A Very Canadian Coup in Haiti:
The Top 10 Ways Canada Aided the 2004 Coup and its Reign of Terror
By Richard Sanders, coordinator, Coalition to Oppose the Arms Trade
Things went from bad to worse after Canada's Liberal government helped plan and carry out the 2004 regime change that illegally ousted President Aristide's democratically-elected government. Canada then helped empower and entrench an illegal coup-installed puppet regime that launched a reign of terror in which thousands of prodemocracy supporters were executed, jailed without charge, driven into hiding, or exiled. This Canadian-financed dictatorship, propped up by UN-sanctioned occupation forces, was applauded by corporations greedy to profit from "reconstruction" contracts, the privatisation of public services, and the wage-slavery of Haitian sweatshops.
Canada has a lot to answer for. Here are 10 ways in which our government contributed to this major travesty of justice in Haiti:
(1) Creating the Coup's Ideological Pretext
The world's most powerful states justify their “right” to invade, overthrow and occupy weaker nations with euphemistic platitudes. They rationalise their role in various theatres of war using dramatic soliloquies, invoking the need for "humanitarian interventions" against “failed states.”
The “Responsibility-to-Protect” (R2P) doctrine--an ideological pretext that was created and developed by Canada's Liberal government--was used to legitimise the illegal coup imposed on Haiti in 2004.
Institutionalised on the world stage by a Canadian creature called the International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty (ICISS), the R2P doctrine was the brain-child of then-Prime Minister Jean Chrétien. When announcing its birth in 2000, then-Foreign Affairs Minister Lloyd Axworthy thanked the “Carnegie, MacArthur and Rockefeller Foundations” for “strong political and financial support.” With Axworthy acting as chair of the board, ICISS offices were ensconced in Ottawa’s Foreign Affairs department. Canada chose both ICISS co-chairs and appointed such "Big L" Liberals as Michael Ignatieff, a long-time U.S. resident and supporter of then-President George W.Bush, "missile defense," the Iraq war and torture.
The R2P script spells out acceptable excuses for violating the UN’s two primary principles: state sovereignty and military non-intervention.
In May 2004, after ousting Haiti’s democratically-elected government, then-Prime Minister Paul Martin summarized a fundamental R2P principle: “Failed states more often than not require military intervention in order to ensure stability.” Asking himself, “Why is it up to Canada to be the catalyst?” he answered, “We inspire confidence...because we are neither a former colonial power nor a superpower.”
Canada's political/economic/military allies in Washington and London needed a champion for the starring role in R2P. Already typecast as honest broker and heroic peacekeeper, Canada was perfect for the part.
(2) Initiating the Planning Process
Canada's Liberal government was instrumental in gathering together an exclusive coterie of international players to lay the foundation for Haiti's coup.
Their first meeting, the so-called “The Ottawa Initiative on Haiti” (January 31 - February 1, 2003) was held at the federal government's conference centre on Meech Lake near Canada's capital.
We now know, thanks to Access to Information, that this confab on “the current political situation in Haiti” was “envisaged to be of a restricted and intimate nature....in order to facilitate a free exchange of views and brainstorming among the invited participants.”
Those invited to this so-called "free exchange" did not include a single Haitian, not even from the wealthy corporate elite that was so instrumental in facilitating the coup. Besides El Salvador's Foreign Minister, participants were exclusively from North America and Europe. They were also homogenous in their opposition to Haiti's President Aristide and in support of replacing him with an imposed, occupation government.
The meeting's host was Denis Paradis, a Quebec Liberal MP who was Chrétien's Secretary of State for Latin America, Africa and the Francophonie. Canada's future Foreign Affairs Minister, Pierre Pettigrew, was also there, as were two U.S. State Department officials, Mary Ellen Gilroy and Otto Reich -- a long-time coup plotter, propagandist, and veteran of the Contragate scandal. Also on hand were the US representative to the Organization of American States, France's Minister for Security and Conflict Prevention and the Francophonie's Administrator General.
"The Ottawa Initiative" was presumably supposed to remain secret, but in March 2003, Paradis leaked some details to journalist Michel Vastel, who wrote about it in L’Actualité (March 15, 2003).
The purpose of Canada's initial meeting appears to have been to build a working consensus among influential players from the key states striving for regime change in Haiti, primarily, the US, Canada and France. They agreed--in general terms--on the goal of ridding themselves of Aristide before his five-year mandate expired, and on using their troops to supplant Haiti's elected government with a new regime.
Vastel's account had few details on the military invasion/occupation, noting only that “No decision has yet been taken, but in French diplomatic circles, they say that there has been talk of a sort of guardianship‚ as in Kosovo.... Even if the UN doesn’t want this kind of intervention leading to military occupation, this might be inevitable until elections are organized.”
Participants wanted their new regime in place before the powerfully-symbolic bicentennial of Haiti’s revolution, when a slave revolt defeated France's Napoleonic might. This objective was soon echoed by Chrétien who, in April 2003, “declared that the ‘international community’ should not have to wake up with Aristide in power on January 1, 2004, Haiti’s bicentennial.” With "The Ottawa Initiative" groundwork firmly in place, Aristide was ousted by the end of February 2004.
(3) Providing Military Troops and Equipment
Canada's military played a significant role in deposing Haiti’s democracy and protecting the ensuing dictatorship. In the early hours of February 29, 2004, U.S. officials entered President Aristide's home threatening a "bloodbath" if he did not leave the country. Forced to sign a “letter of resignation,” heavily-armed Marines took him to the airport, which Canadian commandos had just “secured.”
Aristide later said: “The coup and kidnapping was led by the U.S., France and Canada. [They] were on the front lines by sending their soldiers to Haiti before February 29, by having their soldiers either at the airport or at my residence, or around the palace, or in the capital to make sure that they succeeded in kidnapping me, leading [to] the coup.”
Canada sent “a team of JTF2 [Joint Task Force 2] commandos to Haiti four days before the coup” (American Forces Press Service, March 14, 2004). They “took control of the Port-au-Prince airport on...February 29, 2004.... About 30 Canadian special forces soldiers secured the airport and two sharpshooters [were] positioned on top of the control tower.” (AFP, March 2, 2004)
Canadian Forces (CF) also “secured key locations" in the capital. (Anthony Fenton, The Dominion, April 22, 2006). According to a government video, CF “provided extensive support” during the preceding week: “More than 100 CF personnel and four CC-130 Hercules aircraft...assist[ed] with emergency contingency plans and security measures.” (“Operation PRINCIPAL,” February 28, 2004.)
Immediately after the coup, 500 Canadian troops joined U.S. and French forces in protecting Haiti's newly-empowered, illegal regime and suppressing Aristide supporters.
However, the Canadian Air Force website said Canadian troops “helped restore peace and democracy in Haiti following that country’s democratic elections.” In reality, the “democratic elections”—which swept Aristide to power—occurred in 2000, and Canada's troops helped overthrow democracy, not restore it. The claim that Canadian troops “helped restore peace” is equally ludicrous. During the coup's two-year reign of terror, thousands were murdered with impunity by Haitian police, its disbanded military and death squads, as foreign troops stood by providing cover.
Canada is also a major supporter of UN forces which took over the occupation in 2004 and have killed many civilians during numerous, heavily-armed raids into Haiti's poorest neighbourhoods. Unperturbed, Canada has pushed for the use of even more excessive force by UN troops.
(4) Funding, Training and Commanding the Police
In 1995, Aristide disbanded Haiti's military for its role in coups, dictatorships, mass murder and torture. With Aristide's 2004 ouster, Haiti's US-trained ex-military were placed in all Haitian National Police (HNP) leadership positions, including police-abuse investigations. Through Haiti's UN Police Mission (UNPOL), the RCMP has funded and led the HNP's training, supervision and oversight.
The RCMP's David Beer--transferred from teaching counter-insurgency tactics in Iraq--became UNPOL's first chief. Another RCMP, Graham Muir, was next to command UNPOL's 1,600 officers (including 125 RCMP and Quebec police). Although admitting HNP's responsibility for murder, Muir blamed it on “rogue elements.”
Lawyer Brian Concannon, with the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti, said RCMP-led UNPOL shared responsibility for HNP rampages: “[M]any of these rogue [HNP] elements were intentionally integrated into the force, without public objection from MINUSTAH or UNPOL.... [I]n 2004, Gen. Abraham [Haiti’s retired military leader] started integrating former soldiers into the force, bypassing regulations for police recruitment and promotion.... Several times, MINUSTAH, including UNPOL officers, watched as the HNP shot into peaceful demonstrations.”
In its 2005 Human Rights Investigation, the University of Miami Law School published interviews with brave HNP officers, fearing for their lives, who described raids into poor proAristide neighbourhoods, when HNP commanders ordered the murder of suspects and witnesses. Also, coup-appointed Police Chief Leon Charles ordered the violent suppression of peaceful, prodemocracy demonstrations.
Amnesty International exposed HNP's summary executions, arbitrary arrests, torture and rape. Similarly, the International Catholic Institute said "many" HNP officers engaged in "drug rackets, kidnappings [and] extra-judicial killings.”
When the HNP killed nine Aristide supporters, the HNP said they "were not shot during a demonstration since...authorities had received no notice of a demonstration." The UN Civilian Police spokesperson, the RCMP's Dan Moskaluk, calling it an "illegal demonstration," didn't comment on HNP's authority to execute protesters.
When HNP received a million rounds of ammunition, 10,000 US military-style handguns and weapons, Moskaluk defended the transfer. Human rights groups denounced it, saying HNP would distribute weapons to death squads for joint operations conducted under UN supervision.
In 2006, an "International Tribunal" led by former-U.S. Attorney-General Ramsey Clark, found the RCMP's Beer and Muir guilty of crimes against humanity, but to no avail. HNP and their RCMP handlers have operated with complete impunity.
(5) Every Trick in the Diplomatic Book
Canada used every conceivable diplomatic trick to bring down Aristide's elected government and then legitimise the coup-installed regime.
On February 5, 2004--while a murderous band of ex-military and death-squad leaders launched a campaign attacking Haitian government facilities, police stations and health clinics--Liberal cabinet minister Pierre Pettigrew met with Paul Arcelin. Described as the terrorist's “political mastermind” and “spokesman," Arcelin also served as diplomatic representative in Cana
At the UN Security Council on February 26, Canadian, U.S. and French diplomats dismissed Caribbean Community (CARICOM) calls for a multinational force to protect Aristide's elected government from a coup. While Jamaica’s Foreign Minister warned, “Immediate action is needed to safeguard democracy [and] to avert bloodshed,” U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell and Foreign Affairs Minister Bill Graham told Aristide to resign.
Canada, the U.S. and France immediately recognised the illegal coup regime, but CARICOM's 15 member states, Venezuela and the African Union's 53 governments all refused diplomatic recognition and demanded an investigation into Aristide’s exile.
Two Canadian ambassadors to Haiti launched diplomatic offensives. Kenneth Cook said “there is no evidence of a kidnapping" and Claude Boucher said “We hope...Aristide is going to disappear...[and] never come back."
In March 2004, coup Prime Minister Gérard Latortue and David Lee, Canada's ambassador to the Organization of American States, flew by American military helicopter to a celebration of Aristide’s ouster. When Latortue praised Haiti's terror squads calling them "freedom fighters," Lee nodded in approval.
In June 2005, Governor-General Adrienne Clarkson acknowledged Robert Tippenhauer as Haiti's ambassador to Canada, although no constitutional basis existed for his credentials. A strong representative of Haiti's wealthy business elite, Tippenhauer had also referred to Haiti's terrorists as “freedom fighters.”
In 2006, Canada appointed Haitian-born Michäelle Jean as governor general and she was soon gracing photo ops with smiling coup-President Boniface Alexandre.
Prime Minister Martin and Foreign Affairs Minister Pettigrew led official junkets to Haiti unashamedly exalting the coup regime. During reciprocal visits, the illegally-appointed "leaders" were welcomed with open Canadian arms.
Dozens were killed, including many women and children, when hundreds of heavily-armed UN troops and police--in armoured vehicles and helicopters--made night-time raids into Port-au-Prince's poorest neighbourhoods. Unperturbed by these war crimes, Canada’s ambassador Claude Boucher, urged UN troops to “increase their operations” in Haiti.
(6) Supporting Destructive Neoliberal Economic Policies
Canada helped devise, finance, implement and legitimize a destructive, neoliberal economic restructuring program called the Interim Cooperation Framework (ICF). Within weeks of the coup, the ICF was drafted by "lead donors," including Canada, at the World Bank's Washington headquarters.
Sponsored by the U.S., Canada and France, the ICF focused on privatization and exporting inexpensive factory goods. While benefited Haitian elites, foreign corporations and international financial institutions, the ICF hurt Haiti's poor majority.
In June 2004, 31 Haitian civil-society organizations listed major ICF problems, including:
* "The whole exercise is taking place [under] an increasing loss of sovereignty...[and] long-term military occupation....
* is controlled by external actors...[and] excludes all real participation of the majority and vulnerable sectors of our country....
* ignores the priority social needs of our country’s poor...;
* [proposes] superficial solutions to...abject poverty...;
* privatis[ing] the Electricity Co., the Port-au-Prince Water Board, the Telephone Co., the Airport and Port Authorities, [will] probably [have] disastrous effects...;
* is taking place in a pseudo-colonial framework...without any concern for transparency.
* next to nothing has been allocated for a credible consultation process....
* The ICF...reinforces existing power structure. It risks aggravating the suffering of the most excluded and exploited sectors, and accelerating the process of destroying our nation."
Some of the ICF's most harmful elements, were noted by Canadian journalist/activist, Nik Barry-Shaw:
Slashing subsidies for Haiti’s impoverished farmers,
Reducing the minimum wage,
Dismantling an extremely-successful adult-literacy program,
Giving a three-year tax holiday to large businesses,
Paying $30 million in “back wages” to ex-soldiers from the army Aristide disbanded.
During the window of opportunity offered by Haiti's unelected coup government, Canada secured Haiti’s membership in the private, Caribbean Development Bank (CDB) while Foreign Affairs Minister Pettigrew was Vice-President of its Board of Governors. Denis Marcheterre, a senior financial specialist with the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA), said Canada needed to get Haiti into the CDB during the unelected regime because an elected government might not have complied. Canada participates in the CDB, said Marcheterre, so Canadian corporations can win contracts from borrowing countries, like Haiti. By paying Haiti's CDB membership, Canada helped lock Haiti into long-term debt that would be paid to Canadian contractors.
(7) Using Aid as a Weapon
Canada, the U.S. and France put a stranglehold on development assistance to Haiti's government. External aid to Aristide's government has reduced from $611 million in 1994-95, to $266 million in 1999-2000. After Aristide's second landslide electoral victory in 2000, bilateral aid to his Lavalas-Party government was cut to $136 million. By starving Haiti's popular government of resources, Canada deliberately fostered the “failed-state” conditions whose pretext justified the 2004 coup.
Most of the "aid" that Canada and the U.S. sent after 2000, was not aimed at addressing basic human needs among Haiti's poor majority. It was instead funnelled into relatively wealthy, so-called "democracy promotion" groups linked to Haiti's elite corporate class. Most glaringly, CIDA poured $24 million into twelve projects administered--entirely or in part--by members of the Group of 184, including more than $500,000 went straight into the coffers of this right-wing coalition. The G-184 was led by some of Haiti's most hated multimillionaires and sweat-shop owners who provided weapons and funding to paramilitary terrorists whose anti-government violence provoked the 2004 invasion.
Such CIDA-funded Haitian groups as CARLI, CONAP, ENFOFANM, FNH, ISC and PAPDA, stirred up domestic and international opposition to Aristide, helped destabilize his popularly-elected government and called for its immediate demise. CIDA's agents of regime change then ignored or covered up the coup government's worst excesses.
CIDA also funded the National Coalition for Haitian Rights (NCHR) whose disinformation was widely used by governments, international media and foreign NGOs. The NCHR worked as an arm of the illegal, Canadian-backed coup regime to eliminate political opponents. Within days of the 2004 coup, CIDA gave NCHR $100,000 to help nonexistent victims of a faked "genocide." NCHR's "special project" fabricated evidence to frame Lavalas activists and leaders. Chief among NCHR's targets was Prime Minister Yvon Neptune, who suffered two years behind bars before being released for lack of any actual evidence.
CIDA contracted several Quebec-based organisations to aid and abet its Haitian regime-change policies. These groups--including Alternatives, FOCAL, Development and Peace, Réseau Liberté, Rights and Democracy, and Concertation pour Haiti--either distributed CIDA grants to their Haitian "partners" for virulently anti-Aristide campaigns, or became cheerleaders in the government's propaganda war to cover up atrocities of the coup-imposed dictatorship and rationalise Canada's role in overthrowing Haiti's democracy.
(8) Imposing an Illegal "Justice" System
After helping oust Aristide's elected government, Canada dramatically increased "aid" to Haiti. Most Canadian financing went into police, prisons and courts. These institutions tightened the illegal dictatorship's gasp on power by persecuting its opponents. CIDA funded and helped administer Haiti's "Ministry of Justice" which coordinated the arbitrary arrest and imprisonment without charge, of hundreds of supporters, activists and leaders from Aristide's Lavalas Party.
The American government chose USAID official, Bernard Gousse, to be Haiti's Justice Minister. CIDA--the Canadian equivalent of USAID--appointed one of its bureaucrats, Philippe Vixamar, as Deputy Justice Minister. Soon after Gousse's shamed resignation in 2005, Canada replaced Vixamar and another CIDA bureaucrat, Dilia Lemaire, became Deputy Minister.
During the coup-regime period, Vixamar was interviewed by human rights investigators from the University of Miami’s Law School. Vixamar "revealed that the U.S. and Canadian governments play key roles in the justice system...including paying high-level government officials. He denied there are human rights and constitutional abuses within the criminal justice system."
Deputy-Minister Vixamar said "CIDA assigned him to this position and is his direct employer. Now in his fourth consecutive year of employment for CIDA, Vixamar had previously worked for USAID for 10 years and was with the U.S. Department of Justice for three."
When asked about "warrantless arrests and reports that hundreds of prisoners have not appeared before a judge...Vixamar denied there were any political prisoners in Haiti."
This lie was echoed by Prime Minister Paul Martin who, when visiting Haiti in November 2004, said “There are no political prisoners in Haiti.” That month, the Catholic Church’s Commission for Justice and Peace said there were over 700 Haitian political prisoners, including elected cabinet ministers such as Haiti's legitimate Prime Minister Neptune.
Vixamar said his Ministry was "fully confident" in its "exclusive reliance on the National Coalition for Haitian Rights to alert it when the police or courts commit human rights abuses." He also disclosed their sole reliance on this extremely antiAristide, CIDA-funded group for vetting "integration of former soldiers into the [Haitian National Police] HNP."
When nonviolent activist, Father Jean-Juste, was arrested without warrant, Amnesty named him a “prisoner of conscience.” Vixamar quipped that Jean-Juste was harbouring "chimères," the Haitian elite’s hateful epithet for criminals, thugs and Aristide supporters. After two years, Jean-Juste was released without charge.
(9) Funding and Whitewashing Unfair Elections
In 2005, CIDA, Foreign Affairs, and Elections Canada created the International Mission for Monitoring Haitian Elections (IMMHE). Chaired by Jean-Pierre Kingsley, Canada’s Chief Electoral Officer, IMMHE ignored scandals surrounding the Canadian-funded and -supervised 2007 elections.
When election-day reports revealed tens of thousands of cast ballots were found dumped, and mass protests began, the IMMHE said only hundreds were found. Its source was UN troops responsible for ballot security. The officer in charge was Canadian colonel, Barry MacLeod.
While IMMHE said the “overall picture was positive,” it admitted “organization problems”:
IMMHE however ignored these major problems:
Impoverished Lavalas supporters were disenfranchised by:
Lavalas has since been banned from two elections. The now-cancelled 2010 elections were set to exclude Lavalas.
(10) Helping Corporations Profit from Haitian Poverty
After the coup, Canada worked hand-in-glove with Haiti's unelected regime helping companies turn handsome profits. The Canadian government bolstered Haiti's elitist regime on business-friendly policies including “reconstruction” contracts, privatisation and promoting sweat-shops.
Haiti's post-coup military occupation boosted sales of helicopters, assault vehicles, weapons, ammunition and lucrative contracts for servicing thousands of foreign troops in Haiti. “Reconstruction” industries from the occupying powers began raking in billions.
Ambassador Claude Boucher wanted Canadian firms to exploit Haiti's post-coup environment. He, and acting-"Prime Minister" Latortue, spawned the Haitian-Canadian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (HCCCI). In an interview with Anthony Fenton, HCCCI's first president, Quèbec high-school graduate Robert Tippenhauer, said Canada's role in ousting Aristide and empowering the “transitional” government, entitled Canadian businesses to lucrative, “post-conflict” contracts.
Latortue, Tippenhauer and Boucher helped profit-hungry Canadian delegations scouring Haiti for contracts in road construction, telecommunications, energy, urban planning, waste disposal, agroindustry and manufacturing.
In 2005, Haitian multimillionaire Réginald Boulos said Haiti "offers a lot of opportunities for foreign investors to be involved in privatization." And, he said, electricity, water and transportation were all "being audited for privatization."
Haiti's Boulos-family empire includes a nefarious pharmaceutical company, supermarkets and right-wing media. In 2005, Canada flew Boulos, and other Haitian elite, to meet bankers and bureaucrats at the government's Meech-Lake resort near Ottawa. On the table were “privatization” and “private sector provision of public services.” Knowing Haiti's masses opposed these policies, participants wanted them “properly pushed" immediately.
Another Haitian millionaire, Andy Apaid, helped Boulos lead the virulently antiAristide, CIDA-funded Group of 184. Aristide's government said Apaid wasn't paying enough taxes. Apaid also disliked paying his sweatshop employees and opposed Aristide's doubling of the minimum wage. Receiving less than a dollar a day, Apaid's wage-slaves made millions for Canadian clothing importers, like Gildan.
In 2000, Minister Pettigrew announced Gildan was a finalist for the government's "Export Award" for "strengthen[ing] local economies with new jobs.” Ironically, Gildan shifted 200+ Montreal jobs to Caribbean sweatshops.
In 2003, International Cooperation Minister, Susan Whelan, gave Gildan the CIDA-funded “Award for Excellence in Corporate Social and Ethical Responsibility.”
In 2006, Gildan received another Social-Responsibility prize at a gala attended by Quebec’s Conservative-cum-Liberal premier, Jean Charest, and 1000 other business celebrities.
Gildan's shares nearly quadrupled in value during the coup-regime period.
The Moral of the Story
Don't believe the lies your government tells you when it goes to war, or helps overthrow another government. Most Canadians have no idea that Canada was instrumental in overthrowing Haiti's democratically-elected government in 2004.
Some Canadian peace, human rights and development groups continue to spread government propaganda that presents Canada's odious role in Haiti's regime change as if it was a "humanitarian intervention" that promoted justice and democracy.
Such official Canadian myths hide the brutal atrocities of Haiti's post-coup occupation behind the narrative facade of "peacekeeping," "failed states" and the "right to protect."
Because Canadian progressives have not successfully countered these myths about Haiti, the proud revolutionary people of that country have been forced to endure further humiliation, violence, injustice and exploitation.
It's time we set the record straight.
Richard Sanders is coordinator of the Coalition to Oppose the Arms Trade (COAT), and editor of COAT's magazine, Press for Conversion! This article was written for publication by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives in their magazine, The CCPA Monitor (April 2010). The article summarises some of the material in four 50-page issues of COAT's magazine. Back issues and subscriptions are available at COAT's website or by contacting --- firstname.lastname@example.org
Lies without Borders:
How CIDA-funded 'NGOs' waged a propaganda war to justify Haiti's 2004 Coup
Putting the Aid in Aiding and Abetting:
CIDA's Canadian Agents of Regime Change in Haiti's 2004 Coup
CIDA's Key Role in Haiti's 2004 Coup:
Funding Regime Change, Dictatorship and Human Rights Atrocities, one Haitian 'NGO' at a Time
A Very Canadian Coup in Haiti:
The Top 10 Ways that Canada's Government Helped the 2004 Coup and its Reign of Terror