"We have nothing against the Canadian people," Euvonie Georges-Auguste, a Haitian women's rights leader, told an audience of about 35 at the One World Cafe on Agricola Street last week. But the 51-year-old activist made it clear that desperately poor people in Haiti are very angry at Canada's politicians. It's widely known in Haiti that Canada, the US and France helped overthrow the Haitian government in February 2004, forcing the country's popular president, Jean-Bertrand Aristide into exile. Canadian soldiers guarded the airport while US soldiers escorted Aristide onto an American plane that flew him to Africa. Canada, the US and France then sent additional troops to prop up a new pro-American government. Georges-Auguste herself fled Haiti, but returned last year after the election of Rene Preval as the country's new president.
The story of Canada's complicity in the 2004 coup and its violent aftermath is disturbing for those who believe Canada should be a strong supporter of democracy, justice and peace. The mainstream media rarely tell the whole story, although parts of it sometimes filter through. Last May, for example, the CBC's Stephen Puddicombe reported that Canada has a bad reputation among the poor in Haiti partly because, after the coup, the RCMP trained the country's national police—the same police who went into the slums and killed people indiscriminately. Puddicombe was careful to attribute the claims of police murders to the slum dwellers, but there is independent evidence that the national police, along with common criminals, anti-Aristide political gangs and soldiers of the 8,800-member United Nations occupying force, all participated in the violence that followed the coup.
One study published in the British medical journal Lancet in 2006 estimated that 8,000 people had been murdered in the Haitian capital, Port au Prince, and 35,000 women and girls had been raped. An earlier study published by the Center for the Study of Human Rights at the University of Miami concluded: "The injured prefer to die at home untreated rather than risk arrest at the hospital." The study contains graphic photos of dead, injured and mutilated Haitians. "Suspected dissidents fill the prisons, their constitutional rights ignored," it says. "As voices for non-violent change are silenced by arrest, assassination or fear, violent defense becomes a credible option."
The 2004 coup and the bloodbath that followed were the result of a concerted campaign against the Aristide government. After the former priest was elected president in 2000, the US blocked $500 million in international development loans to Haiti. The Bush administration also funnelled millions of dollars to Haitian opposition groups. Aristide tried to push ahead with reforms aimed at alleviating poverty and illness in a country where annual per capita income is only $390 and life expectancy is 52 years. His government opened health clinics, built schools and doubled the minimum wage to about $1.60 per day. But those measures weren't popular with the rich Haitian business elites and their corporate backers. When armed thugs carrying American-made weapons crossed the border from the neighbouring Dominican Republic, the US and Canada refused to come to Aristide's aid, preferring instead to spirit him out of his country. It was the second time the democratically-elected president was forced out of office. (In 1991, after only seven months in power, Aristide fell victim to a military coup backed by the CIA. He was restored to power in 1994 by the Clinton administration on condition that he adopt stringent economic reforms favouring big business, not the poor.)
More information on the Haitian coup and its aftermath can be found online at: Cooperative Research (cooperativeresearch.org) and Canada Haiti Action Network (canadahaitiaction.ca). The story is also told in Nicolas Rossier's excellent film Aristide and the Endless Revolution. It's a tale of murder and deceit in which Canada shares with other rich countries the shame of oppression and the betrayal of democracy.
Is the Canadian government not showing enough Canadian spine? Email: firstname.lastname@example.org