By Roger Annis

Last month, the Ottawa Citizen published a photo story of Canadian soldiers patrolling the streets of Port au Prince. The soldiers are part of a deployment of 34 soldiers dating from June of this year that is working closely with Brazilian cohorts of the UN military occupation force in Haiti known as MINUSTAH. The new Canadian group joined the dozens of Canadian police and military personnel already in Haiti as part of Canada’s ongoing participation in MINUSTAH, dating back to 2004.

The photos in the story are tagged as from a Canadian armed forces service called ‘Combat Camera’. How odd. While much of the world is aware that Haiti is enduring an ongoing humanitarian disaster, the Canadian government is playing ‘combat camera’ in the country.

Cholera epidemic

Since October 2010, more than 8,000 Haitians have died from a cholera epidemic. More than 650,000 have been infected and fallen gravely ill.

The cholera bacteria was introduced to Haiti by a Nepalese contingent of MINUSTAH. The disease spread due to the contingent’s reckless treatment of their human waste and then the subsequent attempt by the UN brass in Haiti to cover up what was going on. A new report by NBC News is just the latest news or scientific report to confirm the UN’s culpability.

A milestone lawsuit was launched against the UN on October 9. It accuses the world body of worsening the death and injury toll from the cholera outbreak. As NBC reports, “The suit alleges that U.N. officials falsely claimed that peacekeepers had been tested for cholera and none had come back positive and barred Haitian health officials from the [Nepalese] camp in late October. The suit also alleges that the U.N. issued a false statement that its septic tanks were up to U.S. EPA standards and that an official told a reporter that a pipe carrying sewage was carrying only kitchen waste.”

The unprecedented legal action against the UN is led by the Boston-based Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti (IJDH), its partner office in Port au Prince, the Bureau des avocats internationaux (BAI), and the civil rights law firm Kurzban, Kurzban, Weinger & Tetzelli of Miami. It is making steady progress in the court of world public opinion, as evidenced by the support it has received from members of the U.S. Congress and the newspaper editorialists, including the New York Times (March 17 and October 12, 2013) and Washington Post. CBS News recently televised a report about this “worst cholera outbreak in modern times” and the legal action that has ensued.

The news of cholera and of the UN’s heinous role is gradually creeping into Canada. CBC radio and television news reported the October 9 deposition of the lawsuit. Three days later, CBC national radio broadcast an interview with Stephen Lewis, former Canadian ambassador to the UN and a longtime, prominent figure in UN agencies, in which he declared his support for the legal action.

Canada’s government, aid institutions and parliamentarians have been silent on the cholera epidemic and the UN’s culpability. That may begin to change. One of the complications has been that until recently, the lead UN spokesperson for deflecting accusations over cholera has been a Canadian, Nigel Fisher. Canadian media has uncritically reported his work on behalf of the UN. He left his UN posting in Haiti earlier this year.

Social crisis

While progress has been made in Haiti with health care delivery, the cholera crisis easily trumps the gains. Meanwhile, the overall economic social indicators in the country remain grim.

Several hundred thousand Haitians remain homeless nearly four years after the January 2010 earthquake, living in ramshackle camps. Hundreds of thousands more are living in perilous housing conditions. Canada and its allies in Europe funded a one-year rental subsidy program last year and this year. Its main purpose was to move people out of the most visible (and therefore most embarrassing to the relief effort) of the earthquake survivor tent camps in the capital city. They say that program was a great success in providing ‘housing’ for Haitians. But they have funded or otherwise assisted precious little new housing.

Nearly half the buildings in Port au Prince were destroyed or gravely damaged by the 2010 earthquake, so locating people back into such buildings with rental subsidies is hardly a long-term, humanitarian solution for the country. The country already suffered a chronic lack of housing prior to the earthquake.

The government that was elected in a U.S.-Canada funded election in 2010/11 says its motto of economic development for the country is ‘Open for business’. But it has little to show for its fine words. There are small pockets of agricultural and small business projects that show the great potential for larger-scale improvement. But the overall story is that agricultural and economic development is at a standstill.

The U.S. has funded a large and much-publicized industrial park in a place called Caracol that it hopes will attract international investors. It is a centerpiece of the misguided claim that sweatshop factory investment can be a motor force for development in Haiti. Caracol is on the other side of the country from the earthquake zone and it has not met its lofty expectations.

What’s more, several recent studies reveal that factory owners or managers in Haiti systematically violate the country’s minimum wage laws.

Education is another self-proclaimed priority of the Haitian government. But in August, the government of President Michel Martelly and Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe postponed the beginning of the new school year until October, providing no explanation for its action. The government’s education policy consists of subsidizing the country’s network of private and charity schools.

The regime created new taxes to pay for its education “plan”, but did not obtain approval for this from Haiti’s parliament, as required by the country’s constitution. The funds raised are the subject of great scandal because of poor accounting and accusations of theft. Meanwhile, not a whiff of a plan for creating a public education system has been proposed.

The Martelly/Lamothe government is coming under increasing criticism by Haitians not only for its failed social and economic policies but also for a string of corruption and political scandals and for its increasingly authoritarian drift. An example of the latter is its plan to resurrect a version of the national army that was abolished by then-President Jean-Bertrand Aristide in 1995. That army was never more than a private militia for the Duvalier dictatorship that ruled Haiti for decades. This new army, effectively a private militia of the president’s office, will be little different. It has received no constitutional nor budgetary assent by parliament. The government acts increasingly as though there is no constitution and parliament to which it should be accountable.

Haiti’s parliament is facing total paralysis because the executive power has refused to convene elections to the Senate as senators’ terms have expired. By January, the Senate will no longer function for lack of a quorum. Two thirds of its seats will be vacant. Municipal elections, also, have not been held. For several years now, municipalities are run by presidential appointees.

Brazil Canada partnership?

The photos of Canadian and Brazilian soldiers jointly patrolling the streets of Port au Prince beg the question: Against whom or what, exactly, are they waging war in Haiti? There are no explanations from Ottawa beyond platitudes. In June, then-Minister of Defense Peter McKay told a brief press conference that the deployment of 34 soldiers will “carry out critical peacekeeping and peace support operations in Haiti…” His announcement of the deployment came two days before the soldiers departed.

The day following the deposition of the cholera legal action, the UN Security Council voted unanimously to extend for another year its police/military occupation of Haiti. MINUSTAH was created in May 2004 as an initiative of the big powers to consolidate the paramilitary coup they had backed to overthrew Haiti’s elected president and parliament three months earlier. The elected president, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, and his family spent seven years in exile in South Africa following the coup. He returned in 2011.

But demands for MINUSTAH’s withdrawal from Haiti are almost universally supported in the country. And on October 28, Uruguay’s president announced he is convinced that Uruguay should withdraw from participation in the force. It will be the first Latin American country to do so. Most of MINUSTAH’s foot soldiers are drawn from Latin American countries.

The Brazil-Canadian partnership in Haiti is now undergoing great stress from other quarters, as well, as a result of the revelations that Canada’s top-secret military spy agency, Communications Security Establishment Canada (CSEC), has been conducting spying and industrial espionage against Brazil and its leading companies. The revelations were made in October by U.S. whistleblower Edward Snowden to the Globo television network in Brazil.

Further news investigations have revealed the tight links between CSEC and the promotion of Canadian companies abroad.

According to Rubens Barbosa, a former Brazilian ambassador to the United States, Canada’s plans for trading and investment in Brazil may well be on ice until the latter receives some resolution of the spying scandal. The Globe and Mail reports him as saying that Canada may well face the same freeze on new trade and investment relations that hit the U.S. last month when spying by the National Security Agency against Brazil was outed. “Everything will be stopped, all the major things,” said Barbosa.

The revelations may also damage military cooperation between the two countries, including in Haiti. “This scandal will cause Brazil to have second thoughts about Canada as a reliable partner,” says Walter Dorn, a professor at the Canadian Forces Staff College told the Canadian Press.

According to the news agency, the idea of teaming up with Brazil in Haiti has been floated in Canadian military and government circles for several years as a way to enhance Canadian business interests in Brazil.

Brazil’s president, Dilma Rousseff, spoke at the United Nations General Assembly last month in response to the initial reports of political and industrial espionage by the National Security Agency of the United States. She made a blistering attack on the U.S., accusing it of  breaching international law. Now she accuses Canada, too, of violating Brazil’s sovereignty.

Coincidentally, only two months following Canada’s latest boost to its military deployment to Haiti, its government announced it is reducing aid to Haiti. At the same time, it is spending $1.2 billion on a new, state-of-the-art headquarters in Ottawa for CSEC. The facilities in the new building are so lush that CBC News is calling it a ‘spy palace’. CBC reports that the electricity required to power the super-computers and other equipment in the new headquarters will be roughly equal to the energy consumption of the entire city of Ottawa.

Canada is one of the members of the ‘Five Eyes’ spying and espionage alliance that dates back to World War 2. The alliance also includes the U.S., Britain, Australia and New Zealand.

Spying by these and other big powers in today’s world of permanent war against ‘terrorism’ and ‘bad people’ is, of course, de rigeur.

The blow-up with Brazil will be patched over because the business elites of the two countries have much in common, including their common pursuit in keeping Haiti’s poor majority marginalized and excluded from meaningful decision-making. But the revelations of CSEC and NSA espionage are nonetheless hastening the declining prestige and influence of Canada, the U.S. and Europe throughout Latin America and the Caribbean.

That decline comes at a time when the Haitian people are getting increasingly organized to confront the drift to authoritarian rule by the Martelly/Lamothe regime. Protests against government policy are frequent, and the situation prompted a number of Haitian popular and political organizations to organize a day-long conference (‘popular forum’) in Port au Prince on September  30 to discuss how a replacement government could be forged to replace the Martelly/Lamothe regime and begin to put the country on a path of progress. 

In a similar vein, there is new effort by 14 Caribbean countries to sue France and other European countries for the ravages of slavery. Haiti pioneered a similar effort ten years ago during the second presidency of Jean Bertrand Aristide when it initiated legal action against France at the World Court. (Not coincidentally, that legal action was cut short by the coup d’etat of 2004 during which France landed soldiers in the country, to support the coup, along with its allies in the U.S., Canada and Chile.)

Altogether, the stable regime ever since the 2010 earthquake of a locally pliant government and massive presence of police, military and aid agencies is looking less and less lasting. Haiti will inevitably join its fellow peoples of the region in forging a future free of imperial domination.

Roger Annis

Roger Annis

Roger Annis is a coordinator of the Canada Haiti Action Network (CHAN) and its Vancouver affiliate, Haiti Solidarity BC. He has visited Haiti in August 2007 and June 2011. He is a frequent writer and...