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Ottawa has given Haitians many good reasons not to like us

Canada is part of a coalition of foreign states that openly dictate to Haitian leaders

Canadian PoliticsLatin America and the Caribbean

Thousands of Haitians protest in Port-au-Prince to demand Prime Minister Ariel Henry’s ouster, October 2022. Photo by Dieu Nalio Chery.

A popular meme circulating among Haitians about a newly planned United Nations mission mockingly labels it MINUPAH (La Mission des Nations Unies pour la protection d’Ariel Henry). It’s a word play on MINUSTAH (La Mission des Nations Unies pour la stabilisation en Haïti), a peacekeeping mission which was imposed on the Caribbean nation from 2004 to 2017. Now, Haiti’s Prime Minister Ariel Henry, whose government has been on the receiving end of widespread protests in recent weeks, has called for a new UN military mission to protect his illegitimate rule. One can hardly miss the Canadian troops pictured in the image. There’s good reason for this.

Amid fierce protests against inflation and violence, demonstrators have twice marched on the Canadian embassy in Port-au-Prince since September. Even far away from the capital, one activist interviewed in the coastal commune of Petit-Goâve told a reporter Haitians refuse to continue living under an “imperialist and colonialist system” imposed by the US, France, Canada, the UN and the Core Group (composed of ambassadors from Germany, Brazil, Canada, Spain, the US, France, the European Union and representatives from the United Nations and the Organization of American States).

In Port-au-Prince last week a demonstrator carried a large wooden cross bearing placards reading “United States,” “France,” and “Canada.” Similar scenes were captured three weeks ago when protesters in Aux Cayes marched carrying a casket draped in the flags of the three Western nations, along with a photograph of Henry. Another meme circulating online shows an image of wild dogs—one labelled with a Canadian flag—devouring a lamb identified with Haiti’s bicolour standard.

The revolt against Henry’s corrupt government is just the latest in a string of instability going back many years. Several months ago, on May 18, dozens protested in front of the Canadian embassy in Port-au-Prince. One demonstrator repeatedly banged a rock on the gates. In early 2021, protesters rallied in front of the embassy chanting, “Canada go home.” In October 2019, Molotov cocktails were thrown at Canada’s diplomatic representative in the country, while a tire was set alight in front of the building. A Voice of America report claimed that protesters “attempted to burn down the Canadian Embassy.” A few days earlier rocks were thrown at Canada’s diplomatic outpost.

Protesters across Haiti regularly speak out against Canadian imperialism. The 2019 documentary Haiti Betrayed, which reveals how Canada conspired with the US and France in 2004 to topple the democratically-elected government of Jean-Bertrand Aristide, includes countless scenes of Haitians expressing indignant and emotional opposition to Ottawa’s role in the country. “We don’t have anything against Canada! Why are you against us?” cries one man featured in the film.

After Uruguay announced it was withdrawing its 950 troops from MINUSTAH in 2013, Haitian Senator Moïse Jean Charles took aim at the countries he considered most responsible for undermining Haitian sovereignty. Jean-Charles, Haiti’s most trusted opposition figure according to a 2019 poll, said, “Brazil, Argentina, and Uruguay are not the real occupiers of Haiti. The real forces behind Haiti’s military occupation—the powers which are putting everybody else up to it—are the US, France, and Canada, which colluded in the February 29, 2004 coup d’etat against President [Jean-Bertrand] Aristide. It was then they began trampling Haitian sovereignty.” Jean-Charles added, “we are asking the Americans, French, and Canadians to come and collect their errand boy because he cannot lead the country anymore.”

Days after I poured fake blood on then Foreign Affairs Minister Pierre Pettigrew’s hands and yelled “Pettigrew lies, Haitians die” during a June 2005 press conference on Haiti, Aristide was asked about the incident. In an interview from South Africa, he told Naomi Klein the Canadian government had Haitian “blood on its hands.” The ousted president added, “the coup, or the kidnapping, was led by the United States, France and Canada. These three countries were on the front lines by sending their soldiers to Haiti before February 29, by having their soldiers either at the airport or at my residence or around the palace or in the capital to make sure that they succeeded in kidnapping me, leading [to] the coup.”

For their part, left-wing weekly newspapers Haiti Progrès and Haiti Liberté have described Canada as an “occupying force,” and as an “imperialist” “coup supporter.” In one instance, the front page of Haiti Liberté showed a picture of former President René Préval next to then Prime Minister Stephen Harper and two Canadian soldiers. Part of the image caption read, “Préval under the surveillance of the occupying forces.”

Haitians’ are right to be angry at Canada. In the last two decades alone Canada helped destabilize Haiti’s elected government, planned a coup, and participated in an invasion to topple a president. Ottawa also trained and financed a highly repressive police force, enabling a litany of politically motivated arrests and killings. Canada also backed the exclusion of Haiti’s most popular party from participating in multiple elections and helped fix an election.

Following a devastating earthquake in 2010 Canada dispatched troops to control the country and later propped up a repressive, corrupt and illegitimate president facing massive protests. What’s more, Ottawa is part of a coalition of foreign representatives that openly dictate to Haitian leaders. Now it is leading the diplomatic push for a new foreign military intervention.

Haitians have every right not to like us because of what we’ve done.

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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