal election on January 23rd. The lead-up to our own elections
won't be a bloodbath, but for Haiti, the outcome could be. Sadly,
the outcome of our election won't make for any positive change
in Haiti. Either the Liberals will form the new government (and
we've already seen their abysmal performance here), or the Conservatives
will, bringing our foreign policy even more in line with the global
hegemony politics of the USA.
But a look to the north end of Montreal
shows an interesting scene playing out. There, where many Haitian-Canadians
reside, Canada's Liberal Foreign Affairs Minister, Pierre Pettigrew,
is engaged in the fight of his political career - and he's loosing.
Pettigrew is one of the main players responsible
for Canada's imperialist ventures in Haiti, but when called on
it, he is unrepentant. In fact he is proud of Canada's role in
Haitians in Montreal, along with activist
groups such as Haiti Action Montreal, are ready to fire Pettigrew
from his job. He's been publicly challenged and humiliated, and
now posters with his face denouncing him for crimes against humanity
cover telephone polls in his riding. As the most recent polls
show he is way down, he actually might soon be forced to say his
Our solidarity with the Haitian people
demands that we make people like Pettigrew, Martin, and the rest
of the Canadian government pay for their crimes. We must challenge
the structural violence being done unto Haiti's poor, and we must
take down the defenses that allow for the profiting by the Canadian
state of this political economy of brutality. Voting out Pettigrew
and the likes could be a start, but imperialism doesn't end at
the ballot boxes. We need not a new foreign policy towards Haiti,
and it isn't enough for people like the NDP's Svend Robinson to
go down to Haiti if he is elected, as he has promised. Canada
needs to get out of Haiti, and the mechanisms of the political
economy of brutality that we have seen need to be abolished. After
all, Haitians are demanding no less.
Aaron Lakoff is an activist and independent
journalist based in Montreal. He will be in Haiti for the month
of January, filing reports focused on the role of Canada in the
country. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org