Canada in Haiti: Waging War on the Poor Majority
By Yves Engler and Anthony Fenton
Fernwood Publishing, 2005
Softcover, 256 pp., $12.95

While Canadian involvement in Afghanistan makes headlines, less well known is its role in Haiti. Last year, the Liberal government of Prime Minister Paul Martin announced that it will be playing a major role in rebuilding Haiti. In “Canada in Haiti: Waging War on the Poor Majority,” Yves Engler and Anthony Fenton expose Canadian government involvement in the overthrow of an elected government and supporting a repressive dictatorship in Haiti.

Like the U.S., the Canadian government disliked former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, who worked to improve the lives of the country’s poor. He built new schools and health clinics and doubled the minimum wage. Aristide dismantled Haiti’s caste system, which marginalized the poor, as well as dismantling the hated military. He also refused to privatize state-owned industries, which the U.S. demanded of him.

After the U.S.-backed opposition failed to defeat Aristide’s Fanmi Lavalas party in the 2000 elections, the U.S. pressured the World Bank to sever promised loans to the impoverished Caribbean island. The only help that Haiti could depend on were from foreign-funded nongovernmental organizations (NGOs).

However, some of these NGOs, funded by the U.S. government’s National Endowment for Democracy, were busy organizing opposition to the Aristide government. In fact, the authors point out, “Many, if not most members of the interim government worked at one time for one of the alphabet soup groups receiving U.S. government funding.” The Canadian Liberal government joined the struggle to oust Aristide, giving grants to NGOs that were hostile to the Aristide government.

Beginning in 2003, Canada went so far as convening a series of meeting in Ottawa with French and U.S. officials to discuss Aristide’s removal and an international trusteeship over Haiti. Denis Paradis, Canada’s secretary of state for Latin America and La Francophonie, leaked the first such meeting to journalist Michel Vastel. Engler and Fenton state that Ottawa used testimony from Canadian funded NGOs to justify the U.S. overthrow of Aristide.

When former members of Haiti’s disbanded army invaded Haiti from the Dominican Republic, the United Nations and Canada ignored requests from Aristide for military assistance to protect his government. After U.S. troops seized Aristide on Feb 29, 2004, and flew him into exile, Canada sent troops to Haiti to help secure the country and bolster the U.S.-installed interim government.

Engler and Fenton argue that far from supporting economic and social development and strengthening democracy in Haiti, Canada has contributed to the country’s descent into violence and chaos. Citing various human rights reports, the authors write that the human rights situation has become catastrophic on the island: the justice system has collapsed, prisons are full of political prisoners and the Haitian National Police (HNP) commit regular massacres in poor neighborhoods.

The Canadian government is supporting this state of affairs, playing a key role in the Haitian Ministry of Justice.

Furthermore, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police are leading the UN police mission in charge of training and overseeing the murderous HNP. Engler and Fenton are also critical of Canadian media coverage of Haiti, mentioning several examples of police massacres and human rights reports that were mentioned by the international press but ignored or downplayed by the Canadian media.

“Canada in Haiti: Waging War on the Poor Majority” is a well-written and well-researched primer on Canadian as well as U.S. involvement in Haiti.