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Canada's off the cuff announcement freezing new aid to Haiti is harmful and prejudicial

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According to today's Montreal daily La Presse, Minister of International Cooperation Julian Fantino has decided to freeze all new aid projects to Haiti. The news has piqued media attention about the situation in Haiti on the eve of the third anniversary of the Jan. 12, 2010 earthquake.

The announcement came in a telephone interview with one of La Presse's journalists. Fantino did not have the courtesy of informing beforehand Haiti's ambassador to Canada or the Haitian government itself.

In his comments to La Presse, Fantino, a career policeman with no international development experience and who replaced the disgraced Bev Oda last year, launches a broadside against the Haitan government and people based on observations during his one and only visit to Haiti in late November. Very little is working in the country, he tells La Presse. Unemployment is sky high. Garbage is not being picked up.

Fantino's tone is pure insult to Haitians. "Here in Canada, we have [volunteer] activities to clean neighbourhoods and highways... Are we going to take care of their problems forever? They also have to take charge of themselves."

"We [Canada] are not a charity foundation."

The freeze on aid and Fantino's verbal broadside is the latest in a series of body blows delivered by the Harper government to the people of Haiti:

* Last month, the Canadian and U.S. governments issued a travel warning for Haiti, a move that the Haitian government has vigorously criticized as harmful to nascent efforts to bring tourists to the country, including the beginning of weekly tourist flights from Montreal by Transat airline tour company. (See a Jan. 4, 2013 La Presse report on that here.)

* Also last month, Canada announced it will boost the number of soldiers and policeman participating in MINUSTAH. The announcement comes at a time when people are asking why foreign soldiering and policing in the country is financed to the tune of nearly $1 billion per year while cholera treatment and prevention is starved of funds.

* In an announcement first made by Fantino to a business audience last November, Canada will henceforth prioritize the promotion of Canadian business interests above all else in the delivery of foreign aid.

If Haiti's government and the international aid that has flowed into the country since the earthquake have been a failure, as Minister Fantino now argues, who is responsible if not the big governments such as Canada that are effectively running the show in Haiti? After all, they control the pursestrings. According to the statistical reporting of the UN's Office of the Special Envoy on Haiti, less than one percent of emergency aid funding passed through the hands of the Haitian government or Haitian civil society organizations, while only some ten percent of recovery and reconstruction funding goes their way.

What's more, it is the big powers who pressed to hold the premature and exclusionary election that brought their favored candidate, Michel Martelly, into the presidency in 2010/11. The big powers, the UN mission and of many of the large, aid agencies have responded to critics over the past three years with a standard argument: "We're doing the best we can in a difficult situation."

Minister Fantino's comments can only feed the prejudice stoked by his government and its predecessor to the effect that Haiti is a hopelessly corrupt, violent and dysfunctional society requiring foreign tutelage. But responsibility for the catastrophic state of affairs today in Haiti lies primarily with the incessant foreign political intervention that has for decades denied the Haitian people their sovereignty and refused to respect and abide the will of Haiti's majority for governments of social justice.

You can read more reaction to Minister Fantino's pronouncement by going here: http://canadahaitiaction.ca/. A dossier of his remarks to La Presse (published in French) is here. To contact the Canada Haiti Action Network, e-mail to [email protected] or phone 778 858 5179. Come to a screening of Michele Mitchell's 2012 documentary film 'Haiti: Where Did the Money Go?', followed by discussion, in Vancouver on January 9 and Montreal on January 21. Details here.

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