CIDA’s Affinity with Elite and Blindspot for Vodoun
By Richard Sanders, editor,
Press for Conversion! and coordinator,
Coalition to Oppose the Arms Trade.
(See also "Demonizing Democracy: Christianity vs. Vodoun and the Politics of Religion in Haiti" and "What is Vodoun?.")
Among the CIDA-funded Canadian organizations listed by the government as its "partners" in Haiti, about 70 have websites. Within these sites, there are hundreds of positive references to the efforts of Christian churches and related religious groups in Haiti. About 20 of these Canadian government sponsored "partners" are themselves explicitly Christian in origin or orientation.
However, no reference whatsoever could be found on any of these websites that even hints at the controversial role played by Christian institutions in promoting either slavery or the dictatorships that have dominated Haitian history. Christianity is consistently portrayed as having only had a positive influence in helping Haiti’s impoverished masses.
In striking contrast, among the websites of the 70 CIDA-funded "NGOs" working in Haiti, only one made even passing reference to Vodoun. International Child Care—a "Christian health development organization" founded in the U.S.—states that 80% of Haiti’s population is Roman Catholic. Second on its list is "Protestant denominations" and then, under that, is a statement saying "Rough-ly one-half of the population practices Voodoo."1Elsewhere, ICC says:
"Catholicism is the primary religion for Haitians and Dominicans, although people on both sides of the border have incorporated aspects of spirit faiths, like voodoo and santeria, into their Catholic practices."2
In both of these fleeting references to Vodoun, the ICC downplays the importance of Vodoun as Haiti’s primary and most prevalent religion. However, in describing it as a "spirit faith" that has in part been "incorporated" into Catholicism, the ICC is at least mentioning Vodoun’s existence! This is more than can be said for all the other CIDA-funded "NGOs." The ICC’s brief remarks on Vodoun are the only references to Haiti’s African-based religion within any of the 70 websites created by Canadian government-financed "NGOs."
Another CIDA partner working in Haiti is the Province of Quebec’s Ministry of International Relations (MRI).3 The MRI website states that Catholicism is Haiti’s "dominant religion," while "traditional African rites and Voodoo are practised by about half of the population."4 Like the ICC reference to Vodoun as a "spirit faith" that is merely part of Catholicism, the MRI’s statement seems to relegate Vodoun to a status somewhat less than a real religion.
Haiti’s "Two Solitudes"
By examining the websites of CIDA’s Canadian partners active in Haiti, it quickly becomes apparent that the Canadian government is funding "NGOs" that closely identify with Haiti’s elite society. Haiti is described by the Caribbean Group for Cooperation in Economic Development (CGCED) as a "dual system" that is "in perennial conflict."5 It notes that these "two parts of society" are not merely a matter of "social class" but are, in fact, two "parallel" social systems:
"On one side, the peasants, including the largest part of the rural immigration towards the capital, with Creole as exclusive language, the voodoo as religion, a tradition of property rights founded on feudal practices, and a social structure based on self-sufficiency and enlarged family.
"On the other side, the urban citizen, with a more hierarchical social structure, regulated by the Napoleonic law and Catholicism as his official religion, and French as his official language.
"This bi-polarity has been rarely recognized, especially by the latter half, which considers itself as representing progress and modernization.... The following figures demonstrate this duality: "In 1999 the World Bank estimated that 80% of the 2/3 of the population who live in the countryside are poor, with 2/3 of this portion being in extreme poverty. Furthermore, 4% of the population owns 66% of the total resources of the country, whereas the 70 percent on the other extreme of the scale only dispose of 20% of the income."6 (Emphasis added.)
While CIDA and the Canadian "NGOs" that it mentors, have proven time and again their close affinity with Haiti’s French-speaking, Christian elite—which helped organize and lead opposition to Aristide’s elected government and then supported the coup-installed dictatorship—they have equally demonstrated their blindspot for the popular, grassroots "civil society" that is Creole-speaking, Vodoun, extremely poor and overwhelmingly supportive of Aristide.
1. Haiti. www.intlchildcare.org/haiti.php
2. A Short History of the Island of Hispaniola
3. Canada-Haiti Cooperation, Interim Cooperation Framework, Result Summary, Annex, List of Canadian Partners active in Haiti
4. Haiti www.mri.gouv.qc.ca/en/relations_quebec/ameriques/amerique_du _sud/haiti/introduction.asp
5. Challenges of Capacity Development: Towards Sustainable Reforms of Caribbean Justice Sectors