August 13, 2008

Former Prime Minister Paul Martin and Haiti and "free trade"

Former Prime Minister Paul Martin and Haiti

(this article first appeared on Link to original article here)

Paul Martin’s History of Haiti and Future Plans for Africa

By: Tracy Glynn - HaitiAnalysis

Rumour spread fast amongst the small activist community in Fredericton months before the official announcement was made that the local chapter of Engineers Without Borders would be hosting a lecture by former Prime Minister Paul Martin on March 23, 2008 at the University of New Brunswick. As Finance Minister, Martin slashed social spending so that more could be given to corporate welfare. Post-secondary education was gutted to the tune of $7 billion from 1993 to 2000, forcing many students into debt before they turned twenty. Plagued by scandals during his reign as Prime Minister, a Ipsos-Reid poll conducted in 2004 found that 61 per cent of Canadians thought his governing Liberal Party was corrupt. After losing the election to Harper, Martin now finds himself speaking at university campuses as an authority on “how business and government can help Africa.”

The corporate media that covered Martin’s lecture failed to mentioned the presence of over a dozen protesters who gathered to counter the onslaught of misinformation and Liberal rhetoric. Flyers were distributed to the crowd on Paul Martin’s track record as Prime Minister including his role in overthrowing the democratically-elected government of Jean-Bertrand Aristide in Haiti.

When Paul Martin began his speech, two UNB students stood up alongside Martin and unfurled a banner that read

“Canada Out of Haiti and Afghanistan”.

A few minutes later, another couple of students unfurled another banner that read


on the other side of Martin. The two pairs of students with their message stood by Martin during his entire lecture. Martin, like any good Liberal willing to “listen”, was quoted in the local newspaper as saying that he would expect a protest at a university.

Sadly, many of Martin’s remarks received little challenge from what one would expect would be a critical audience on a university campus. Except for the occasional interruption, Martin was able to make several outrageous statements in an apparent attempt to rewrite a history that only transpired in the past decade. The first interruption came when Martin was responding to a question about the Responsibility to Protect doctrine and he said that he could not think of any Canadian business interests in Haiti. A student asked

“What about the sweatshops?”

Surely Martin must know of the presence of Montreal-based Gildan Active Wear in the country’s capital, Port-au-Prince. Gildan has recently closed their remaining North American shops to expand in countries where labour and production is cheaper like in Haiti and the Dominican Republic.

How was Gildan connected to the overthrowing of Haiti’s democratically-elected and popular leader? Gildan was the primary subcontractor for Alpha Industries, which was owned by Andy Apaid. Apaid was also the head of Group 184, which was the main opposition force to Aristide’s Lavalas party. Aristide, while enjoying popular support especially amongst the country’s poor, was overthrown from power with the help of Canada, the U.S. and France in 2004. About a year before being removed from power, Aristide increased minimum wage from 36 to 70 gourdes in February 2003, a move most likely opposed by the sweatshop kings.

Martin could also not have possibly forgotten about the presence in Haiti of what is now the world’s largest engineering firm, SNC-Lavalin, also from Montreal. SNC-Lavalin after all built the Canadian Embassy in Haiti’s capital. As one of the largest recipients of Canadian aid dollars, SNC-Lavalin works on CIDA-funded projects around the world, from Haiti to Afghanistan. Martin himself has gone the distance for this company, lobbying on behalf of SNC-Lavalin in arms deals in Libya. St. Genevieve Resources is another Canadian company in Haiti with mineral interests. Yves Engler, co-author of Canada in Haiti: Waging War on the Poor Majority, summarizes the close ties between Canadian aid abetting Canadian imperialism:

“the Canadian government may call it foreign aid, but a central aim of the Canadian International Development Agency has always been to help Canadian companies expand abroad both directly and indirectly. The mining sector, for instance, is one of Canadian aid’s greatest success stories and today, Canadian companies hold some 7000 mining concessions around the world… By having a direct hand in liberalizing mining codes in Colombia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Guinea etc., the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) has helped the flow of mining profits into Canada. In addition, Canada has channelled billions of “aid” dollars through IMF/World Bank structural adjustment programs that have liberalized mining laws around the world.”

Canada has also funded and had incredible say over Haiti’s troubled judicial and prison systems, police force and elections, but as Engler points out:

“Helping keep the world safe for ever-greater exploitation by the world’s corporate oligarchy has been Canadian aid’s biggest success.”

When interrupted during his version of how Aristide was ousted, Martin said that Aristide had asked for help to be removed safely. It was pointed out that Martin’s government had actually orchestrated the second coup of the democratically-elected Aristide with the support of the Canadian military that secured the airport for his removal. Aristide maintains that he was kidnapped by U.S. forces and forced into exile. Martin conveniently left out an important part of history involving his government hosting a meeting in Ottawa with the Presidents of the U.S. and France in January 2003. The meeting, dubbed the Ottawa Initiative, planned the removal of Aristide.

Canada also contributed to the U.S.-supported destabilization campaign aimed at removing Aristide by cutting off aid to Haiti that was highly dependent on foreign aid. CIDA also funded Haitian and Quebec NGOs that were actively organizing against Aristide.

CIDA also financed and militarized the Haitian police force that arrested the former Haitian Prime Minister, Yvon Neptune, on orders from a Justice Ministry where a CIDA employee, Philip Vixamar, was second in command. The former Haitian Prime Minister remained in jail for over two years under a CIDA-backed court system stacked by the coup government.

Martin ended the discussion on Haiti by saying that the neighbouring Caribbean countries supported the removal of Aristide. Actually, the 15-nation Caribbean Community (CARICOM) has called for an independent U.N.-led investigation into the details surrounding Aristide’s removal from power.

Perhaps one of the greatest ironies of the evening came with Martin’s comment that Canada does not have a colonial past after talking about a way forward for First Nations. Didn’t European settlers colonize the land known today as Canada? Besides a certain colonial past, Canada is currently colonizing lands and resources all over the world via its companies, banks, free trade agreements and publicly funded export credit agencies and pension plans. Royal Bank of Canada recently acquired the largest bank in Trinidad, RBTT while the Bank of Nova Scotia has had a foothold in the Caribbean region for over a century, establishing a branch in Jamaica in 1889. Canada has been extracting the riches of countries in this region ever since at the expense of the environment and traditional livelihoods of the colonized.

Martin also said that poverty drives environmental degradation. Martin seems to be getting greed mixed up with poverty. Martin made reference to the growing deforestation in the Congo basin. He blamed poverty and the looting of the forest by locals for fuel. He failed to mention that Canadian mining companies are deforesting large tracts of land for minerals and profit in the country.

The foreign theft of resources from the Congo rainforest is well documented. But Martin’s twisting of the facts of what is happening today in the Congo allows Canadian mining companies to get richer from Congo’s mineral wealth. About ten Canadian mining companies are active in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) today.

In 2002, eight Canadian companies were implicated in the U.N. Report on the Illegal Exploitation of Natural Resources and Other Forms of Wealth in the Congo. The report recommended investigations by the Canadian government into their actions but no such action was taken. More recently, Anvil Mining, a Canadian-Australian company, is accused of helping soldiers end an uprising in a village near an Anvil mine that killed more than 80 people including villagers.

According to Le Monde Diplomatique, Canadian mining companies Barrick and Banro had been “funding military operations [in the DRC] in exchange for lucrative contracts.” Barrick and Banro are today trying to silence allegations of abuse in Africa, in the case of Barrick, an alleged massacre of small-scale miners in Tanzania. Écosociété, a Quebec-based publisher, has recently been served with two libel lawsuits, a $5 million SLAPP suit by Banro and a $6 million SLAPP suit by Barrick following the publication of the book Noir Canada.

Over the years advisors and directors for Barrick have included George H.W. Bush, Brian Mulroney, as well as American and Canadian Senators and elite. Connections between Canadian politicians and companies exploiting resources around the globe abound and certainly are not limited to Paul Martin. Joe Clark was both the leader of the Progressive Conservative Party while acting as a special advisor on Africa for the mining company First Quantum Mineral in the mid 1990s.

As more and more Canadians were becoming aware of the extent of abuses faced by communities affected by Canadian mining across the globe, Martin’s government rejected recommendations by an all party Senate Committee to regulate the Canadian extractive sector abroad.

Martin’s prescription for Africa: The Common Market. A common market is essentially a customs union with common policies on product regulation. It is driven by philosophies of the freedom of movement of land, capital and labour for production, and of enterprise. Sounds a lot like “free trade”? Martin never uttered those two words during his entire speech. Maybe he did not want to upset his hosts, the Engineers Without Borders, who were handing out fair trade chocolates during the opening reception.

Martin has just founded an organization devoted to stopping environmental degradation in the Congo Rainforest Basin. One could be forgiven if they made the presumption that this fund has more to do with creating Canadian business friendly havens than helping the poor people of Africa.

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