Haitians see Canada as 'The occupiers'

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Three weeks ago, the front page of Haiti Liberté showed a picture of President René Préval next to Prime Minister Stephen Harper and two Canadian soldiers. Part of the caption below read, "Préval under the surveillance of the occupying forces."

While Canada's dominant media rarely describe this country's role in Haiti critically, it's common in Haiti's left-wing weeklies. Since Ottawa helped overthrow Jean-Bertrand Aristide's government in February 2004, Haiti Liberté and Haiti Progrès have described Canada as an "occupying force", "coup supporter" or "imperialist" at least a hundred times.

The January 12 earthquake sparked an immense outpouring of public sympathy and solidarity, but it did not significantly alter Ottawa's policy towards Haiti. Initial search and rescue was badly hampered by fear of the population. Two thousand Canadian troops were deployed while several Heavy Urban Search Rescue Teams were readied but never sent.

Despite the crying need for housing, schooling and basic sanitation, since the earthquake Ottawa has ramped up spending on prisons and police. In the past two months they've announced $44 million in new spending on a police and prison system that has been massively expanded and militarized since the Feb. 2004 U.S./France/Canada coup. This $44 million is on top of $15 million put up a month before the quake and more than $50 million in the previous five years. Much to the delight of Haiti's über class-conscious elite, Ottawa has taken the lead in strengthening the repressive arm of the Haitian state. Moral implications be damned.

The lead story in the New York Times two weeks ago described a prison massacre in the aftermath of the earthquake. According to the Times, Haitian Police, with UN "peacekeepers" in support, executed at least a dozen prisoners after an uprising/escape was thwarted. (Most Haitian prisoners, it should be noted, have not been prosecuted.)

I have yet to see any of this country's media report on the massacre or its Canadian connection. The police were almost certainly trained by their Canadian counterparts. Additionally, 18 months ago Governor-General Michaëlle Jean presided over the opening of an Ottawa-funded police station/jail in Les Cayes, where the massacre took place.

Over the past few weeks there have been a series of major demonstrations in Port-au-Prince (and elsewhere) that indirectly challenged Ottawa's policy in Haiti. On May 10, 17 and 25, thousands took to the streets against Préval and the occupation. Since the earthquake, foreign domination of Haiti has greatly increased. There are now even more foreign troops and NGOs in the country. Most ominously, a majority of seats on the Interim Commission for the Reconstruction of Haiti, authorized to spend billions of dollars in reconstruction money, represent foreign governments and international financial institutions. The money will be managed by the World Bank.

Alongside opposition to the Reconstruction Commission, demonstrators called for Aristide's return to Haiti and an end to the exclusion of his Fanmi Lavalas political party. Since the 2004 coup, Haiti's most popular party has been barred from participating in elections, which are now planned for November.

Protesters are angry about the slow pace of reconstruction. 1.5 million people continue to live in 1,200 makeshift camps in and around Port-au-Prince and the hurricane season started on June 1. "We're going to be in this position forever," Radio station owner Patrick Moussignac, told the New York Times. "We could be living on the streets for 10 or 20 years."

With Ottawa, Paris and Washington in charge of reconstruction the future for earthquake victims looks bleak. If the balance of political forces is not shifted, SNC Lavalin and Co., together with their friends among the Haitian élite, will pocket tens of millions of dollars for contracts, mostly to expand sweatshop and tourism infastructure.

Meanwhile, the majority of the population will still be in search of the basics.

In recent months, few songs have been more popular than "Waving Flag" by Young Canadian Artists for Haiti. "When I get older I will be stronger/they call me freedom just like a waving flag..." Does the song's popularity represent deep compassion and solidarity with Haiti or just a passing fad?

Yves Engler is a Montréal activist and author. He has four published books. His more recent is Canada and Israel: Building Apartheid. For more info click here.


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