Did Canada support a coup in Haiti?

Canada has sided with two colonial powers.

Feb. 28, 2013: On this ninth anniversary of the coup in Haiti, we are reprinted this piece from our archives. Yves Engler went on to co-write, with Anthony Fenton, a book that documents Canada's involvement in the 2004 coup. For more rabble.ca coverage of recent developments in Haiti, check out Roger Annis' blog. 

Does Prime Minister Paul Martin support democracy in the Americas or U.S.-orchestrated coups? In his first major foreign policy move, Paul Martin's government faithfully followed the U.S. and the French lead in removing the legally-elected president of Haiti, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, from power.

Contrast this with the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) whose chairperson, Jamaican Prime Minister P.J. Patterson, said in a statement that CARICOM deplored “the removal of President Aristide” from office, as setting “a dangerous precedent for democratically-elected governments anywhere and everywhere.”

In other words, Canada has sided with the two colonial powers with a centuries-old tradition of meddling in Haitian affairs, instead of with the Caribbean nations which have endured a shared history of slavery and other forms of exploitation.

Three weeks into an armed insurrection that left the country in turmoil and Aristide gone, Martin said that he hoped, “all parties ... respect constitutional order and the rule of law.” Foreign Affairs Minister Bill Graham did no better with his comment that a “constitutional transition” was underway.

The constitutional transition Graham refers to was a “coup” backed by the revival of Haiti's military force that has always served the country's tiny elite — less than two per cent of the population holding at least half the nation's wealth — and the most reactionary faction of the U.S. political establishment. Whether Aristide was actually kidnapped by U.S. forces, as U.S. Democratic Congresswoman Maxine Waters alleged, or was just presented with “an offer he couldn't refuse,” it appears that the Bush administration played the decisive role in this regime change.

Let us connect the dots.

In 1990, Aristide overwhelmingly won Haiti's first democratic election. Since he was a voice of the poor and oppressed, alarm bells went off among right-wing U.S. politicians and the corporations they represent. Bush the First immediately moved to undermine the new Haitian government by withholding aid and supporting opposition groups. Nine months into his mandate Aristide was ousted by General Raoul Cedras — backed by the CIA — who instituted a military reign of terror that led to the death of more than 3,000 people, mostly supporters of Aristide.

The Organization of American States announced an embargo against the illegal Haitian regime, which the U.S. promptly ignored. Not until the Bill Clinton presidency did the U.S. restore Aristide to power — on condition that he adopt the harsh neoliberal policies of the International Monetary Fund. One of the IMF policies — the elimination of tariffs on rice — led to a massive increase in subsidized U.S. rice exports that devastated Haitian rice growers.

Still, in 2000 Aristide again won the presidency and his Lavalas party took more than 80 per cent of the local and parliamentary seats in legislative elections. In several multi-candidate contests where Lavalas gained a plurality rather than a majority of votes they should have faced a second round election. Instead a few candidates simply took their seats.

In response, the new Bush administration (and others) froze foreign aid until new elections could be agreed upon. This effectively gave the opposition a veto over international aid. Even after the senators in question stepped aside, the opposition continued to reject new elections because they knew they couldn't win at the ballot box. And with the country cut off from bilateral and multilateral financing Haiti's economy went into a tailspin, spurring political discontent.

The International Republican Institute, a Republican-Party backed arm of the National Endowment for Democracy, gave the Haitian opposition political parties three million dollars a year. A month ago “rebels” armed with American-made weapons marched into the country from the Dominican Republic. This unsavoury lot of wanted murderers, former coup plotters and narco-traffickers includes Emmanuel Constant who has already gone on record saying that in the mid-1990s he was on the CIA payroll. Rebel leader Guy Philippe was trained by the U.S. military as an army officer in Ecuador, according to a report published Friday by Human Rights Watch. Already it's been reported that Philippe has met with high-ranking members of the political coalition that opposed Aristide and he's been seen around U.S. marines.

Last week, the Bush administration stepped up its pressure by undermining Aristide's personal security when it blocked him from increasing his bodyguard staff hired from the U.S.-based security firm, the Steele Foundation.

Was there a coup and did Canada support it?

We do know Canadian troops were present at the airport when Aristide left the country.

We do know Canada stood by and did nothing to support the legally elected president of the country as he faced armed opposition.

We do know right-wing American politicians are already touting Canada's complicity as justification for U.S. policy in Haiti.

Unfortunately, the evidence suggests Paul Martin has turned his back on millions of Canadians who want this country to support and build real democracy around the world. Instead, he has joined with right-wing extremist elements in the U.S. who tell the world “it's our way or the highway.”

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