An Interview with Anthony Fenton on Haiti
1. We hear so little about Haiti in the mainstream media. Most networks don't even have correspondents there right now. What is the reality on the ground in occupied Haiti?
Tragically, the reality in Haiti is very much like the reality of Haiti in 1915, the Dominican Republic in 1965, and is similar in many ways to the long list of military interventions in the hemisphere since the U.S. became the dominant force. What’s being heavily suppressed is that, far from ‘bringing stability’ to Haiti, the imperialist intervention and subsequent installment and propping up of an illegitimate regime is having dire consequences for Haiti’s mostly impoverished masses. Continued political persecution of anyone, and specifically leaders, known to be associated with the Lavalas political party, or of those who are pro-Constitutionalist generally, is the norm. It has been reported that Haiti’s jails and penitentiaries are full of these types of political prisoners.
Fewer children are able to go to school, peasants are having their land stolen from them by former landowners who will likely re-impose feudal conditions on them, and the cost of living has skyrocketed. On top of this the dreaded Haitian military is doing its best to be formally reinstituted and this is not being seriously opposed by any of the other forces operating in Haiti, as per, so it seems, the original plan as hatched by the “imperial community.”
2. What political groups or tendencies are opposing the occupation in Haiti, and what are they demanding?
The most active and vocal groups in Haiti have been consistently demonstrating against the occupation and for the return of Constitutional rule, or, the return of Aristide. They have done this despite facing severe repression since February 29. They’ve also been demanding the release of political prisoners. I’d also say that they’re demanding that the citizens of the imperial countries who stole democracy from them do what is necessary to hold their governments to account for this miscarriage of justice. Certainly these Haitians are vehemently opposed to the return of the murderous army and will, rightly, oppose this. But they need voice to do this, voice that is currently being silenced through repression, illegal detainment, and the like, not to mention the predictably duplicitous role of the media.
3. You have written extensively of Canada's involvement in the regime change in Haiti. What was Canada's role in Aristide's ouster?
Canada is perhaps as deeply involved in Aristide’s ouster as any client government has been historically in assisting the U.S. in enforcing Monroe Doctrine-like principles in the hemisphere, and this includes the present cover-up that is being undertaken. Diplomatically, as the Jean Chretien regime was wringing their hands in the face of popular opposition over their potential role in the ‘coalition of the willing’ in Iraq, they were helping to plan regime change in Haiti. Three weeks before regime change, on February 5, Pierre Pettigrew consorted with rebel “mastermind” Paul Arcelin, who had previously been arrested for plotting a coup in 2003. Pettigrew also has strong ties to Gildan Activewear, Hydro Quebec, and other corporations that stand to benefit from a government that is willing to follow the “American Plan” in Haiti. Just the person we want as Minister for Foreign Affairs.
Since the coup, Canada has helped prop up the puppet regime and has actively prevented the realities of post-coup Haiti from being heard or seen by the ‘mainstream’ Canadian public. The Canadian Commander of ‘Task Force Haiti’ deliberately evaded questions about extensively documented human rights abuses that took place while Canadian soldiers were still occupying the country. Among other things as well, Canadian NGOs such as “Development and Peace,” “Rights and Democracy,” and “FOCAL,” helped foment the demonization and destabilization campaign against the elected government, and are aiding and abetting this massive cover-up.
4. What specifically have you been able to uncover regarding the Ottawa Initiative on Haiti meeting?
Not much beyond what Michel Vastel exposed originally on March 15, 2003, in L’Actualite. That, according to Denis Paradis and the French government, a Kosovo-like “tutelage” for Haiti was discussed, along with the return of the Haitian armed forces, and, of course, the ouster of Aristide. Paradis recanted what he said not long after Vastel wrote his piece, and again recently denied that "regime change” was planned in Ottawa. Paradis reveals, however, in my recent interview with him, that “the responsibility to protect” is a theme that was discussed, which is part of a new language and dialogue that imperialists are developing to help justify and legitimate imperialist interventions in so-called “failed states,” by way of the “tutelage” concept discussed in Ottawa in January 2003.
5. What are the causes of this so-called failed state, of Haiti's poverty, which is the worst in the western hemisphere?
That’s the thing: those forces who deem Haiti to have failed are the same forces that brought about Haiti’s “failure,” by destabilizing the government, seeking to divide the electorate, and the Left, by hammering away at public opinion with mountains of mis or disinformation and propaganda, and by starving the country of desperately needed economic aid and loans. There is also a tiny elite in Haiti that controls most of the economy and in so doing prefer to have Haitians uneducated, illiterate, and impoverished. Canadian “development assistance” to Haiti began under the Duvalier dictatorships, so we can see, historically, the kind of “development” that has led to Haiti’s perpetual “failure” and extreme poverty.
6. How is Canada's role in Haiti related to changes in Canada's overall foreign policy direction?
Canada has deep colonial roots, so it really only took the ‘right’ circumstances, such as a ‘war on terror’, to begin to bring these latent imperial instincts to the surface. Ottawa is being more or less explicit as they go about legislating Canada’s commitment to the Bush administration’s “war on terror.” For example, with nary a murmur of criticism, Canada tabled its first-ever National Security Policy in April, styled on the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. These developments are also in accordance with the ‘recommendations’ of the corporate community, primarily speaking, defense contractors who know that Ottawa has to be in lockstep with the U.S. if they are to profit from the windfall accompanying the perpetual ‘war on terror.’
Clearly, Canada is becoming a more overt security state, and is thus far, if somewhat silently, doing all of the things necessary to achieve this: spending more money on security, increasing the size of the Canadian forces, and creating the conditions whereby dissent against this increasing militarism will not be tolerated. As stated, I’m not sure if Canada has ever been so heavily involved in an illegal intervention abroad such as in Haiti. So this is all quite indicative of where Canada is headed; it’s not un-coincidental, mind you, that Canada, being a settler-state with a penchant for the internal colonization of Native peoples, has been able to make the smooth “transition” to overt imperial/G-8 power abroad.
7. What actions should be being taken by those who are opposed to Canada's participation in the ouster of Aristide, and in the occupation of Haiti today?
It’s useful to remember that the Chretien and Martin regimes have carried these things out in Canadians’ names. For those who are working to expose this and to somehow help end this brutal imperialist occupation, – carried out or supported by militaries, CIA-trained death squads, and some NGOs – we have to ask ourselves how can we hold the government(s) to account for these actions? Has the Canadian Left ever successfully held the government accountable for similar crimes? We must learn from previous experience, here and elsewhere, and allow it to inform our tactics and strategies.
Clearly, we have to pressure people, media outlets, and/or political parties that are in a position to give a wider voice to the horrific realities in Haiti today. If these imperialists are never forced to acknowledge their culpability in these crimes, then they cannot be held accountable. They know this and it informs their actions; accordingly, it should inform ours as well. Canadians can also arrange delegations to go to Haiti, help organizations that are taking great risks documenting the human rights and other abuses, and help educate people in their communities, reach out to their MPs, etc. The anti-war movement in Canada, especially given the extent of Ottawa’s involvement, might consider means by which they can help elevate the level of public consciousness on these issues.
Anthony Fenton is a Canadian writer who recently visited and has written about Haiti for ZNET. Read The Dominican Daily Weblog's interviews with Fenton about his trip. Derrick O'Keefe writes for Seven Oaks, "a magazine of politics, culture and resistance," where this article first appeared.
Anthony Fenton will be speaking at a September 30 screening of two documentaries on Haiti by Kevin Pina, "Harvest of Hope" and "We Will Bend but We Will Not Break." The event, hosted by the StopWar Latin America and Caribbean solidarity committee, starts at 7p.m. at the Chilean Coop, 3390 School Ave., Vancouver.
Other Articles by Anthony Fenton