Canada's NED? Whose Rights? What
Sort of Democracy? Haiti
by Yves Engler
These are the questions that must be asked
of "Rights & Democracy," a Montreal-based political
group funded almost entirely by the Canadian government.
This week Rights and Democracy has taken
part in a smear campaign against a study released in the Lancet
medical journal detailing the terrible human rights situation
in the 22 months after Haiti's elected President Jean Bertrand
Aristide's ouster. E-mails have been sent to various journalists
from Rights and Democracy, in which they claim a co-author of
the Lancet report is biased. Additionally, Nicholas Galetti, in
charge of the Rights and Democracy Haiti file, was quoted in the
Globe and Mail claiming the peer-reviewed study's methodology
is flawed. Why are Rights and Democracy working strenuously to
discredit a study estimating that 8000 were killed and 35,000
raped in Port au Prince?
A couple of days after René Préval's
victory in Haiti's recent presidential elections, the group, which
supposedly has a mandate to promote human rights and democracy
around the world, issued a statement (re-posted on leftwing website
rabble.ca) that said Préval "must... form a government
of national reconciliation."
Strange words for a group that made no
similar demand of Steven Harper, Canada's Prime Minister. Harper's
Conservative Party won a minority government with less than 40
%of the vote in Canada's federal elections in January.
In Haiti, even despite the blatant vote
manipulation which probably shaved ten percentage points off of
his victory, Préval won more than four times the votes
(51% vs. 12%) of his nearest rival... and that after a systematic
campaign to disenfranchise the poor who are his strongest supporters.
What does it mean to call for a government
of national reconciliation? From the point of view of Haiti's
poor majority, it effectively means abandoning democracy. It means
maintaining the power of a tiny economic elite to block any reforms
that weaken elite control over the hemisphere's poorest country.
It means supporting a process whereby
Haiti's poor majority is told to relinquish political power to
an elite incapable of winning via the ballot box. It means never
confronting the "real problem" of Haiti, which is precisely
the power of its tiny elite. It is the political equivalent of
flipping a coin and saying: "Heads I win, tails you lose."
The ten years between Jean Bertrand Aristide's
return as president in 1994 to his second ouster in 2004 were
marked by numerous attempts to block the poor majority's political
agenda by forcing their candidates into "power-sharing"
agreements. For example, Aristide was forced to accept the U.S.
choice for prime minister when he returned in 1994. Unfortunately
Rights & Democracy's call for "national reconciliation"
isn't the first time the group has sided with the Haitian elite.
In a January 27, 2006 letter to Allan
Rock, Canada's ambassador to the UN, the group echoed the extreme
right's demand for increased repression in the country's largest
poor neighborhood, Cité Soleil. A couple of weeks after
a business-sector "strike" demanding that UN troops
aggressively attack "gangsters" in Cité Soleil,
Rights & Democracy questioned the "true motives of the
UN mission." The letter - also signed by a group of Canadian-government-funded
Quebec NGOs known as the Concertation pour Haïti - questioned
whether UN forces were "protecting armed bandits more than
restoring order and ending violence."
Criticizing the UN for softness in Cité
Soleil flies in the face of evidence of its brutality there, including
a murderous attack on a hospital documented by Canadian solidarity
activists just prior to the Rights & Democracy letter. Of
course, the most stark example of UN repression in Cite Soleil
was a raid on July 6, 2005 to kill a "gang" leader.
That operation left at least 23 civilians dead. (Kevin Pina's
film Haiti: The Untold Story documents the chilling brutality
of UN forces.)
Statements by Rights & Democracy have
followed a pattern that belies the organization's professions
of support for either human rights or democracy.
A couple of days before Aristide took
office in 2001 after winning an election with over 90% of the
vote (it was boycotted by parties of the elite, but a poll by
the U.S. State Department confirmed Aristide's overwhelming popularity),
Rights & Democracy stated: "Mr. Aristide's election came
amidst widespread doubts about his own and the [first] Préval
government's commitment to democracy."
Yet when the Canadian-backed, unelected,
interim government of Gérard Latortue took power after
a coup in March 2004, Rights & Democracy made no such statement.
Nor has the group criticized the unconstitutional interim government's
terrible human rights record. Yet in an April 2002 press release,
Rights & Democracy claimed: "the elected officials of
the Lavalas Family [Aristide's party] and representatives of 'popular
organizations' close to that party are often implicated in the
most flagrant violation of Haitian laws."
A few months prior to the February 29,
2004 coup that overthrew Aristide for the second time, in September
2003, Rights & Democracy released a report that described
Haiti's pro-coup Group of 184 as "grassroots" and a
"promising civil society movement." The truth is that
the Group of 184 was spawned and funded by the International Republican
Institute (funded by the U.S. Government) and headed by Haiti's
leading sweatshop owner, Andy Apaid. Apaid has been active in
right-wing Haitian politics for many years and, like former Group
of 184 spokesperson Charles Henry Baker, Apaid's brother in law.
Concurrent with Rights & Democracy's
public campaign to undermine governments elected by Haiti's poor
majority is the group's more low- key work to use "civil
society" to undermine any real democracy. In October 2005,
Rights & Democracy began a $415,000 project - largely funded
by the Canadian government through the Canadian International
Development Association (CIDA) - to "foster greater civil
society participation in Haiti's national political process."
The Haitian coordinator of the project
is Danielle Magloire, a member of the "Council of the Wise"
that appointed Gérard Latortue as interim prime minister
after the coup ousted the elected president. Magloire's status
as a "wise" person, moreover, arose largely out of her
positions at EnfoFanm (Women's info) and the National Coordination
for Advocacy on Women's Rights (CONAP). Both of these organizations
are CIDA-funded feminist organizations that would not have grown
to prominence without international funding. In particular, CONAP
is a virulently anti-Lavalas feminist organization that has shunned
the language of class struggle in a country where a tiny percentage
of the population owns nearly everything. It is also an organization
that has expressed little concern about the dramatic rise in rapes
targeting Lavalas sympathizers since the coup.
In mid-July 2005, Magloire issued a statement
on behalf of the seven- member "Council of the Wise"
saying that any media that gives voice to "bandits"
(code for Lavalas supporters) should be shut down. She also asserted
that the Lavalas Family should be banned from upcoming elections.
Again, one must ask whose rights and what
sort of democracy does Rights & Democracy support, when it
effectively aligns itself with fascistic elements in Haiti? But
why should anyone care?
While few people are aware of Rights &
Democracy or its position on Haiti, it would be a mistake to dismiss
the group as inconsequential. A few hundred thousand dollars has
significant influence in a country as poor as Haiti.
In addition, Rights & Democracy was
formerly headed by Ed Broadbent, a former leader of Canada's New
Democratic Party (NDP). Rights & Democracy has negatively
influenced the position of the social democratic NDP regarding
events in Haiti. Even more important, Rights & Democracy has
worked with a group of CIDA-funded Quebec NGOs (notably Alternatives,
Development and Peace, AQOCI and Entraide Missionaire) to confuse
the Quebec left, which should have strongly allied itself with
the anti-imperialist sector of Montreal's large Haitian community,
regarding Canada's intervention in Haiti.
Whose rights? The rights of a wealthy
minority to run the world.
What sort of democracy? A democracy that
accepts modern imperialism, regardless of the consequences.
Rights & Democracy has revealed itself
to be similar to the National Endowment for Democracy, the International
Republican Institute and many more government-funded institutions
around the world that work to undermine real democracy. These
groups are used to do the work that the CIA or the British Foreign
Service or agents of the French government once performed.
It is important to reveal this so that
Canadians can learn what is being done around the world in their
Yves Engler is the author of two books:
Canada in Haiti: Waging War on the Poor Majority (with Anthony
Fenton) and Playing Left Wing: From Rink Rat to Student Radical.
Both books are published by RED/Fernwood and are available at
National Endowment for Democracy (NED)