Haitian solidarity

By Sarelle Azuelos

Haitian people have suffered a history of almost constant violence and strife. Four years ago Canadian, French and U.S. forces, with support of the UN, held a military coup against the democratically elected then-leader Jean-Bertrand Aristide. Great debate surrounded the continuing involvement of foreign influences in Haiti’s government.

The Canada Haiti Action Network is hosting a solidarity demonstration on Fri., Feb. 29 to raise awareness of Haiti’s plight and hopefully encourage the Canadian government to respect the country’s sovereignty.

CHAN, founded in 2004 after the coup, is strongly opposed to the current involvement of Canada within Haiti and would like a change in approach. Their goal is to get Canadians to put pressure on the Canadian government because they believe that is were citizens have the most influence.

CHAN Calgary chapter coordinator Nell Thurlow organized the third-annual solidarity demonstration.

“The people of Haiti are a democratic force to be reckoned with,” said Thurlow. “In the face of armed invasion from Canada, the U.S., France and the UN, people still continue to come out by the thousands, into the street for a peaceful protest and demonstration even though they are killed and put in prison in horrifying numbers.”

After the coup of the Aristide government in 2004, Thurlow describe the temporary de facto government established by the UN and supported by Canada as committing countless human rights violations. Aristide was exiled to the Central African Republic and is now teaching in a South African university. Within four days of the coup, roughly 1,000 people were killed in the capital alone and many more across the country in the following months.

Fellow CHAN Calgary chapter coordinator Regan Boychuk explained he doesn’t support the reasoning for the coup. He claimed the U.S. felt antipathy to Aristide’s socially progressive policies such as raising minimum wage and increasing public services. Canada played a major part in organizing the coup, hosting a meeting in 2003 to discuss the removal of Aristide.

“Canada was quite involved in the media and government-funded and supported human rights organizations in demonizing the government of Haiti, [which] they were hoping to overthrow,” said Boychuk. “[They] claimed they had an atrocious human rights record and it was the international community’s obligation to step in and protect the people. We know for sure now that a large part of those charges against the Haitian government was simply fabricated.”

The University of Calgary’s Institute for United States Policy Research director Dr. Stephen Randall noted he believes the situation in Haiti did call for international intervention.

“The issue really was political stability and there was a legitimate reason for UN, Canadian and U.S. forces to go in,” said Randall. “We can blame the U.S. for a lot of things but it’s hard to blame them for everything in Haiti. This is not Iraq, it does not have huge oil resources. In fact, it has very little that appeals to capitalists on the whole.”

The 22-month interim government has since been replaced by democratically elected president Rene Preval, but CHAN members feel foreign nations are using financial aid as a means to influence Preval’s leadership. The current government faces vast amounts of debt and is dependent on foreign aid.

“Preval was elected by the people,” said Thurlow. “Yet his hands are tied by the continuing occupation and the dependence of Haiti on money from countries that perpetrated the coup.”

Boychuk explained that Preval has since begun massive privatization projects of previously public utilities and has passed laws friendly to foreign investors. The socially progressive works of former president have come to an end. According to Randall, Haiti was in a state where even the popular democratically elected Aristide government would face much hardship in trying to rid the nation of organized crime and the growing narcotics industry. Of the last 44 Haitian presidents, seven were able to serve their full term and only two peaceful transitions took place.

“Haitians exploit Haitians, we have to recognize that,” said Randall. “It really does need continued support.”

CHAN’s mandate seeks support from the Canadian government, but does not believe the current approach is most beneficial to Haitians.

“We want the debt cancelled, respect for Haitian sovereignty, all foreign troops and occupying personnel removed from Haiti immediately and aid given on fair terms, reparations paid for the harm that’s been done,” said Thurlow.

Randall argued that Canada has a positive role to play in the events unfolding in Haiti–both past and present.

“Canada has an important position in muting the more militaristic approach the U.S. takes,” he said. “I prefer a non-military direction and that’s where it’s going.”

He does not believe that CHAN’s desire to withdraw from Haiti would succeed in aiding the issue of sovereignty.

Through CHAN, Thurlow has organized a demonstration 4 p.m. Fri., Feb. 29 at the Harry Hays building. Everyone is welcome.

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