When Jean-Bertrand Aristide took the presidency of Haiti in 2000, Canada, the U.S. and the EU turned off the foreign aid tap, citing irregularities in seven senatorial races.
Now, in the still hemorrhaging aftermath of a coup, Haiti's unelected interim leader, Prime Minister Gerard Latortue, finds himself flush with a World Bank loan of over $60 million and once-witheld dollars and Euros - including a $180 million promise from Canada.
If an irregularly elected president was cause for stinginess, why has a thoroughly unelected one been chosen for a shopping spree? That's a question haunting human rights advocates as they watch the Haitian National Police (HNP) fire on demonstrators, execute suspects and jail members of Aristide's popular Lavalas party without charges. Those willing to look can find almost daily reports of bloody raids by the HNP and the UN peacekeeping force, including a 1,600-strong CivPol contingent under the command of 100 RCMP officers.
"People are puzzled," says Jean Saint-Vil, a Haitian Canadian and member of Haiti Action Committee Canada. "They've never seen Canada act like this before."
Haiti is not a simple internal conflict, he tells me. "The guys who conducted the coup were in training for two years in the Dominican Republic." During that time, in late 2003, reps of the EU, France and the Organization of American States gathered in Canada to assert amongst themselves that Aristide had to go. The meeting was called the Ottawa Initiative.
A few months later, Canadian soldiers secured the Haitian airport from which Aristide departed, escorted by U.S. Marines, amidst street fighting stirred up by U.S.-funded business groups. Canadian police trained the HNP. "Canada has gone too far in to change course," says Saint-Vil. "It's invested in the coup."
And meeting Ottawa more than halfway is Haiti's new ambassador to Canada, Robert Tippenhauer, "part of the small minority who are white and wealthy," Saint-Vil says. Tippenhaeur left the Haitian-Canadian Chamber of Commerce to take the post. His nephew Hans Tippenhaeur, the entrepreneur behind PromoCapital, Haiti's first investment bank, is a member of the so-called Group of 184. Owners of most of Haiti's news media and beneficiaries of massive amounts of Washington funding, the group mounted a considerable pre-coup anti-Lavalas campaign.
The group's Canadian counterparts stand to benefit. Group of 184 leader Andy Apaid is the prime Haitian subcontractor for Montreal T-shirt dynasty Gildan Activewear. Citing a need to compete with the Chinese garment industry, Gildan is racing to the bottom in terms of wages, and has reached new depths in Haiti, where the minimum wage was raised by Aristide to 72 gourdes per day (about $2.11). Latortue plans to roll it back to 36
St. Genevieve Resources and its subsidiary KWG Resources, both Canadian, have begun mining exploration in Haiti. And SNC-Lavalin has secured a contract from the Haitian provisional government to construct roads.
"It's money-laundering," says Anthony Fenton, journalist and co-author of the forthcoming Canada In Haiti: Waging War Against The Poor Majority. "Once you invade a so-called failed state, you need to rebuild it, so contracts are doled out left and right."
The Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade says Canada's involvement will reform corruption, which existed well before Latortue. "There is a clear need to strengthen the capacity of the domestic police force," states a carefully worded response from DFAIT, forwarded by Cloe Rodrigue.
"The training offered by Canadian police aims at instilling the highest standards... in full respect of human rights. Canada's officials use every opportunity to convey to all stakeholders in Haiti our support for a constructive and sustainable solution."
But with most police operations targeting communities opposed to the transitional government, and with the RCMP deeply enmeshed, Canada isn't looking like a consensus-builder.
"After the election [proposed for November], whoever wins, there may be another coup,' says Saint-Vil. "There needs to be real reconciliation."