Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Haiti: Poverty’s Abstract

A Brief Contextual History in the Age of Disinformation
By Jason Chesworth

(Originally published: Scene and Heard 2004)

Although the foreign policy of any country must from time to time be adapted to changing circumstances, there are in it continuing threads which represent the ideals, as well as the interests, of a people. A knowledge of past policy is therefore of value not only to scholars who study and interpret Canadian history but also to those who seek a broader understanding than a knowledge of current events can provide.

- Paul Martin Sr., Former Secretary of State for External Affairs

Haiti Flag

On February 29th 2004, The United States sponsored its third coup d’etat in as many years. With the approval of the international community, democratically elected Haitian president Jean Bertrand-Aristide was removed from office on the premise of restoring democracy and putting an end to government corruption.

Adding to the internal woes of the Haitian people, the country was devastated by Tropical Storm Jeanne in late September leaving an estimated 1,500 dead and another 1,250+ missing and presumed dead. Compare that number to the 6 fatalities in Florida from the very same storm, and you are left with some very difficult questions that do not lead to any hard or fast answers. To be sure, the environmental disaster visited upon a third world country by a single storm cannot be attributed to the policies imposed by foreign nations alone, but the two realities are not mutually exclusive.

Claude Lalande, a retired RCMP corporal who served as part of the Canadian-led UN peacekeeping mission in Haiti in 1995 stated, “The infrastructure was not there for them (the Haitian people) to progress.” Lalande spent six months in the impoverished country recruiting and monitoring the training of a new Haitian Police Force during Aristide’s restoration to power after his first ouster in 1991. “I left Haiti frustrated,” he said, “I was mad. I knew this country would not do well for itself.” Nearly ten years later, the country that Lalande worked so hard to assist has been pushed further into repression and widespread violence.

Writer-Researcher, Anthony Fenton, explained candidly, “‘Keeping the peace’ under the present circumstances means silencing Haiti's majority political party, Family Lavalas, which is also the party of deposed President Jean Bertrand Aristide. Some 25,000 of these people are reportedly targeted for ‘pacification’ or ‘extermination’.”

Canada’s involvement in Haiti has surfaced in the mainstream media in terms of advertising Economic and Foreign aid packages. Fenton puts it in perspective by saying Canadian involvement goes “as far back as the 1950s when Canadian mining companies were exploring to see what was left of Haiti to plunder. By the end of the 1960s, Canada had established a good relationship with the brutal dictatorship of Papa Doc Duvalier, only to set up formal relations with his equally brutal son, Baby Doc, by 1973.”

Fenton continued: “In the more recent period leading up to Aristide's overthrow, Canadian policy was in lockstep with that of the U.S. to the extent that Canada hosted a January 2003 meeting during which the very UN ‘tutelage’ that is underway in Haiti was discussed.”

Both Fenton and Lalande, each having witnessed the day-to-day Haitian reality firsthand, are sceptical of Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Pierre Pettigrew’s recent statement that he doesn’t see much more to do in terms of additional aid. Lalande chalked it up to “a case of keeping head in sand”. Fenton on the other hand charged that, “Pettigrew will continue to play this game as it unfolds... History will judge them on this if the public is not able to in the present tense. Another reason Pettigrew says such things is due to the impunity that he enjoys; most Canadians haven't a clue as toward what is really happening in Haiti, and are therefore in no position to challenge Pettigrew on such claims.”

Haiti has become a blueprint for Privatization and Policy-based lending. That blueprint can be seen across the globe today in countries that have been forced to accept loans at the expense of decision-making and self-determination. Loans are not only being paid with interest; they are lent with the demand of lowered tariffs and foreign control of natural resources. Haiti is not only the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere it is a brutal reflection of how we treat our poor.

Courtesy image

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