AS CANADIANS, WE PRIDE OURSELVES ON OUR INTERNATIONAL REPUTATION AS PEACEKEEPERS AND UPHOLDERS OF DEMOCRACY.
But there is a dark side to our foreign policy — a policy that often aligns Canada with the objectives of the United States in Latin America and the Caribbean.
Haiti has a unique history. In 1804, after a slave revolt against France, Haitians established the world’s first independent black country. For decades, Haiti endured an international trade embargo. From 1825 to 1947 Haiti was forced to pay a crippling indemnity to France for loss of slaves and territory, impoverishing the country.
Between 1991 and 2004, against great odds, Haitians elected a succession of democratic governments with broad popular support. These governments improved health, education and the rule of law even as they were under siege by Haiti’s wealthy elite and the US State Department.
Canada, once regarded by Haitians as a constructive partner, joined the United States in blocking international aid to Haiti in the late 1980s. Canadian special forces joined troops from the US and France in coup d’état on February 29, 2004 that installed an unelected regime. This is the first time Canada has played a military and strategic role in removing a democratically elected government.
In 2009, I accompanied my partner, David Putt, who was in Haiti to work on clean water projects in some of the rawest slums in Port-au-Prince.
A few weeks after arriving I was taking photographs in Cham Mas, a major square in the centre of Port au Prince. A poor but neatly dressed older man approached me with his arms out, shouting in broken English. “Blan, blan, (foreigner) you don’t know what is happening here.” He thought I was a journalist. He wasn’t being aggressive – I walked towards him, afraid that the UN soldiers patrolling the square would harass or arrest him. Taking off his hat, he spoke again: “they are killing us! We are poor people. Life is very hard. Tell them, them what they are doing to us. Tell them to stop! Tell them to stop!” He began to cry. I held his hand until he composed himself. He put on his hat and slowly walked away.
This encounter moved me to the core and was the beginning of a deeper awareness of the plight of the Haitian people. I later learned that many people had been killed in Cite Soleil, where the man was from. On a personal level this film is a response to the impassioned plea of the man I met in Cham Mas.
Elaine Briere is an award-winning filmmaker and photojournalist. Her photographs have appeared in the Globe & Mail, the New York Review, Canadian Geographic, Amnesty International, and Neue Zurcher Zeitung (Switzerland). She has exhibited in Holland, Sweden, Australia, Japan, the USA and the 2006 World Urban Forum. East Timor, Testimony was published in 2004 by Between the Lines.
Bitter Paradise: The Sell-out of East Timor won Best Political Documentary at the l997 HOT DOCS! film festival. Her work is collected by the Visual Heritage Division of the National Archives of Canada and she is a recipient of the Order of East Timor. Her current film, Haiti Betrayed will be released in September, 2019.
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