Catherine Hughes and Jackie McVicar
Canadian Soldiers in Haiti. Photo courtesy Combat Camera/DND/Flickr.
We have failed to respect the Haitian struggle for justice and self-determination
The Atlantic Regional Solidarity Network (ARSN), founded in 1981, works in solidarity with people standing up for self-determination, social justice and for the Earth in the Americas. We have been following Canada’s role in Haiti since 2004.
On March 20, 2021, the ARSN co-hosted a webinar entitled “Countering the Roots of Anti-Black Racism: From Atlantic Canada to Canada’s Complicity in the Crisis in Haiti.” Georges Gabrielle Paul, who spoke from Jérémie, Grand’Anse, Haiti told us about the situation Haitians were facing at the time, under the dictatorship of de facto President Jovenel Moise:
We are fighting for our survival. Like George Floyd we say we cannot breathe because of the knee of this dictatorship upon our necks. We cannot breathe because of the weight of the racism by the international community. Yes, we dare to be free. We challenge White supremacists. We demonstrated to the whole world that we reject the exploitation of human beings on the basis of skin colour. We did so long before the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was written. We issued this declaration at the cost of our blood. We want the world to know that as much as the Canadian, the French, the Americans, we Haitians are moun… if you want to translate moun it’s human being.
After the assassination of Moïse on July 7, 2021, Ariel Henry became Haiti’s new de facto prime minister, and the ongoing socio-political crisis worsened considerably. It became even more dangerous and more difficult for people to attain the necessities of life, and an organized system of kidnapping continued. Since early September 2022 people have been rising up across Haiti, calling for Henry to step down, for better living conditions, and for an end to imperial control by the Core Group.
The Core Group and Canada’s role
The Core Group in Haiti is made up of the Ambassadors of Canada, the United States, France, Germany, Brazil, Spain and the European Union, and Special Representatives of the United Nations Secretary-General and the Organization of American States (OAS).
Jemima Pierre, Haiti-America coordinator for the Black Alliance for Peace, refers to the United States, France, Canada and the Core Group “the biggest gangsters in Haiti.” In 2003, before the Core Group was officially formed, Canada hosted the “Ottawa Initiative on Haiti,” a series of meetings which began on January 31 and February 1, at Meech Lake and in Ottawa. At these meetings, representatives of the US, France, Canada, El Salvador, and the OAS discussed Haiti’s future without any Haitian officials being present. According to government documents obtained by Green Party MP Paul Manly through an Access-to-Information request, plans to oust Haiti’s democratically elected government were discussed.
A little more than a year later, on February 29, 2004, France, Canada and the US helped to overthrew the democratically elected Fanmi Lavalas government of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide. This occurred during a paramilitary insurrection in Haiti that was almost certainly backed by the US, in the form of training, supplies and military equipment provided to the insurgents. The Haitian government was replaced by a brutal dictatorship led by Prime Minister Gérard Latortue.
The Core Group and the UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) were formed by UN Security Council Resolution 1542 on April 30, 2004. Although the resolution document affirmed “its strong commitment to the sovereignty, independence, territorial integrity and unity of Haiti” and the stated mandate of MINUSTAH was in part to promote human rights and facilitate the democratic process in Haiti, MINUSTAH was in fact an occupation force. The stated purpose of the Core Group was “to facilitate the implementation of MINUSTAH’s mandate, promote interaction with the Haitian authorities as partners, and to enhance the effectiveness of the international community’s response in Haiti.”
During MINUSTAH’s 13-year mandate, it often assisted the Haitian National Police in attacks on poor neighbourhoods, where many supporters of Fanmi Lavalas lived. It was implicated in serious human rights violations, including a massacre of civilians during an incursion into the Cité Soleil neighbourhood of Port-au-Prince on July 5, 2005. There are reports that MINUSTAH soldiers and employees sexually assaulted, abused, and exploited Haitian women and children. What’s more, it is widely understood that MINUSTAH’s negligence caused a cholera outbreak in Haiti after the 2010 earthquake.
The Core Group works closely with the current UN entity in Haiti, the Integrated Bureau of the United Nations in Haiti (BINUH). The Core Group, and the countries and organizations with representation in it, have had inordinate influence over Haitian governance and economics since the Core Group was formed almost two decades ago. They have used their influence to maintain an extremely inequitable economic system, and have created a more favourable investment climate for textile factory owners, foreign apparel companies, and mining firms, among other business sectors. The imperial control that Haiti has been subjected to has led to dictatorship and corruption in Haitian governance, deep and entrenched inequality, violence, insecurity, and the inability of the state to carry out basic public functions.
Haitians have often been forced to flee their country by land and water due to the harsh and perilous living conditions they face. During the crisis in 2004 caused by the paramilitary insurrection and the coup, 905 people trying to leave Haiti in boats were intercepted by the US Coast Guard and sent back to Haiti between February 21 and March 6.
Now, during the dictatorship of Ariel Henry, more Haitians have been leaving their country to seek asylum, paying exorbitant prices to human smugglers to board overloaded boats that travel through dangerous waters. Between October 2021 and July 2022, the US Coast Guard stopped over 6,100 Haitian people travelling by boat from arriving in the US and sent them back to Haiti. On July 24, 2022, a boat carrying about 60 Haitian passengers attempting to reach the United States capsized off the coast of the Bahamas, causing the deaths of 17 people.
Canada supports a dictator in Haiti
There was no constitutional provision for Henry to be sworn in as prime minister in 2021, let alone assume the powers of president, as he has done. His leadership only became possible because the US and the Core Group decided to impose it on the Haitian people. After a US delegation made arrangements for Henry’s role as prime minister to be accepted by key political figures in Haiti, the Core Group posted a communique on the BINUH website calling for “Prime Minister designate Ariel Henry to form a ‘consensual and inclusive’ government.”
On October 7, 2022, after thousands of Haitians had taken to the streets to denounce the actions of his dictatorship, Henry requested international armed intervention. Henry’s request was widely denounced by Haitians, and it almost immediately sparked protest, to which the Haitian National Police responded violently, killing one or more people. Despite this violent state response, and the history of repression by the Haitian National Police against the civilian population in Haiti, Canada and the US responded urgently to Henry’s request. A Canadian company sold armoured vehicles to the Haitian government, which were delivered by the Canadian and US air forces on October 15, allegedly to “assist the [Haitian National Police] in their fight against criminal actors who are fomenting violence and disrupting the flow of critically needed humanitarian assistance, hindering efforts to halt the spread of cholera.” Protests quickly erupted against this delivery.
So far, there has not been a full scale foreign military intervention in response to Henry’s request. However, on January 10, 2023, during a televised discussion with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau at the North American Leaders Summit in Mexico City, US President Joe Biden announced, “Today we’re going to talk about how we can help stabilize Haiti.” This statement is alarming given the harmful impacts of the UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti between 2004 and 2017, and the US and Canada’s role in that “stabilization” through the Core Group, which had disastrous effects on life in Haiti.
Canada must respect the Haitian people in their struggle for justice and self-determination. As members of the ARSN, we strongly oppose the militarization of the Haitian National Police and any further steps toward military intervention, which could further escalate violence and entrench Core Group control against the will of the Haitian people.
We call on Canada to recognize the harm this country has perpetuated in Haiti since it hosted the first “Ottawa Initiative in Haiti” meeting twenty years ago, immediately leave the Core Group and refrain from committing the same tragic mistakes as it has in the past.
As a network, ARSN believes that national borders contribute significantly to global inequality and are harmful to people who try to cross them without the required documents. Efforts should be made to dismantle them globally. Until that happens, we call on Ottawa to take immediate action to facilitate safe, legal, and accessible asylum and status to Haitians forced to leave their home due to violence and insecurity. Canada, after all, holds significant responsibility for creating the conditions that cause many Haitians to flee.
The roots of the struggle
Haiti is the only nation on earth that was born out of a rebellion against slavery. More than 200 years ago a revolt of enslaved people and their allies in Saint Domingue, France’s richest plantation colony, led to the formation in 1804 of the independent nation of Haiti, named after the Indigenous Taino name for the island, Ayiti. The new constitution abolished slavery. While Haiti’s hard won independence inspired freedom seeking people from far and wide, it sparked a strong backlash from the US and European empires. In fact, France used warships in 1825 to extort a huge sum of money from Haiti, as “compensation” for the lost property of slaveholders.
In 2004, Haiti celebrated the bicentenary of its independence. Leading up to these celebrations, Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide demanded that France pay back US $21,685,135,571.48, the then-equivalent value of the indemnity that was paid to France, plus five percent annual interest.
Fanmi Lavalas, the ruling party, was formed out of the Lavalas Movement that had overthrown the Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier dictatorship in 1986. After a landslide victory in the democratic elections of 2000, in which a high proportion of the eligible electorate participated, this government came closer than ever to fulfilling the egalitarian and democratic dreams of the Lavalas movement.
Despite foreign efforts to destabilize it, the Fanmi Lavalas government was able to double the minimum wage, create employment opportunities that were taken up by thousands of people in economically disadvantaged neighbourhoods, increase educational opportunities, improve the provision of public health care, make investments in housing, and dramatically decrease the level of politically motivated violence. The February 29, 2004 coup by France, Canada and the US overthrew the entire government, made up of thousands of elected officials from all levels of government.
As is detailed in this article, the 2004 coup had horrendous consequences for life in Haiti and its effects are still being felt today. As members of the ARSN, we want Canada to stop taking actions that work against the Haitian people’s struggle for justice and self-determination.
In addition to the sources hyperlinked in the text, Peter Hallward’s Damming the Flood: Haiti and the Politics of Containment, published by Verso in 2010, was used extensively as a reference in the writing of this article.
Catherine Hughes is a longtime member of the Atlantic Regional Solidarity Network living in Kajipukwek, Mi’kma’ki, otherwise known as River John, Nova Scotia.
Jackie McVicar is a freelance writer and member of the Atlantic Regional Solidarity Network. She has accompanied human rights and social movements in Central America for the past 20 years