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As Canadians, we often take pride in our international reputation as peacekeepers and defenders of democracy.
But there is a dark side to our foreign policy — a policy that has thwarted the Haitian people’s struggles for freedom and self-determination over the last two decades.
In 1986, Haitians joined their voices together in a cry for a new kind of society. Emerging from years of brutal dictatorship, they dreamed of a democracy that would serve the poor, listen to their voices and bring an end to impunity. And between 1991 and 2004, Haitians managed, against all odds, to elect a succession of governments committed to realizing this dream. The pro-democracy movement’s efforts, however, were ultimately derailed by powerful local elites and their allies in the international community.
Haiti Betrayed reveals how Canada, once seen by Haitians as a constructive partner, conspired with the United States and France in 2003 to topple the democratically-elected government. Seven years in the making, Elaine Brière’s film meticulously reconstructs Canada’s role in the events that culminated in the United Nations-sanctioned coup d’état on February 29, 2004 and the bloody aftermath that followed. Haiti Betrayed is a searing indictment of Canadian leaders’ complicity in the international oppression of this long-suffering nation.
With the country in the throes of a new popular uprising against corruption and authoritarianism, Brière’s film shows that the roots of current crisis can be found in the coup d’état backed by Canada fifteen years ago.
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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