Dan Nardone joined us with some audio he recorded at the Anti-Prorogation Rally at City Hall Square in Windsor on January 23rd. We covered that in the first half of the program.
Interview with Anthony Fenton on Haiti: Fenton is a Canadian-based independent researcher and journalist. He is the co-author of Canada in Haiti: Waging War on the Poor Majority. His work has been published by Asia Times, The Dominion, Foreign Policy in Focus, IPS, Mother Jones, Upside Down World, THIS Magazine, and others. He joined us in the second half hour of the show.
Listen to the Program here: 68-The_Shake_Up-20100127-1200-t1264593600
“That the US and France undermined Aristide is not a fringe opinion. The Caribbean Community (CARICOM) and the African Union have called for a formal investigation into his removal. ‘Most people around the world believe that Aristide’s departure was at best facilitated, at worst coerced by the US and France,’ Gayle Smith, a member of the National Security Council staff under Clinton, recently said.
Why such animus towards Haiti’s leader? Taking up the question of the historic French debt, Aristide declared that France ‘extorted this money from Haiti by force and . . . should give it back to us so that we can build primary schools, primary healthcare, water systems and roads.’ He did the maths, adding in interest and adjusting for inflation, to calculate that France owes Haiti $21,685,135,571.48 and counting. This figure was scoffed at by some of the French, who saw the whole affair as a farce mounted by their disgruntled former subjects; others, it’s increasingly clear, were insulted or angered when the point was pressed in diplomatic and legal circles.
Still, Aristide kept up the pressure. The figure of $21 billion was repeated again and again. The number 21 appeared all over the place in Haiti, along with the word ‘restitution’. On 1 January this year, during the bicentennial celebrations, Aristide announced he would replace a 21-gun salute with a list of the 21 things that had been done in spite of the embargo and that would be done when restitution was made. The crowd went wild. The French press by and large dismissed his comments as silly, despite the legal merits of his case. Many Haitians saw Aristide as a modern Toussaint l’Ouverture, a comparison that Aristide did not discourage. ‘Toussaint was undone by foreign powers,’ Madison Smartt Bell wrote in Harper’s in January, ‘and Aristide also had suffered plenty of vexation from outside interference.’”
Where is Haiti’s government?
As Haitians scramble to get their lives back in order, many observers are wondering what has happened to the country’s government, which has had an unusually low profile since the Jan. 12 earthquake.
“We have a vacuum of government,” Michèle Pierre-Louis told The New York Times. The 62-year-old Pierre-Louis was Haiti’s prime minister for just over a year, until November 2009 when she was ousted by the country’s Senate in a power play.
“The big question,” she says, “is ‘Who’s in charge?’ We don’t feel as though there is someone organizing all this.”
Since the earthquake, René Préval, Haiti’s president, has “been largely invisible to his countrymen,” Tracy Wilkinson reported in The Los Angeles Times.
Preval has met with some foreign leaders and spoken with the international press but, 10 days on, he has yet to address the Haitian people, an absence that seems to have left many if not most Haitians wondering if there is a government at all.
An earthquake victim
Of course the government was hard hit by the destruction. Many of its offices and Belle Époque-style buildings are ruined. Five ministry headquarters were completely destroyed.
Here’s how Michel Chancy, the Haitian official coordinating relief, described that situation last week. “The palace fell,” he told the New York Times.
“Ministries fell. And not only that, the homes of many ministers fell. The police were not coming to work. Relief agencies collapsed. The UN collapsed. It was hard to get ourselves in a place where we could help others.”
The families of people in government suffered as well. Cabinet ministers lost close family members and homes. At least two senators died.
Still the earthquake’s havoc is only part of the story. For the other part — the state of the government before 4:53 p.m. on January 12 — we should probably start with René Préval’s relationship with his charismatic and controversial predecessor Jean-Bertrand Aristide.
Préval and Aristide
In the 1980s René Préval and Michèle Pierre-Louis owned a bakery in Port-au-Prince that provided free bread to 25,000 slum children.
That generosity led to a friendship with Aristide, then a radical priest with a belief in what is called “liberation theology” who was working in the slums as well.
After Aristide was elected president in 1990, Préval became his prime minister.
Both men were forced into exile by a military coup the next year. (The bakery, by the way, was burned down.)
Aristide was returned to power in 1994, with U.S. help.
When his term ended, Préval, with Aristide’s backing, was elected to the presidency in January 1996. Haitian presidents cannot serve consecutive terms.
Remarkably, Préval was able to serve his full five-year term, even though his opponents in Haiti saw him as Aristide’s reform-minded surrogate.
During that first term, he privatized government enterprises, changed land ownership rules and pushed for investigations into abuses by the former military leaders.
Préval was succeeded by the more popular Aristide, who won the election in 2000. Four years later, however, Aristide was overthrown once again.
A new president, George W. Bush, was in the White House and this time Washington wanted change. The U.S. role in Aristide’s overthrow was examined in a New York Times-CBC investigative documentary that aired in 2006.
Aristide opponents formed a band of 200 or so armed Haitian rebels, led by an accused death squad leader.
Aristide and his party Fanmi Lavalas (FL), meanwhile, “relied on intimidation, violence and corruption to maintain themselves in power,” Alex Dupuy writes in his 2007 book on Aristide, The Prophet and Power.
“But if Aristide and the FL subverted democracy,” Dupuy adds, “so too did the organized opposition, the Haitian bourgeoisie and their foreign allies.”
Haiti had no army and Haiti’s corrupt and lightly armed police provided little resistance to the rebels.
Within a few weeks Aristide was once again on his way into exile, this time in Africa, on a plane chartered by the U.S. Government.
Canada, the U.S. and France, with UN backing, oversaw the formation of a new government.
What followed was two years of repression, chaos, lawlessness and severely dysfunctional government.
Haiti was “paralyzed by kidnappings, assassinations and economic collapse,” according to the New York Time’s Walt Bogdanich, who reported the documentary (and co-wrote an accompanying feature). Then came the election of 2006.
That was the situation when Préval started his second term as president in 2006. His popular victory was eventually and grudgingly accepted by the Haitian elite and those foreign governments that had wanted Aristide out. It could not be easy governing between the divergent interests over Haiti’s future. And disappointment quickly followed.
Préval “seems indecisive,” The Economist magazine wrote in 2009.
Canada’s minister of state of foreign affairs, Peter Kent, voiced similar concerns last year. He talked of frustration in dealing with Haitian officials in an interview with the Ottawa Citizen. Kent told her Préval’s government is afraid of “sticking their necks out.”
“We also have to convince the government to lead, not to sit in power and let the foreign agencies, NGOs and security services do all the work,” he said.
However, real authority in Haiti was in the UN’s hands.
As of November, the UN’s Haiti operation, MINUSTAH, had 9,065 uniformed personnel in Haiti (mostly supplied by Brazil) and 2,000 civilian staff.
Although catastrophic, conditions were improving, according to some observers at least.
Gang violence and crime were lessening (the murder rate is half that of the Dominican Republic, according to the latest statistics).
There was also modest economic growth. Investment was up and former U.S. president Bill Clinton took on the job of UN Special Envoy to Haiti last May.
On the heels of the earthquake, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton summed it up this way: “We had donors lined up. We had private businesses beginning to make investments.
“There was so much hope about Haiti’s future, hope that had not been present for years,” she said. “And along comes Mother Nature and just flattens it.”
Despite these improvements, however, the political situation remained tense under Préval.
In the 2006 election, his support was widely interpreted as a vote for Aristide’s return, but the Haitian government has still not agreed to this because it views the former president as a polarizing figure. There would also be concerns about what might happen to aid money from foreign governments.
Aristide “remains, by every credible indicator the most popular, most inspiring politician in the country,” Haiti expert Peter Hallward, a Canadian now teaching at Middlesex University in the U.K.
However, Thomas Donnelly, director of the Centre for Defence Studies at the American Enterprise Institute, thinks Aristide will “likely be a disruptive factor amongst the international community, so it seems to me that a rapid return by Aristide can only complicate and obscure the prospects for reconstruction.”
Aristide’s party, Fanmi Lavalas, was excluded from Senate elections last year. That led to a turnout of just 11 per cent.
The Electoral Council has also barred Lavalas, which is seen as the most popular (and populist) political force in Haiti, from competing in the 2010 elections.
For many Haitians, those moves called into question their government’s legitimacy.
Speaking during a panel discussion on CBC Radio’s The Current, Donnelly said it is critical “to get a genuinely legitimate government established in Port-au-Prince and by that I mean one that reflects the will of the Haitian people but also meets the test that any government legitimacy would require — transparency in its actions, no corruption, so on and so forth.
“And I think that this offers an opportunity to sweep away the political rubble along with the physical rubble.”
Government corruption is a huge concern in Haiti, as it is with donor governments.
On Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index, the gold standard for international comparisons, Haiti tied for 168th out of 180 countries.
With a government “riddled with corruption,” The Washington Post’s Scott Wilson writes, “Many Haitians now express the conflicting impulse to see their government in action at a time of crisis while wanting to make sure it is denied access to international aid for fear it will be stolen.”
FEATURING: Danny Glover, Peter Hallward, and Anthony Fenton contribute to breaking down the media avoidance of Haiti’s history of foreign intervention. According to Hallward, Haiti’s poverty can be explained as a series of foreign responses to the independence and strength of the Haitian people, but since the media doesn’t acknowledge this, they are forced to propose weakness and bad luck as the sources of Haiti’s poverty. Glover adds that without the history, we are prone to misunderstanding and the blaming of the victim, which in some cases serves to absolve us of our own responsibility for the situation. Fenton reminds that it’s not only the U.S. that has taken part in undermining democracy in Haiti, in recent years Canada has played a very significant role, among others <<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<
Murray Dobbin, now living in Powell River, BC, is one of Canada’s most popular progressive political commentators and analysts and has been a journalist, broadcaster, author and social activist for over forty years. He is a board member and research associate with the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, and former executive board member of the Council of Canadians. He is also a senior advisor to the Rideau Institute on International Affairs.
Posted on January 25, 2010 by murraydobbin
Stephen Harper has reaped a whirlwind of protest for his shutting down of Parliament. The brilliant strategist is, of course, also a malignant anti-democrat and his contempt for democracy, Canadians, and anyone who has the temerity to disagree with him has again tripped up his clever manipulation of the system. Perhaps this cynical prorogation was the straw that broke the camel’s back. After four years of countless examples of running roughshod over democratic traditions and principles, Canadians, who are slow to anger, have had enough.
The result is the most encouraging political development in twenty years, since the broad movement against free trade in 1987-88. That movement successfully tapped into Canadian core values, brought together social justice organizations, labour and other civil society groups and won the hearts and minds of Canadians on the issue (only to be defeated by the first-past-the-post electoral system in the ‘88 election).
But that time the opposition was initiated, organized and funded by labour, the churches and social justice organizations. This time it has been purely spontaneous — begun by a Facebook member who simply wanted to express his anger (see today’s Tyee interview with Chris White). Today, while there are still lots of organizations, there are no genuine movements. After years of slow decline all of the movements which once commanded attention (as opposed to demanding it) have faded into obscurity — especially for the general population these movements used to influence.
Indeed it could be argued that the decline of these movements is what permitted the coming to power of Stephen Harper. (italics mine)
A political vacuum on the left
Social and labour movements historically have played the role of helping create the political culture — the playing field — of formal party politics. Political parties do not develop policies and strategies in a vacuum. They assess the conditions, the parameters of what people will tolerate, the values that people hold, and develop their policies and strategies accordingly. From a progressive perspective the best outcomes prevail when both sides of this formula are working at their peak; when movements are strong and one or more political parties are smart enough, and share the same values, to take advantage of the political space that movements create.