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Canada’s role in the ‘Core Group’ is weakening Haitian democracy

Multilateral group is accused of meddling in Haiti’s affairs and contributing to its instability

Canadian PoliticsLatin America and the Caribbean

A supporter of Jean-Bertrand Aristide, Haiti’s first democratically elected president, during election day rallies, Port au Prince, November 28, 2010. Photo by mediahacker/Flickr.

It is remarkable how easily the Canadian government gets away with meddling in foreign elections throughout the Global South.

Unbeknownst to most progressives, Canada is part of a secretive colonial and imperial alliance in Haiti known as the “Core Group”—made up of ambassadors from Germany, Brazil, Canada, Spain, the United States, France, and the European Union—that has deepened the country’s political crisis and pushed through elections denounced by independent observer missions as fraudulent.

The Core Group has heavily shaped Haitian affairs ever since American, French and Canadian troops assisted in the overthrow of the country’s elected government in 2004 and installed a United Nations occupation force. The Core Group has also overseen the erosion of Haitian political life as highlighted by Saturday’s kidnapping of 16 American and one Canadian Christian missionaries. Five days earlier, 100 Haitians were reportedly kidnapped in one morning in the Port au Prince neighbourhood of Martissant and in July the de facto president was assassinated in his home with the involvement of members of his government.

In Rebuilding Haiti: Between Hope and the Imperial Trident, former Organization of American States (OAS) special representative to Haiti, Ricardo Seitenfus, details the Core Group’s role in an “electoral coup” that brought the ruling clique to power. Seitenfus suggests the Core Group “decided who the next president of Haiti would be before the elections even took place” in November 2010 and during the subsequent runoff.

As part of foreign pressure, the Core Group discussed expelling sitting President René Prevál from the country days after the first round of elections, which the foreign powers pressed for despite the devastating January 2010 earthquake and ensuing cholera outbreak. The head of the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH), Edmond Mulet, gave Préval 48 hours to leave the country, reports Seitenfus. “Prevál will have to leave the presidency and abandon Haiti,” to which “Préval responded to Mulet by saying ‘he is not [twice ousted President Jean-Bertrand] Aristide, but that he is Salvador Allende’”—Chile’s first socialist president, who died in office during a coup in 1973.

The pressure was part of the Core Group’s bid to make Michel Martelly president. A supporter of the 1991 and 2004 coups against elected president Jean-Bertrand Aristide, Martelly was a member of the Duvalier dictatorship’s notorious Tonton Macoute, a violent paramilitary unit created in 1959 by François “Papa Doc” Duvalier. As president, Martelly surrounded himself with former Duvalierists and death squad leaders who’d been arrested for rape, murder, kidnapping and drug trafficking.

The Core Group backed Martelly throughout his mandate even after he failed to hold elections. In response to the dissolution of parliament in January 2015, the Core Group expressed “trust that the Executive… will act with responsibility and restraint.” But Martelly ruled by decree for a year and his thugs violently disrupted the August 2015 legislative election.

Regardless, the Core Group helped Martelly impose Jovenel Moïse as his successor in elections that prompted rioting and a rerun. As mass protests erupted against Moise’s corruption and austerity in July 2018 the Core Group defended him, and condemned protesters for “seeking to provoke the resignation of legitimate authorities.”

After Moïse was killed in July the Core Group effectively determined the country’s replacement through a press release. When the US special representative to Haiti resigned in protest over Washington’s policy towards that country, Daniel Foote alluded to the Core Group’s anti-democratic intervention on behalf of Henry. His September 22 letter noted, “Last week, the US and other embassies in Port-au-Prince issued another public statement of support for the unelected, de facto Prime Minister Dr. Ariel Henry as interim leader of Haiti, and have continued to tout his ‘political agreement’ over another broader, earlier accord shepherded by civil society.”

The Core Group formally came to life with a UN Security Council resolution 17 years ago. That resolution replaced the two-month-old Multinational Interim Force with MINUSTAH, led by the US, France and Canada. Unofficially, the Core Group traces its roots to the 2003 “Ottawa Initiative on Haiti” meeting where US, French, OAS and Canadian officials discussed overthrowing Haiti’s elected government and putting the country under UN trusteeship. The Canadian minister who oversaw the meeting, Denis Paradis, justified intervening partly due to fear of population growth, labeling it “a time bomb which must be stopped immediately.” Another factor driving the Ottawa Initiative was the 200-year anniversary of Haitian independence. The independence celebration heightened the racist contempt directed at Haiti since the country’s 1791-1804 revolution dealt a crushing blow to slavery, colonialism and white supremacy.

While Haiti was born in revolt against some of the most extreme racism ever known, the Core Group was formed in reaction to the impoverished Black majority of Haitians electing a social democratic government in 2000. The Core Group’s primary objective is to keep Haiti at the bottom of a highly unequal global order. In economic terms, Haiti is an ultra-low wage sweatshop hub, which also serves as a sort of “reserve army of labour” for North American capitalists.

A few media outlets have reported recently on Solidarité Québec-Haiti and others calling on Canada to withdraw from the Core Group. But the demand has garnered little traction in official politics. During the recent federal election, the NDP explicitly endorsed Canadian participation in the Core Group while former Global Affairs diplomat turned Green Party leader, Annamie Paul, ignored the subject.

The least Canadian activists should do is educate themselves about their country’s meddling in the affairs of foreign states. There is no justification for Canada participating in this nakedly imperialist alliance. All Canadians of conscience owe a debt of solidarity to the people of Haiti—we must demand Ottawa immediately withdraw from the Core Group.

Yves Engler has been dubbed “one of the most important voices on the Canadian Left today” (Briarpatch), “in the mould of I.F. Stone” (Globe and Mail), and “part of that rare but growing group of social critics unafraid to confront Canada’s self-satisfied myths” (Quill & Quire). He has published nine books.

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