Global Policy Forum

Riots Expose Canada's Haiti Adventure as Sham


By Jooneed Khan*

Rabble News
May 21, 2008

The deadly food riots in Haiti have exposed Canada's doctrine of "Responsibility to Protect" (or R2P) for the Big Power, self-serving and interventionist pretext that it has been since a joint Canada-UN commission defined it in 2001.

Before R2P was endorsed by the 2005 World Summit and "reaffirmed" by the Security Council in 2006, Canada (with the US and France) had used it to topple the elected government of Haiti in February 2004.

This was in violation of the UN Charter and the OAS Democratic Charter.

The president was flown out under duress in the middle of the night to Central Africa. The prime minister was jailed for an alleged "genocide" which has never been proved in court. They were quickly replaced by nominees of the invading forces, who then went to the UN to get the occupation "legalized" and turn the mess over to the blue helmets.

The reasons invoked for Haiti were quite confused: to end "human rights violations," to replace a government "that could not ensure security," but also "to protect the president" whose very life was threatened by armed gangs marching on Port-au-Prince, the capital. "Regime change" in Haiti was in fact planned by the US well before the (expected) return of Jean-Bertrand Aristide to the presidency in 2000. France acted via the Francophonie: Aristide was claiming $21 billion from Paris for the "ransom of independence" Haí¯ti had to pay its former colonial master.

Regime change brought no security

With the cut-off of aid choking the government, a good chunk of civil society mobilizing with the business sector and disgruntled members of the former army training in the Dominican Republic next door, Canada launched the "Ottawa Initiative." At a meeting in January 2003, it was agreed that Aristide must go, and that Haiti was a "failed state" and had to be placed under trusteeship. But "regime change" by force did not bring "security" to Haiti. Though the official story claims otherwise, U.S. human rights groups reported increased violence, kidnappings and even massacres after the ouster of Aristide. Some killings were committed by UN forces, who turned their mandate into a hunt for Aristide's Lavalas supporters; others were carried out by armed gangs, sometimes within view of the UN and Haitian police.

The food riots of April 2008, in which at least five people were killed and scores injured across Haiti, point to a deeper, more pervasive "insecurity" which the R2P doctrine has also failed to stem: economic and social insecurity, which reached the boiling point as the price rise of food staples combined with diminishing incomes to trigger an explosion.

Indeed, R2P accelerated the decline of Haiti's economy and food production, engineered by World Bank and IMF "privatization" and "structural adjustment" programs. The occupation put Haiti in an economic straight jacket called the Interim Cooperation Framework (ICF), which then morphed into the Growth and Poverty Reduction Strategy (GPRS), tied to the usual IMF, World Bank and donor conditionalities.

René Préval in a straight jacket

Into this rigid framework stepped René Préval as (unexpected) president of Haiti in 2006. His election amid charges of vote rigging for his pro-donor rivals and demonstrations came as a compromise which the U.S., Canada and France accepted if a violent second round of voting was to be avoided. It also weakened Préval's hand, especially since his hastily built party, Lespwa (Hope), did not achieve absolute majority in either house of Parliament.

The former prime minister of Aristide (1991-1995) and former president (1996-2000), an agronomist who spent the second Aristide mandate helping peasants in his native village of Marmelade to grow high quality coffee and market it overseas at fair trade prices, was unable to extend this experiment nationwide. Haitian agriculture had been destroyed by heavily subsidized cheap imports, Preval was hostage to the ICF and GPRS and he did not have a working majority in Parliament. His first government, headed by Jacques í‰douard Alexis, an agricultural engineer and food technologist trained partly at Laval University, was a ramshackle combination of many parties with no single purpose, indeed working often at cross purposes. Alexis's cabinet became the scapegoat for the food riots and was toppled in the Senate where former Lavalas and anti-Lavalas members joined hands after an all-night cabal in a hotel in Port-au-Prince.

Marie Laurence Jocelyn Lassí¨gue, minister for women's rights, has lashed out publicly at this "plural government" and the "national paralysis" it caused. The riots gave Préval his first opportunity to challenge the "trusteeship" straight-jacket: "This crisis is the result of decades of economic mismanagement, it can only be solved by increasing national production," he said, as he brought in í‰ricq Pierre, an agronomist like himself who represented Haiti at the Inter-American Development Bank (IADB), to head a new government.

Violation of social and economic rights

Pierre wanted a "coalition government" united around a coherent program. He was voted down in the House on the technicality that the birth certificates of his grandparents were not genuine! Préval's own MPs voted against Pierre. In a press conference, Pierre accused the MPs of corruption and of bargaining for cabinet posts and for privileges. The crisis continues. Rioting could flare up at any time in a country where the bulk of the 8 million inhabitants survive on less than $1 a day and where the minimum wage is $1.45 a day. Neither Canada nor the U.S. nor France has talked of intervening in response to this crisis in the name of the R2P doctrine.

At the very least, argue Mark Weisbrot and Luis Sandoval, of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, Haiti's $1.6-billion foreign debt must be cancelled "without delay," as the impoverished country has to pay $44.5-million in debt service charges this year. Last June in Ottawa, Edmond Mulet, former head of the UN operation (MINUSTAH), asked that Canada write off Haiti's debt.

The "Responsibility to Protect" should not just be a visa for military interventions. It comprises a host of measures that allow people like the Haitians to enjoy their social and economic rights as well as their civil and political rights.

Olivier de Shutter, the Belgian who just took over from Swiss Jean Ziegler as UN Special rapporteur on the Right to Food, calls the global hunger crisis "a massive violation of human rights of at least 100 million people." De Shutter concludes: "If we had 100 million people arrested in a dictatorial regime, we'd be convening special sessions of the UN Human Rights Council. Every single one of these 100 million persons deserves the same degree of attention from the international community."

About the Author: Jooneed Khan is an international affairs reporter and analyst with La Presse in Montreal, who also contributes a column to

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