FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Remembering the Overthrow of Haiti’s Jean-Bertrand Aristide

by YVES ENGLER

This is the first in a four part series leading up to the 10th anniversary of the February 29, 2004, overthrow of Jean-Bertrand Aristide’s government in Haiti. -YE

Eleven years ago this weekend Canada organized an international gathering to discuss overthrowing Haiti’s elected government. The conference was reported in a major magazine at the time, but since the coup actually happened the dominant media has refused to investigate or even mention the meeting.

On Jan. 31 and Feb. 1, 2003, Jean Chrétien’s Liberal government organized the “Ottawa Initiative on Haiti” to discuss that country’s future. No Haitian officials were invited to this assembly where high-level US, Canadian and French officials decided that Haiti’s elected president “must go”, the dreaded army should be recreated and that the country would be put under a Kosovo-like UN trusteeship.

Thirteen months after the Ottawa Initiative meeting President Aristide and most other elected officials were pushed out and a quasi UN trusteeship had begun. Since that time the Haitian National Police has been heavily militarized and steps have been taken towards recreating the military.

Present at the Ottawa Initiative discussion were Canadian Health (and later foreign) Minister Pierre Pettigrew, US Assistant Secretary of State for the Western Hemisphere Otto Reich, another State Department official, Mary Ellen Gilroy, Assistant Secretary General of the Organization of American States, Luigi Einaudi, El Salvador’s Foreign Minister, Maria de Avila and France’s Minister of Security and Conflict Prevention Pierre-André Wiltzer. They were all invited to the government’s Meech Lake conference centre in Gatineau, Québec by Secretary of State for Latin America and Minister for La Francophonie Dennis Paradis.

Prominent journalist Michel Vastel brought the gathering to public attention in the March 15, 2003, issue of l’Actualité, Quebec’s equivalent to Maclean’s magazine. In an article titled “Haiti put under U.N. Tutelage?” Vastel wrote that the possibility of Aristide’s departure, a potential trusteeship and the return of Haiti’s military were discussed by Paradis and Wiltzer during a joint panel titled“Obligation morale internationale; Perspectives, idées nouvelles et démarches a explorer.”

After the coup Vastel said his source on this private conference was his friend Denis Paradis and information on the meeting was corroborated by French officials. For his part, Paradis would deny Vastel’s account of the Ottawa Initiative on Haiti, but the story was never retracted by Vastel orl’Actualité. In several post-coup interviews Vastel stood behind his original article and asserted that several follow-up meetings took place involving the same participants, as well as US Secretary of State Colin Powell.

While claiming he was misinterpreted by Vastel, Paradis made it clear that a foreign intervention into Haiti was discussed. In a September 2004 interview with Haiti Solidarity activist Anthony Fenton, Paradis explained that “there was one thematic that went under the whole meeting [Ottawa Initiative]… the responsibility to protect.” A showpiece of the Liberal Party’s foreign policy, the responsibility to protect doctrine asserts that where gross human rights abuses are occurring, it is the duty of the international community to intervene, over and above considerations of state sovereignty.

As part of his effort to piece together Canada’s role in Haiti, Fenton requested all government files concerning the “Ottawa initiative on Haiti”. Initially told there were one thousand pages related to his Access to Information request, Fenton received 67 pages of material and many of these pages were blacked out. For instance, the copy of recommendations made by Paradis and Wiltzer during their joint session was blacked out. (The person with final say on the release of these documents was Christian Lapointe, head of the Latin America and Caribbean desk and primary contact person for the Ottawa Initiative meeting as shown in the very same documents.)

Still, it’s clear from the information released that Foreign Affairs monitored public reaction toVastel’s story. In an e-mail exchange with Foreign Affairs, Canada’s Ambassador to Haiti Kenneth Cook pointed out that of the 70 letters received by l’Actualité on the topic of regime change, “most were positive.”

As such, one suspects that Paradis’ leak to Vastel was a trial balloon designed to gauge the response of the opposition parties, the Haitian community and other social organizations.

For obvious reasons, the Haitian government wasn’t too pleased with the meeting. Days after the meeting came to public attention, Haiti’s foreign demanded a meeting with Canada’s Ambassador and, reported Haiti’s radio Metropole, Paradis sent a letter to Haiti’s foreign minister telling him the Ottawa meeting posed no threat to his government.

In a striking example of subservience to power, the dominant Canadian media has refused to investigate the Ottawa Initiative and has barely mentioned the meeting. A recent Canadian Newsstand search found not one single English language report about the meeting published over the past decade (except for two opinion pieces by myself and another solidarity activist that mentioned it). Montréal’s La Presse may be the only corporate newspaper to have reported on the Ottawa Initiative after the coup. In that case progressive journalist Jooned Khan used space made available during Haiti’s February 2006 election upheaval to briefly mention the gathering on two occasions. By this point Khan, a veteran international affairs writer at La Presse, was closely following the work of Haiti Action Montreal, an anti-coup solidarity group.

The Canadian media has ignored the Ottawa Initiative even though information about the meeting is easily accessible online and solidarity activists across the country referenced it repeatedly.Additionally, Ottawa’s actions after the meeting demonstrate a great deal of hostility towardsHaitian democracy.

On February 5, 2004 the self-styled “intellectual author” of the armed rebellion against Aristide, Paul Arcelin, met Liberal minister Pierre Pettigrew; Six days later ambassador Kenneth Cook cabled Ottawa that “President Aristide is clearly a serious aggravating factor in the current crisis” and that there is a need to “consider the options including whether a case can be made for the duty [responsibility] to protect”; Ottawa cut off aid to Haiti’s elected government and then funneled tens of millions of dollars to the installed government; Paul Martin made the first ever trip by a Canadian prime minister to Haiti to support the post-coup dictatorship; 500 Canadian troops invaded Haiti as part of a US-led effort to oust Aristide etc.

The Ottawa initiative on Haiti helped consolidate the international forces – particularly the US, France and Canada – that planned and carried out the coup. It’s a unique event in the annals ofCanadian foreign-policy history and for that reason alone, should be investigated by the media.

But the meeting held near Ottawa on Jan. 31 and Feb 1, 2003, to discuss Haiti’s future is not simply of historic relevance. UN troops continue to occupy Haiti and the poor people’s movement has yet to recover from the interruption of their democracy.

As we approach the 10-year anniversary of the coup will any major Canadian media outlets report on the Ottawa Initiative on Haiti?

Yves Engler’s the author of Canada and Israel: building apartheid. His latest co-authored book is the New Commune-ist Manifesto — Workers of the World It Really is Time to Unite. For more information go towww.newcommuneist.com

Yves Engler’s latest book is ‪Canada in Africa: 300 years of Aid and Exploitation.

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

April 26, 2017
Richard Moser
Empire Abroad, Empire At Home
Stan Cox
For Climate Justice, It’s the 33 Percent Who’ll Have to Pick Up the Tab
Paul Craig Roberts
The Looting Machine Called Capitalism
Lawrence Davidson
The Dilemma for Intelligence Agencies
Christy Rodgers
Remaining Animal
Joseph Natoli
Facts, Opinions, Tweets, Words
Mel Gurtov
No Exit? The NY Times and North Korea
Alexandra Isfahani-Hammond
Women on the Move: Can Three Women and a Truck Quell the Tide of Sexual Violence and Domestic Abuse?
Michael J. Sainato
Trump’s Wikileaks Flip-Flop
Manuel E. Yepe
North Korea’s Antidote to the US
Kim C. Domenico
‘Courting Failure:’ the Key to Resistance is Ending Animacide
Barbara Nimri Aziz
The Legacy of Lynne Stewart, the People’s Lawyer
Andrew Stewart
The People vs. Bernie Sanders
Daniel Warner
“Vive La France, Vive La République” vs. “God Bless America”
April 25, 2017
Russell Mokhiber
It’s Impossible to Support Single-Payer and Defend Obamacare
Nozomi Hayase
Prosecution of Assange is Persecution of Free Speech
Robert Fisk
The Madder Trump Gets, the More Seriously the World Takes Him
Giles Longley-Cook
Trump the Gardener
Bill Quigley
Major Challenges of New Orleans Charter Schools Exposed at NAACP Hearing
Jack Random
Little Fingers and Big Egos
Stanley L. Cohen
Dissent on the Lower East Side: the Post-Political Condition
Stephen Cooper
Conscientious Justice-Loving Alabamians, Speak Up!
Michael J. Sainato
Did the NRA Play a Role in the Forcing the Resignation of Surgeon General?
David Swanson
The F-35 and the Incinerating Ski Slope
Binoy Kampmark
Mike Pence in Oz
Peter Paul Catterall
Green Nationalism? How the Far Right Could Learn to Love the Environment
George Wuerthner
Range Riders: Making Tom Sawyer Proud
Clancy Sigal
It’s the Pits: the Miner’s Blues
Robert K. Tan
Abe is Taking Japan Back to the Bad Old Fascism
April 24, 2017
Mike Whitney
Is Mad Dog Planning to Invade East Syria?    
John Steppling
Puritan Jackals
Robert Hunziker
America’s Tale of Two Cities, Redux
David Jaffe
The Republican Party and the ‘Lunatic Right’
John Davis
No Tomorrow or Fashion-Forward
Patrick Cockburn
Treating Mental Health Patients as Criminals
Jack Dresser
An Accelerating Palestine Rights Movement Faces Uncertain Direction
George Wuerthner
Diet for a Warming Planet
Lawrence Wittner
Why Is There So Little Popular Protest Against Today’s Threats of Nuclear War?
Colin Todhunter
From Earth Day to the Monsanto Tribunal, Capitalism on Trial
Paul Bentley
Teacher’s Out in Front
Franklin Lamb
A Post-Christian Middle East With or Without ISIS?
Kevin Martin
We Just Paid our Taxes — are They Making the U.S. and the World Safer?
Erik Mears
Education Reformers Lowered Teachers’ Salaries, While Promising to Raise Them
Binoy Kampmark
Fleeing the Ratpac: James Packer, Gambling and Hollywood
Weekend Edition
April 21, 2017
Friday - Sunday
Diana Johnstone
The Main Issue in the French Presidential Election: National Sovereignty
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail