Jean-Bertrand Aristide, Haiti

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Canada organized an international gathering to discuss overthrowing Haiti’s elected government. On Jan. 31 and Feb. 1, 2003, Jean Chrétien’s Liberal government organized the “Ottawa Initiative on Haiti” to discuss that country’s future. No Haitian officials were invited to this assembly where high-level US, Canadian and French officials decided that Haiti’s elected president “must go”, the dreaded army should be recreated and that the country would be put under a Kosovo-like UN trusteeship. Prominent journalist Michel Vastel brought the gathering to public attention in the March 15, 2003, issue of l’Actualité, Quebec’s equivalent to Maclean’s magazine in an article titled “Haiti put under U.N. Tutelage?”

Thirteen months after the ‘Ottawa Initiative on Haiti’ meeting President Jean-Bertrand Aristide and most other elected officials were pushed out and a quasi UN trusteeship had begun. The Haitian National Police was also heavily militarized.

On February 5, 2004 the self-styled “intellectual author” of the armed rebellion against Haiti’s elected government, Paul Arcelin, met Liberal minister Pierre Pettigrew; Six days later ambassador Kenneth Cook cabled Ottawa that “President Aristide is clearly a serious aggravating factor in the current crisis” and that there is a need to “consider the options including whether a case can be made for the duty [responsibility] to protect”; 500 Canadian troops invaded Haiti as part of a US-led effort to oust Aristide.

After cutting off aid to Haiti’s elected government, Ottawa provided tens of millions of dollars in foreign aid to the installed government, publicly supported coup officials and employed numerous officials within coup government ministries. Haiti’s deputy justice minister for the first 15 months of the foreign-installed government, Philippe Vixamar, was on the Canadian International Development Agency’s payroll and was later replaced by another CIDA employee (the minister was a USAID employee). Paul Martin made the first ever trip by a Canadian prime minister to Haiti to support the post-coup dictatorship.

The foreign military intervention led to an unmitigated human rights disaster. In the three weeks after the coup at least 1,000 bodies were buried in a mass grave by the State Morgue in Port-au-Prince, a fact acknowledged by Lieutenant-Colonel Jim Davis, Commander of Canadian Forces in Haiti, during a July 29, 2004, media teleconference call. In the year and a half after the coup, investigations by the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti, the University of Miami, Harvard University and the National Lawyers Guild all found significant evidence of persecution directed at Aristide’s Lavalas movement.

The most authoritative account of the post-coup human rights situation was published in the prestigious Lancet medical journal. The August 2006 study revealed that there were an estimated 8,000 murders, 35,000 rapes and thousands of incidents of armed threats in the capital in the 22 months after the toppling of Aristide’s government. Of the 8,000 people murdered — 12 people a day — in the greater Port-au-Prince area, nearly half (47.7 percent) were killed by governmental or other anti-Aristide forces. 21.7 percent of the killings were attributed to members of the Haitian National Police (HNP), 13 percent to demobilized soldiers (many of whom participated in the coup) and 13 percent to anti-Aristide gangs (none were attributed to Aristide supporters and the rest were attributed to common criminals).

Throughout the March 2004 to May 2006 coup period the Haitian police killed peaceful demonstrators and carried out massacres in poor neighbourhoods, often with help from anti-Aristide gangs. Canadian troops and later police trainers often supported the Haitian police operations, usually by providing backup to the police killers. Canada commanded the 1,600-member UN police contingent mandated to train, assist and oversee the Haitian National Police.

There is some evidence that Canadian forces in Haiti participated directly in the political repression. The Lancet researcher noted above recounted an interview with one family in the Delmas district of Port- au-Prince: “Canadian troops came to their house, and they said they were looking for Lavalas [Aristide’s party] chimeres, and threatened to kill the head of household, who was the father, if he didn’t name names of people in their neighbourhood who were Lavalas chimeres or Lavalas supporters.” A January 2005 human rights report from the University of Miami quoted a Canadian police officer saying that “he engaged in daily guerrilla warfare.” Afghanistan and Haiti were cited by the Canadian Forces 2007 draft counterinsurgency manual as the only foreign countries where Canadian troops were participating in counterinsurgency warfare. According to the manual, Canadian Forces have been “conducting COIN [counter-insurgency] operations against the criminally-based insurgency in Haiti since early 2004.”