Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti

Canada’s “Disastrous” role in Haiti and May 14 Prison Incident Discussed as Preval Inaugurated

CBC’s The Current
May 15, 2006

Xanada’s “Disastrous” role in Haiti Discussed as Preval Inaugurated by CBC’s The Current Monday, May. 15, 2006

“If you talk to the well off people, the people with money up on the hill in places like Petionville and what have you, Canada is a fantastic country, we do amazing work here. But if you go down into the slums and you talk to people in front of the Parliament yesterday, Canada’s not so good. They see them as, well we trained the Haitian National Police force and this is the same police force that has gone into the slums and, according to the people there, has killed indiscriminately over the past two years. So we’re not doing so good and a lot of the projects that are done here are done for the rich people, and they make money off of them and it looks good and everyone smiles for the cameras, but the poor people are still poor and they have no influence in Parliament, and they’re not so happy with it.”

CBC’s The Current
Monday, May 15, 2006
[Rush Transcript]

Haiti � Puddicombe

Last night, Haitians began another new chapter in their country’s long and turbulent history, as newly elected President Rene Preval took power. Thousands of Haitians crowded into the national palace, cheering as the soft-spoken 63 year old was sworn into office.

But in a sign of the challenges still facing the country, inmates at the nearby national penitentiary rioted hours before the ceremony, demanding freedom. Gunshots could be heard inside the prison, and inmates massed on the roof, holding bodies aloft, apparently prisoners. Police and U.N troops fired tear gas on the rioters, quickly quelling the uprising.

Since the dramatic departure of Jean-Bertrand Aristide more than two years ago, Haiti has essentially fallen under the tutelage of the international community. And that has been the source of much debate and even more turmoil.

CBC Reporter Stephen Puddicombe brought us an update on the prison riot and inauguration last night. He was on the phone from the capital, Port-au-Prince.

Tremonte: Good morning Stephen.

Stephen Puddicombe: Good morning.

Tremonte: What more can you tell us about the prison riot yesterday?

Puddicombe: Well, we tried for the better part of the evening to try to get into the prison just to talk to anybody about the prison riot, because we spent most of the morning there yesterday, and it was just a horrendous scene because we saw hundreds of prisoners on rooftops holding up dead bodies and flashing the number twelve. And we garnered from that that twelve people had been killed but we have actually no substantiation of that, and the military that went into the prison, the UN troops that went into the prison, wouldn’t talk to us. Even our own Canadians that were spectators that went in, that were working with some of the Haitian police wouldn’t talk to us, and the Haitians themselves wouldn’t talk to us. So there’s no, really, more information than we had yesterday. We’re just getting drips and drabs from relatives that have heard things and from guards, and they say there was up to twelve people killed and scores of people injured. They were waving bloody t-shirts and shirts and pants up on the rooftops, and that’s about all we really know.

Tremonte: Given that we know that there are political prisoners in Haiti who are probably mixed in there, is this any kind of a coincidence that it happened on the day of the inauguration?

Puddicombe: Well, you know it’s interesting because actually the vast majority of prisoners in this particular National Penitentiary say they all are political prisoners because they haven’t been charged. Many of them have been in for like two, three years without any charges at all. On the day of an inauguration in Haiti, it’s a tradition that some low-level criminals are pardoned or given amnesty by the President. That didn’t happen yesterday. It was something that Jean Bertrand Aristide did several times, and it didn’t happen yesterday so they got a little upset about that, and then a number of them also joined in the protest about their living conditions in the prison because they’re just horrendous. In some cases prisoners don’t even get the food unless relatives bring them food. And then there was of course there was the political prisoners, the ones who haven’t been charged, also joined in the protest, and that just sort of led to the riots and the shootings.

Tremonte: And what is the wider mood there? Has this rioting made people fearful?

Puddicombe: You know, it was really strange because I thought, right after the riot, once it calmed down, I went down to the Parliament buildings to stand outside to see what was going to happen, and there were tens of thousands of people, [it was] just jammed with people, and there were pro-Aristide people, pro-Preval, Rene Preval being the new President. There were people just there looking, there was all the vendors. It was just a recipe for disaster but, strangely enough, nothing happened. There were people pouring out of one of the slums that’s overlooked upon called Bel Air, there must have been two, three thousand of them came down chanting and waving sticks and I just thought, this is going to be a big problem and nothing happened. They all sort of just got together, cheered and chanted and yelled and screamed, and then everyone went home. So the mood was pretty good, it was very peaceful throughout the capital and I don’t think I would have bet on that yesterday.

Tremonte: You know every time you report from Haiti, of course, security is clearly one of the problems that you cite. What’s the security situation like now? Was it any better?

Puddycomb: Well it seems that there’s a little bit – we went down to Cite Soleil, probably the most notorious slum with the gangs down in Port au Prince on the water, and it’s probably the first time that I was able to walk around by myself with my translator, with no escort and no problems; it just seemed like another poor part of the capital. The UN, the security forces around here, there were so many of them, I haven’t seen this many of them in a long time, and I don’t know if they brought extra people in or not or they’re just making themselves more visible. But they were everywhere. So I think that added to there not being too many problems yesterday. I think people too, there hasn’t been that much violence and the number of kidnappings have dropped since the election of Preval. A lot of people seem to be saying well let’s give him a chance, see what he can do and then we’ll move on. But he faces a lot of challenges so we’ll see if this is just a honeymoon.

Tremonte: Canada is a major international player of course in the country and we’ll talk to someone in a moment who has concerns about the role outside countries have played. What have you heard from people in that regard?

Puddicombe: Well it’s interesting. If you talk to the well off people, the people with money up on the hill in places like Petionville and what have you, Canada is a fantastic country, we do amazing work here. But if you go down into the slums and you talk to people in front of the Parliament yesterday, Canada’s not so good. They see them as, well we trained the Haitian National Police force and this is the same police force that has gone into the slums and, according to the people there, has killed indiscriminately over the past two years. So we’re not doing so good and a lot of the projects that are done here are done for the rich people, and they make money off of them and it looks good and everyone smiles for the cameras, but the poor people are still poor and they have no influence in Parliament, and they’re not so happy with it.

Tremonte: O.k. Stephen Puddicombe thank-you for talking to us this morning.

Puddicombe: Any time.

Tremonte: Stephen Puddicombe is a reporter with CBC radio and he is in Port au Prince, Haiti this morning.


Haiti � Critic

Tremonte: One of the first things Rene Preval is going to have to figure out is how he intends to deal with the international community. And that’s not likely to be easy given that many Haitians see outside forces as both the reason for their current chaotic state and their best hope for getting out of it.

Patrick Elie knows that dilemma all too well. He was Minister of Defense in Jean-Bertrand Aristide’s first government. He’s also a long-time friend of President Preval and he is on the phone from his home in Port-au-Prince. Good morning.

Patrick Elie: Good morning.

Tremonte: You were there at yesterday’s inauguration of Rene Preval. How did it go? Were there any surprises in your mind?

Elie: No real surprises but some good signals. The one most important one from my point of view is the fact that the President spoke in Creole rather than speaking in French, thus indicating that he wanted to speak to all Haitians using their national language. And the second thing is that he stressed very strongly that we are to regain our sovereignty.

Tremonte: And what does that mean for the people from the UN or acting under the auspices of the UN who are there? Does that mean they will be leaving?

Elie: The President has indicated that the nature of the mission must change and that it now hhas to become a mission that will bring technical expertise to the help of the Haitian people and help build infrastructure to develop the country increase production, rather than a military mission.

Tremonte: He was not the first choice in the eyes of the international community. Why not do you think?

Elie: Because he represented precisely the same political current that the international community was up against, which means he was a popular President, one who would have a strong backing from the population and thus be less pliable to the will of the international community. So that’s the reason why he was not the first choice of the international community, precisely because he was the first choice of the people.

Tremonte: Well who did France, Canada, and the United States want as first choice to be elected President of Haiti?

Elie: I believe this time it was Mr. Manigat, who is a Haitian scholar with very strong, very good academic credentials but is totally unpopular with the Haitian population. It would have been a government in line with the one we’ve seen in the last two years, one that answers more to the international community, speaks its language, rather than answering to the Haitian people themselves.

Tremonte: Well given that Canada is a big part of that international community in Haiti, what concerns do you have about Canada’s support now for Mr. Preval?

Elie: I hope that, and I’ve said that before, that Canada will understand that it has to work with the Haitian people, it cannot impose it’s choices on the Haitian people. And, because otherwise it will be more hurtful than helpful. We’ve seen that in the last two years, that was a disastrous experiment.

So you’re saying, let me get this straight, that Canada’s role over the last two years has been disastrous?

Elie: Oh yes, yes, by, you know first of all, by being part of that regime change that happened in February 2004, I think that was a disastrous decision that has set us back many years, and also by supporting the de facto government I think that Canada;s involvement has been disastrous. That might change now, and that’s what we hope, that Canada will again be our friend rather than try and dictate to us which way we should go and who we should have as President.

Tremonte: So what does Canada’s new government now have to do? It has expressed a clear recommitment to Haiti. What do you think Haiti needs from Canada?

Elie: We have lots of needs, you see. First of all you know that the economy is in very very bad shape. We also have lost a lot of our cadres, you know our professional people. Many of them, as a matter of fact, have gone to Canada, and we do need technical help, we ned to immediately start alleviating the misery in the poorest neighborhoods, and we need to initiate that program of disarmament, demobilization and reinsertion, and that will need urgent funds. And I think Canada could help us in that direction.

Tremonte: Now before I let you go I just have to ask; there has been a considerable amount of controversy over whether Mr. Preval will bring back or allow Jean Bertrand Aristide to return to Haiti. Do you see a role for Mr. Aristide in Haiti under Mr. Preval?

Elie: I do see a role for him because he is still, you know, a powerful symbol for the Haitian people, and he has indicated that when he comes back he will get involved in education, and that is a key part of changing Haiti. So, yes I believe that President Aristide will come back. Now the time frame is one that has to be realistic; it is something that has to be prepared, including through a dialogue with the international community.

Tremonte: Mr. Elie, thank-you for talking to us today.

Elie: And thank-you for the opportunity.

Tremonte: Bye-bye


Mr. Elie was Minister of Defense under former Haitian President Jean Bertrand Aristide. He spoke to us from Port au Prince.


Tremonte: With President Preval officially in office, we asked Canada’s Ambassador to Haiti, Claude Boucher, whether the new President can expect Canada’s full support.

Claude Boucher: When President Preval visited Canada two weeks ago, he met with Prime Minister Harper [inaudible] told him that the international community learned the lesson from the past and this time that Canada and the international community would be there for the long term.

That was Canada’s Ambassador Claude Boucher speaking to us from his office in Port au Prince

Canada has long had a deep connection to Haiti and there aren’t many politicians with a stronger personal stake in the country than Liberal MP Denis Coderre. He was Prime Minister Paul Martin’s special advisor on Haiti and he is in our Montreal studio, good morning.

Denis Coderre: Good morning Anna Maria.

Tremonte: We just heard Patrick Elie use the word disaster with respect to Canada’s involvement in Haiti in the last two years. How do you respond to that?

Coderre: Well, I cannot swear on the air so I’m not going to say much, but, you know, I’m amazed with that kind of propaganda since the beginning that I heard from those Lavalas; we have to be very very careful. Canada did a tremendous job. We were never there to dictate. I passed several times on your show saying that there’s no way we should go for a protectorate. I always said that we will be there to accompany the people, we’ve been, we’re not playing politics here, we’ve been always to support them. I remember in the last two years I went ten times to Port au Pince and in the areas and I was there to announce major infrastructure and programs through the Canadian International Development Agency, CIDA. And, you know, to hear that kind of politics is totally baloney, I mean this is not true, he’s lying and I think that Canada did a tremendous approach. We were there not to dictate. We were there to make sure that we would be able to be an international player since that, like you said, we have that sensitivity, we know the diaspora, we were the first country to organize the council of diaspora, that major conference where Mr. Latortue came. We were not there when people, some people who tried to say we participated as a country when Mr. Aristide left, and, you know, we have to be very very careful. Haiti is suffering, we need to be there, we invested $180 million in the last two years, we invested [recently] another $48 million. We will be there to accompany there in the long run.

But are you dismissing everything he says as mere propaganda and political playing…

Coderre: Come on!

Tremonte: He says he’s talking for the people who live there…

Coderre: Yeah, yeah, right, yeah right. We can, you know, it’s, it’s baloney, it’s not disastrous, we’ve been there and we invest, we were there to help, to have those kind of elections, and we’ve said since the beginning that we didn’t, Canada supporting Manigat? Hello? I mean we said since the beginning that we would respect the people’s wish, we were there to provide the tools so we can have that kind of election and the election went pretty well thank-you very much and we provide the security. What are we going to say to that person, the former RCMP, Mr. Bourque who died there and, you know, you had a lot of people from our own troops who’ve been there at the beginning and then with the police…a tremendous job.

Tremonte: Well I don’t thin he’;s talking about Mr. Bourque, in fairness, he’s talking about government direction. I just wanted to ask you because we now know from freedom of Information documents (1) that the former Canadian Ambassador to Haiti, Kenneth Cook, actually sent a memo to Ottawa where he talked about the President, Aristide, as a serious aggravating factor in the current crisis, and that has been used to point to Canada’s own involvement in wanting to see Mr. Aristide go even though you were at the time saying he should stay.

Coderre: No, no, no. Mr. Cook, I was not there when Mr. Cook [was] there, I was helping Mr. Boucher, but again, and it’s not us. You, CBC, Radio Canada did a tremendous documentary about Mr. Aristide. I remember that the minute I became Minister for La Francophonie in December 2003, the dean of the University [in Haiti] through the chimere – Lavalas, the armed force of Mr. Aristide, break the two legs of the dean, Remember what happened with all the students when they went out, so we have to be careful here, we don’t want to play games. We were not there to make Mr. Aristide out. He left and I don’t know what the history will tell how that it happened, but Canada was not involved in there but Mr. Aristide make a pretty bad thing in Haiti, but our role was always there to support the people, work with the people, with the people not tell them what to do.

Tremonte: Mr. Coderre, Mr. Elie is a long time friend of Mr. Preval and given that, given what he says, what does Canada have to do?

Coderre: Canada has to be there. We said that what the first condition was to have an election. We had an eleciton, a recognized election. We’ve been there, our governor-general was there yesterday, it was just to send a clear message that we’re supporting the people of Haiti and we should be there in the long run; it’s a non-partisan issue. I was there when Mr. Preval came back to Montreal, with [Foreign Affairs Minister] Mr. MacKay last week and it was pretty clear that Canada is there, we need Canada, but we were there for many decades and the last two year was a great investment to make sure that we had all those conditions to have those kind of elections, and then, we will support Mr. Preval and we will support, specifically, the people of Haiti.

Tremonte: Denis Coderre, we’ll leave it there. Thank-you for your time this morning.

Coderre: Always a pleasure. Thanks.

(1) For the declassified documents see: “Declassifying Canada in Haiti: Part I and II”

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