Brian Concannon spent eight years in Haiti as a United Nations human rights observer, trying to make the country’s justice system work for the poor.
He left in February 2004 after the democratically elected government was allegedly overthrown through a backing of the American, Canadian and French governments.
“That kind of work was simply not possible after the coup,” Concannon said.
The coup saw then-president Jean Bertrand Aristide go into exile, while rebel troops invaded the country through the Dominican Republic.
After leaving Haiti, Concannon formed the Institute for Democracy and Justice in Haiti, an organization based out of Oregon that fights for the return of justice, human rights and constitutional democracy to Haiti.
To prove Canada’s involvement with the coup, many Haitian activists point to a 2003 article written by Michel Vastel in L’actualite magazine. Vastel alleged that Canadian diplomat Denis Paradis met with other officials from the United States, France and the Organization of American States to discuss the removal of Aristide.
“They wanted to undermine Haiti from the inside,” said Concannon.
“It’s disappointing, because Canada greatly helped improve the justice system before that,” he said, adding that since Aristide’s removal, there have been alleged cases of widespread human rights abuses.
As a result, Aristide left the country, claiming the United States forced him out, escorting him to a plane while Canadian forces helped secure the airport.
Haiti has a history of political turmoil. The country was formed out of the only successful slave revolt in the world and has endured an endless amount of dictatorships and political hardships.
Ironically, in 1994 Aristide was returned to power by then-president Bill Clinton after being overthrown by a military coup.
The political unrest in Haiti in 2004 stemmed from a May 2000 general election that the Organization of American States labeled a success.
But the OAS reported an irregularity in the calculation of vote percentages.
“There always was a huge amount of blank ballots, thanks to the illiteracy rate in Haiti,” said Concannon. “The issue was whether or not to count them in the overall total of votes.”
The Convergence Démocratique, the opposition party, called the election illegal and insisted a provisional government be installed.
They boycotted the next election in November 2000, which Aristide won by a landslide.
Allegations of violence on both sides surfaced and the United States suspended its aid to Haiti during the summer of 2004, in which Canada and the European Union followed suit.
Concannon said Western capitalist countries, including Canada, disliked Aristide’s economic policies, such as maintaining public control over Haitian national companies like Teleco, the country’s telephone company, instead of privatizing these companies to corporations from other countries.
“He wanted to double the minimum wage,” said Macho Philipovich of the Winnipeg Chapter of the Canada Haiti Action Network (CHAN), an activist group working towards Haitian sovereignty.
CHAN is calling for an independent investigation into Canada’s role since those elections, which seems unlikely.
Haiti’s last elections were in 2006, when Aristide protégé and former president Rene Preval was declared the winner, again amidst accusations of ballots being burned and not counted. This time, the blank ballots were counted.
Last year, Amnesty International reported widespread imprisonment of political activists, child labour, and the threatening of journalists in Haiti.
Published in Volume 63, Number 19 of The Uniter (February 5, 2009)