Has Canada contributed to ongoing unrest in Haiti?
On July 7th of this year, the world was shocked to learn of the assassination of the President of Haiti Jovenel Moïse by unknown assailants. At the time of this print, the reasons for the killing remain unclear. We at PERC extend our condolences to the family of the late President.
That being said, some Canadians may also be surprised to learn that Jovenel Moïse was increasingly governing Haiti in a dictatorial manner, asserting the powers of the Presidency long after other institutions of the state had declared his Presidential term as expired. Many Canadians may further be shocked to learn that Canadian foreign policy has not only been supportive of Moïse as he had asserted dictatorial powers, but has also been supportive of anti-democratic movements in Haiti for some time.
As far back as 2003, Canada hosted the "Ottawa Initiative on Haiti" welcoming U.S. and French governments in a discussion regarding overthrow of Haiti's then-President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, while not involving actual Haitian officials in said discussion. Thirteen months later Aristide would resign the Haitian Presidency amidst the presence of American and Canadian troops in his country, a resignation that he would allege would be the result of kidnapping and extortion by American troops.
Over the years between Aristide's "resignation" and the calamitous earthquake and beyond, Canada has remained a recurring military presence in Haiti albeit alongside UN forces. One would be strained to recall a world leader ever suggesting that Haiti has ever been a security threat to international peace similar to the likes of North Korea or Iran, yet Haiti has been uniquely host to a large military presence (or occupied?) all the same. Where Canadian soldiers have not been present in Haiti, Canadian police or funding have been committed to train and support Haitian police forces.
Fast forward to February of this year. The Canadian Foreign Policy Institute drafted a letter to the Prime Minister which cast doubt upon President Moïse's legitimacy, accused the Haitian government of repressing opposition protests and setting the stage for violence, and pleaded the Government of Canada to stop offering material support to Haitian police and diplomatic support to its President. The letter was signed by over 150 activists and artists such as Naomi Klein, David Suzuki, Noam Chomsky, and Stephen Lewis. Their pleas were ignored.
At worst, it would seem that Canadian foreign policy towards Haiti has been colonial in motive, undermining popular Haitian democracy for the sake of imposing Haitian leadership more likely to protect Canadian interests in cheap Haitian labour or minable resources. At best, it would seem that Canadian foreign policy towards Haiti has been guided by the motive of unsolicited paternalism, a notion that Canadian bureaucrats know what is best for Haitians' own country. Or that Canadian policy in Haiti is based upon simple appeasement of American interests there.
If Haiti's own security forces were involved in the killing of Jovenel Moïse (his own security detail was left untouched by the attack), it would be to Canada's shame if those security forces had any support or training from Canadian officials. The mere possibility of that being the case is cause for serious reflection on Canada's Haiti policy.
Canadian foreign policy is obliged to learn from its mistakes. Past Canadian involvement in Haiti clearly has not led to a more democratic and peaceful state in that country, so it is long past time for Canada to do differently.
It is time for Canada to take a hands-off approach from Haiti and let Haitians choose their political future for themselves, or else to decide Haitian policy primarily based upon the feedback of Haitian civil society. Else the assassination of Jovenel Moïse will mark the beginning, not the end, of many further political and civilian tragedies in Haiti's future.