Click amount to donate direct to CounterPunch
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $500
  • $other
  • use PayPal
Keep CounterPunch ad free. Support our annual fund drive today!

Looking Back on the Overthrow of Jean-Bertrand Aristide


This is the third in a series leading up to the 10th anniversary of the February 29 2004 overthrow of Jean-Bertrand Aristide’s government in Haiti. Read Part One here, Part Two here and Part Three here. – YE

Why did Canada help overthrow Haiti’s elected government? That’s a question I heard over and over when speaking about Canada in Haiti: Waging War on the Poor Majority, a book I co-authored with Anthony Fenton. Most people had difficulty understanding why their country — and the U.S. to some extent — would intervene in a country so poor, so seemingly marginal to world affairs. Why would they bother?

I would answer that Canada participated in the coup as a way to make good with Washington, especially after (officially) declining the Bush administration’s invitation (order) to join the “coalition of the willing” that invaded Iraq in 2003. Former Foreign Affairs Minister Bill Graham explained: “Foreign Affairs view was there is a limit to how much we can constantly say no to the political masters in Washington. All we had was Afghanistan to wave. On every other file we were offside. Eventually we came on side on Haiti, so we got another arrow in our quiver.”

It is also worth noting that at the start of 2003 the Haitian minimum wage was 36 gourdes ($1) a day, which was nearly doubled to 70 gourdes by the Aristide government. Of course, this was opposed by domestic and international capital, which used Haiti’s lowest wages in the hemisphere as a way to beat back workers’ demands in other countries. Canadian capital was especially hostile to raising the minimum wage. One of the largest blank T-shirt maker in the world, Montréal-based Gildan Activewear was the country’s largest employer after the state, employing up to 8,000 Haitians (directly and indirectly) in Port-au-Prince’s assembly sector by 2007. Most of Gildan’s work was subcontracted to Andy Apaid, who led the Group 184 domestic “civil society” that opposed Aristide’s government. Coincidentally, two days after the coup, Foreign Affairs stated “some Canadian companies are looking to shift garment production to Haiti.”

It is also clear that some Canadian mining companies saw better opportunities with a post-Aristide government. In 2007, reported the Toronto Star, “Another Canadian-backed company recently resumed prospecting in Haiti after abandoning its claims a decade ago. Steve Lachapelle — a Québec lawyer who is now chair of the board of the company, called St. Genevieve Haiti — says employees were threatened at gunpoint by partisans of ex-president Jean-Bertrand Aristide.”

Another reason for the intervention came out of the contempt, heightened during the country’s 200-year anniversary of independence, directed at Haiti ever since the country’s 1791-1804 revolution dealt a crushing blow to slavery, colonialism and white supremacy. The threat of a good example — particularly worrisome for the powers that be, since Haiti is so poor — contributed to the motivation for the coup. Aristide was perceived as a barrier to a thorough implementation of the free market agenda, particularly because of his opposition to the privatization of the country’s five remaining state-owned companies. The attitude seems to have been, “if we can’t force our way in Haiti, where can we?”

But one must look at the history of Canadian foreign policy to fully understand why Canada helped overthrow the elected Haitian government.

The Canadian government, from its beginning, was part of the command and control apparatus of the world economic system. At first Canada served as an arm of the British Empire, but given the country’s location as well as racial and economic makeup, it quickly became intertwined with the USA. Canada’s role over the past six decades, as assigned by the dominant power, has typically been some sort of “policing” operation, usually called peacekeeping. Since Canada has primarily been a “policing” rather than “military” power one must look to the language of policing to discover the motivations for our Haitian policy.

Over the past decade there has been much discussion of something called “pulling our weight” in external affairs. In laymen’s terms this means spending more of the country’s resources on defending and expanding the ability of Canadian capitalists in particular, but also for the system in general, to make a profit around the world. While the less sophisticated neoconservatives simply call for more military spending and a pro-U.S. foreign policy, the more liberal Canadian supporters of capitalism have been busy creating an ideological mask, called the “responsibility to protect” that will accomplish the same end.

The “responsibility to protect” is essentially a justification for imperialism using the dialect of policing instead of the old language of empire and militarism. It says there are “failed states” that must be overthrown because they do not provide adequately for their own citizens and because they threaten world order. This is the international equivalent of the “zero tolerance” (also called the “broken window”) strategy of the New York City police department. The policy is to aggressively police petty crimes in order to create an environment that discourages more serious law breaking. In the same fashion, the international community should go after “failed states” not because they threaten other countries with invasion but since they create an environment where “crime” may thrive. (Noam Chomsky has used the Mafia analogy to explain the less sophisticated, older imperialist version of this policy. Any and all challenges, even minor ones, must be met with violence until “order” is established. The “responsibility to protect” differs in form but not in substance.)

The coup in Haiti was a Canadian-managed experiment in the use of the “responsibility to protect” doctrine. Aristide was overthrown precisely because Haiti is so unimportant to the world economic system and because cracking down on it is the international economic equivalent of the New York City police cracking down on graffiti writers. Once again Haiti was an example to the rest of the world, a message from the world’s rich and powerful: “We, the 0.01%, run the world in our interests and you better listen to what we say.”

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

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

More articles by:

2016 Fund Drive
Smart. Fierce. Uncompromised. Support CounterPunch Now!

  • cp-store
  • donate paypal

CounterPunch Magazine


Weekend Edition
October 28, 2016
Friday - Sunday
John Pilger
Inside the Invisible Government: War, Propaganda, Clinton & Trump
Andrew Levine
The Hillary Era is Coming: Worry!
Gary Leupp
Seven World-Historical Achievements of the Iraq Invasion of 2003
Paul Street
Standing Rock Water-Protectors Waterboarded While the Cleveland Indians Romped
Stanley L. Cohen
Israel: 1984 Everlasting
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Comfortably Dumb
Michael Brenner
American Foreign Policy in the Post-Trump Era
Luciana Bohne
Crossing the Acheron: Back to Vietnam
Robert Hunziker
The Political Era of Climate Refugees
Stephen Cooper
Alabama’s Last Execution was an Atrocity
Michael Munk
Getting Away With Terrorism in Oregon
T.J. Coles
Confronting China: an Interview with John Pilger
Pete Dolack
Work Harder So Speculators Can Get More
Joyce Nelson
Canadians Launch Constitutional Challenge Against CETA
John Laforge
US Uranium Weapons Have Been Used in Syria
Paul Edwards
The Vision Thing ’16
Arshad Khan
Hillary, Trump and Sartre: How Existentialism Disrobes the Major Presidential Candidates
Peter Lee
It’s ON! Between Duterte and America
Chris Zinda
The Bundy Acquittal: Tazing of #oregonstandoff
Norman Pollack
America at the Crossroads: Abrogation of Democracy
Bill Quigley
Six Gulf Protectors Arrested Challenging Gulf Oil Drilling
Joseph Grosso
Starchitects in the City: Vanity Fair and Gentrification
Patrick Carr
Economic Racial Disparity in North Carolina
David Swanson
Public vs. Media on War
Chris Gilbert
Demo Derby in Venezuela: The Left’s New Freewheeling Politics
Ira Helfand
Nukes and the UN: a Historic Treaty to Ban Nuclear Weapons
Brian Cloughley
The US, NATO and the Pope
Binoy Kampmark
Nobel Confusion: Ramos-Horta, Trump and World Disorder
Sam Albert
Kids on Their Own in Calais: the Tip of an Iceberg-Cold World
Russell Mokhiber
Lucifer’s Banker: Bradley Birkenfeld on Corporate Crime in America
Ron Jacobs
Death to the Fascist Insect! The SLA and the Cops
Cesar Chelala
Embargo on Cuba is an Embarrassment for the United States
Jack Smith
And the Winner Is….
Ken Knabb
Beyond Voting: the Limits of Electoral Politics
Matt Peppe
An Alternate Narrative on Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump
Uri Avnery
The Israeli Trumpess
James Rothenberg
Water Under the Bridge
Louis Yako
Remembering Rasul Gamzatov: The Poet of the People
Dave Reilly
Complete the Sentence: an Exploration of Orin Langelle’s “If Voting Changed Things…”
Jonathan Woodrow Martin
When Nobody Returns: Palestinians Show They are People, Too
Louis Proyect
The Outsider-Insider: Isaac Babel’s Big Mistake
Simon Jones
The Human Lacunae in Ken Loach’s “I, Daniel Blake”
Martin Billheimer
Now and Then, Ancient Sorceries
Charles R. Larson
Review: Brit Bennett’s “The Mothers”
David Yearsley
Bach on the Election