Category Archives: Haiti

Nationalism blinds Québecers to Oppression at Home and Abroad

To protect its culture Québec has decided veiled women shouldn’t be allowed to teach. But the crucifix adorning the National Assembly can stay, as well as a large cross atop the highest point in Montréal, not to mention the streets named after Catholic saints. The government has decided laïcité (secularism) should be pursued on the backs of the most marginalized immigrants.

Underlying support for this cultural chauvinism is a blindness to power relations that has long been part of Québec’s self-image and is especially evident in international affairs.

The week the governing party, Coalition Avenir Québec, announced it would prohibit public workers in positions of authority from wearing religious symbols, Québecer Catherine Cano was confirmed in the No. 2 position at la Francophonie. After former Governor General Michaëlle Jean failed to win a second term as leader of L’Organisation internationale de la Francophonie (OIF), Ottawa/Québec City secured a return to the organization’s previous leadership structure. Between 2006-15 Québec diplomat Clément Duhaime was No. 2 at the Paris based OIF.

Second biggest contributor to la Francophonie, Ottawa gives $40 million annually to OIF and the other institutions of la Francophonie. A member in its own right, Québec says it provides “over 10 million dollars per year … to international solidarity activities in developing countries that are members of La Francophonie.” Québec’s international affairs ministry is named Le Ministère des Relations internationales et de la Francophonie.

La Francophonie seems to stir linguistic chauvinism within Québec nationalist circles. During the 2016 OIF Summit in Madagascar Le Devoir bemoaned the decline of la langue de Molière in the former French colony. Titled “Quel avenir pour le français?: À Madagascar, la langue de Molière s’étiole”, the front page story cited an individual calling the post-independence focus on the country’s majoritarian, Indigenous language “nothing less than a ‘cultural genocide.’” According to the head of OIF’s Observatoire de la langue française, Alexandre Wolff, it was “urgent to show French can be useful” in the island nation. The progressive nationalist paper’s hostility to Malagasy wasn’t even presented as a battle with the dominant colonial language. The story noted that “English is practically absent” there.

OIF reinforces cultural inequities in former French and Belgian colonies. While OIF is largely designed to strengthen the French language, is there any place aside from Québec where French has been the language of the oppressed?

Even more than the English, French imperialists used language as a tool of colonial control. Schooling in French African colonies, for instance, was almost entirely in French, which stunted the written development of local languages as well as the rise of a common national or regional language. It also oriented the intellectual milieu towards the colonial metropole.

At the same time newly independent African countries attempted to promote indigenous languages, Ottawa channeled hundreds of millions of dollars in aid to link Québec with “French” countries. Efforts to strengthen the ‘common’ linguistic heritage between Québec and Algeria stunted its post-independence moves towards strengthening Arabic. Though less stark, the same dynamic played out in the Congo with Lingala, in the Central African Republic with Sango and in Senegal with Wolof. In Haiti Québec’s large (linguistically inspired) presence has reinforced the stark French-Creole linguistic/class divide. While basically everyone speaks Haitian Creole, less than 10 per cent of Haitians speak French fluently. French is the language of Haiti’s elite and language has served as a mechanism through which they maintain their privilege. (In terms of Haitians adopting a more useful common second-language, Spanish would facilitate ties with the eastern half of the island while English would enable greater relations with other parts of the Caribbean.)

Ottawa greatly expanded its aid to “Francophone” nations to weaken the sovereignty movement in the mid-1960s. In an influential 1962 internal memo, long time External Affairs official Marcel Cadieux argued that channeling foreign aid to “French” Africa was the most politically expedient means of demonstrating concern for Quebecker’s nationalist aspirations. Canadian aid to former French colonies skyrocketed through the late 1960s and Canada provided as much as a third of the budget for the institutions of OIF.

Ottawa/Québec’s interest in former French colonies isn’t only about culture, of course. Namesake of the 1965 Doctrine that made projecting French the objective of Québec’s international relations, Paul Gérin-Lajoie built up Québec-based companies as head of the Canadian International Development Agency in the 1970s. SNC Lavalin was hired to manage CIDA offices in Francophone African countries where Canada had no diplomatic representation. Six years after Algeria won its independence from France, SNC’s vice president of development Jack Hahn described their plan to enter Algeria: “They might be interested in North American technology offered in French.”

In February Ministre des Relations internationales et de la Francophonie du Québec Nadine Girault spoke to the SNC Lavalin, Bombardier, Rio-Tinto, etc. sponsored Conseil des relations internationales de Montréal on “Le Québec à la conquête des marchés étrangers: tirer profit de 50 ans d’affirmation à l’international” (Québec seeks to conquer foreign markets: profiting from 50 years of international affirmation). Girault focused on employing Québec’s substantial linguistically inspired presence in Africa and elsewhere to benefit corporations, noting “we will take advantage of 50 years of affirmation to conquer foreign markets.”

While framed as a defence against English domination in North America, promoting French in Haiti, Senegal or Algeria can appear progressive only if you ignore imperialism and international power relations. But many Québecers have been willing to do just that.

Like Canadian cultural chauvinists who never let the truth stop them from claiming their country is a benevolent international force, nationalism has blinded many Québecers to their oppression abroad and at home. Protecting Québec culture by targeting the most marginalized immigrants is a similar type of cultural chauvinism.

SNC Lavalin: The Corporate Face of the Ugly Canadian Abroad

While the Justin Trudeau government’s interference in the prosecution of SNC Lavalin highlights corporate influence over politics, it is also a story about a firm at the centre of Canadian foreign policy.

In a recent story titled “Canada’s Corrupt Foreign Policy Comes Home to Roost” I detailed some of SNC’s controversial international undertakings, corruption and government support. But, there’s a great deal more to say about the global behemoth.

With offices and operations in over 160 countries”, the company has long been the corporate face of this country’s foreign policy. In fact, it is not much of an exaggeration to describe some Canadian diplomatic posts as PR arms for the Montréal-based firm. What’s good for SNC has been defined as good for Canada.

Even as evidence of its extensive bribery began seeping out six years ago, SNC continued to receive diplomatic support and rich government contracts. Since then the Crown Corporation Export Development Canada issued SNC or its international customers at least $800-million in loans; SNC and a partner were awarded part of a contract worth up to $400 million to manage Canadian Forces bases abroad; Canada’s aid agency profiled a venture SNC co-led to curb pollution in Vietnam; Canada’s High  Commissioner Gérard Latulippe and Canadian Commercial Corporation vice president Mariette Fyfe-Fortin sought “to arrange an untendered, closed-door” contract for SNC to build a $163-million hospital complex in Trinidad and Tobago.

Ottawa’s support for SNC despite corruption allegations in fifteen countries is not altogether surprising since the company has proven to be a loyal foot soldier fighting for controversial foreign policy decisions under both Liberal and Conservative governments.

SNC’s nuclear division participated in a delegation to India led by International Trade Minister Stockwell Day a few months after Ottawa signed a 2008 agreement to export nuclear reactors to India, even though New Delhi refused to sign the Nuclear non-Proliferation Treaty (India developed atomic weapons with Canadian technology). Describing it as the “biggest private contractor to [the] Canadian mission” in Afghanistan, the Ottawa Citizen referred to SNC in 2007 as “an indispensable part of Canada’s war effort.” In Haiti SNC participated in a Francophonie Business Forum trip seven months after the US, Canada and France overthrew the country’s elected President Jean-Bertrand Aristide. Amidst the coup government’s vast political repression, the Montreal firm met foreign installed prime minister Gérard Latortue and the company received a series of Canadian government funded contracts in Haiti.

SNC certainly does not shy away from ethically dubious business. For years it manufactured grenades for the Canadian military and others at its plant in Le Gardeur, Quebec. According to its website, SNC opened an office in Johannesburg, South Africa, in 1982 amidst the international campaign to boycott the apartheid regime. Later that decade SNC worked on the Canadian government funded Manantali Dam, which led to “economic ruin, malnutrition and disease to hundreds of thousands of West African farmers.”

More recently, SNC has been part of numerous controversial mining projects in Africa. It had a major stake in a Sherritt-led consortium that initiated one of the world’s largest nickel and cobalt mines in Ambatovy Madagascar. Backed by Canadian diplomats and Export Development Canada, the gigantic open pit mine tore up more than 1,300 acres of biologically rich rain forest home to a thousand species of flowering plants, fourteen species of lemurs and a hundred types of frogs.

According to West Africa Leaks, SNC dodged its tax obligations in Senegal. With no construction equipment or office of its own, SNC created a shell company in Mauritius to avoid paying tax. Senegal missed out on $8.9 million the Montréal firm should have paid the country because its ‘office’ was listed in tax free Mauritius. SNC has subsidiaries in low tax jurisdictions Jersey and Panama and the company was cited in the “Panama Papers” leak of offshore accounts for making a $22 million payment to a British Virgin Islands-based firm to secure contracts in Algeria. (In a case of the tax-avoiding fox protecting the public’s hen house, former SNC president and chairman of the board, Guy Saint-Pierre, was appointed to Conservative Finance Minister Jim Flaherty’s 2007 advisory panel on Canada’s System of International Taxation.)

SNC has benefited from Ottawa’s international push for neoliberal reforms and Canada’s power within the World Bank. A strong proponent of neoliberalism, the Montréal firm has worked on and promoted privatizing water services in a number of countries. Alongside Global Affairs Canada, SNC promotes the idea that the public cannot build, operate or manage services and that the way forward is through Public-Private Partnerships (PPPs), which often go beyond a standard design-and-build-construction contract to include private sector participation in service operation, financing and decision making. SNC is represented on the Canadian Council for Public-Private Partnerships, which promotes PPPs globally. The Montréal firm has also sponsored many pro-privatization forums. With Rio Tinto, Alcan, Teck Resources and the Canadian International Development Agency, SNC funded and presented at a 2012 conference at McGill University on Public-Private Partnerships for Sustainable Development: Towards a Framework for Resource Extraction Industries.

In an embarrassing comment on the PPP lobby, the year before SNC was charged with paying $22.5 million in bribes to gain the contract to build the McGill University Health Centre (MUHC) the Canadian Council for Public-Private Partnerships and Thomson Reuters both awarded the MUHC project a prize for best PPP.

Further proof that in the corporate world what is good for SNC is seen as good for Canada, the Canadian Institute of Chartered Accountants gave SNC its award for excellence in corporate governance in seven of the ten years before the company’s corruption received widespread attention.

In an indication of the impunity that reigns in the corporate world, the directors that oversaw SNC’s global corruption have faced little sanction. After the corruption scandal was revealed board chairman Gwyn Morgan, founder of EnCana, continued to write a regular column for the Globe and Mail Report on Business (currently Financial Post) and continues his membership in the Order of Canada. Ditto for another long serving SNC director who is also a member of the Order of Canada. In fact, Conservative Senator Hugh Segal was subsequently made a member of the Order of Ontario. Another Order of Canada and Order of Ontario member on SNC’s board, Lorna Marsden, also maintained her awards. Other long serving board members — Claude Mongeau, Pierre Lessard, Dee Marcoux, Lawrence Stevenson and David Goldman – received corporate positions and awards after overseeing SNC’s corruption.

The corporate face of this country’s foreign policy is not pretty. While Trudeau’s SNC scandal highlights corporate influence over politics, it’s also the story of the Ugly Canadian abroad.

Militarised Conservation: Paramilitary Rangers and the WWF

Think charity, think vulnerability and its endless well of opportunistic exploitation.  Over the years, international charity organisations have been found with employees keen to take advantage of their station.  That advantage has been sexual, financial and, in the case of allegations being made about the World Wild Life Fund for Nature, in the nature of inflicting torture on those accused of poaching.

BuzzFeed, via reporters Tom Warren and Katie J.M. Baker, began the fuss with an investigative report claiming instances of torture and gross violence on the part of rangers assisted by the charity to combat poaching.  It starts with a description of a dying man’s last days, one Shikharam Chaudhary, a farmer who was brutally beaten and tortured by forest rangers patrolling Chitwan National Park in Nepal.  Shikharam, it seems, had been singled out for burying a rhinoceros horn in his backyard.  The horn proved elusive, but not the unfortunate farmer, who was detained in prison.  After nine days, he was dead.

Three park officials including the chief warden were subsequently charged with murder.  WWF found itself in a spot, given its long standing role in sponsoring operations by the Chitwan forest rangers.  As the BuzzFeed report goes on to note, “WWF’s staff on the ground in Nepal leaped into action – not to demand justice, but to lobby for the charges to disappear.  When the Nepalese government dropped the case months later, the charity declared its victory in the fight against poaching.  Then WWF Nepal continued to work closely with the rangers and fund the park as if nothing had happened.”

The report does not hold back, insisting that the alleged murder of the unfortunate Shikharam in 2006 was no aberration.  “It was part of a pattern that persists to this day.  In national parks across Asia and Africa, the beloved non-profit with the cuddly panda logo funds, equips, and works directly with paramilitary forces that have been accused of beating, torturing, sexually assaulting, and murdering scores of people.”

The poach wars are a savage business, throwing up confected images of heroes and villains.  They do not merely involve the actions of protecting animals, but military-styled engagements where fatalities are not uncommon.  Anti-poaching has become a mission heralded by the romantically inclined as indispensable, its agents to be celebrated.  Desperate local conditions are conveniently scrubbed out in any descriptions: there are only the noble rangers battling animal murderers.

The Akashinga, for instance, are an anti-poaching enterprise of 39 women operating in Zimbabwe who featured with high praise in a report from the ABC in October last year.  Who are the victims, apart from the animals they protect?  There is little doubt in the minds of the reporters: the women themselves, victims of assault, many single mothers from Nyamakate.  Laud them, respect their mission.

It is clear that these women are feted warriors, armed and given appropriate training.  They “undergo military-style training in unarmed combat, camouflage and concealment, search and arrest, as well as leadership and conservation ethics.”  Their source of encouragement and support is Damien Mander, formerly a military sniper and founder of the International Anti-Poaching Foundation.

Mander’s own laundry list for being a “good anti-poaching ranger”, as featured in an interview to the Hoedspruit Endangered Species Centre in 2015, is unvarnished: “A passion for nature, strong paramilitary base, and ability and willingness to work in hostile environments for extended periods of time as part of a team.”

The line between the mission of charity and its mutation into one of abuse is tooth fine.  In February 2018, The Times, assisted by information supplied by whistleblowers, sprung the lid off Oxfam GB workers in Haiti, suggesting that charity workers had received sexual favours for payment in the aftermath of the Haiti earthquake.  (Nothing like a crisis that breeds opportunity.)  It was duly revealed that the organisation had done its level best to conceal the fact.  The UK International Development Secretary Penny Mordaunt’s statement to Parliament in February took most issue with the latter.  “In such circumstances we must be able to trust organisations not only to do all they can to prevent harm, but to report and follow up incidents of wrongdoing when they do occur.”

In the course of its conduct, Oxfam did not, according to Mordaunt, furnish the Charity Commission with a report on the incidents.  Nor did the donors receive one.  The protecting authorities were also left in the dark on the subject.

Defences have been mounted by those working in the aid sector.  Mike Aaronson, writing in August last year, pleaded the case that aid organisations were being unduly singled out, the scape goats of moral outrage and privileged ethics.  “Aid organisations carry a lot of risk, operating in chaotic and stressful environments where in trying to do good they can end up doing harm.”  In condemning them, it was easy to ignore the fact that they had “done most to address the issue”.

The WWF situation, which has moved the matter into the dimension of animal protection and conservation, has hallmarks that are similarly problematic with the humanitarian sector in general.  And the reaction of the organisation has also been fairly typical, laden with weasel-worded aspirations.  “At the heart of WWF’s work are places and people who live with them,” an organisation spokesman for WWF UK asserted in response to the allegations.  “Respect for human rights is at the core of our mission.”  There were “stringent policies” in place to safeguard “the rights and wellbeing of indigenous people and local communities in the places we work.”

Students of the broad field of humanitarian ventures suggest four instances where militarisation takes place.  Charities and relief organisations have become proxy extensions in armed conflict (consider Nicaragua and Afghanistan during the 1980s); creatures of embedment (the Red Cross in the World Wars); agents of “self-defence” – consider the Order of Saint John of Jerusalem in the twelfth century; and engaged in direct conflict (the International Brigades of the Spanish Civil War).

The WWF case suggests a direct connection between the mission of a charitable organisation and its captivation by a dangerous militancy.  It has become a sponsor, and concealer, of vigilante action, obviously unabashed in cracking a few skulls in the name of shielding protected species.  Along came the networks of informants, surveillance and exploiting local issues.  No longer can this be regarded a matter of altruistic engagement in the name of animal conservation; it is a full-fledged sponsorship of a paramilitary operation with all the incidental nastiness such an effort entails.

Canadian Military in Haiti: Why?

Canadian troops may have recently been deployed to Haiti, even though the government has not asked Parliament or consulted the public for approval to send soldiers to that country.

Last week the Haiti Information Project photographed heavily-armed Canadian troops patrolling the Port-au-Prince airport. According to a knowledgeable source I emailed the photos to, they were probably special forces. The individual in “uniform is (most likely) a member of the Canadian Special Operations Regiment (CSOR) from Petawawa”, wrote the person who asked not to be named. “The plainclothes individuals are most likely members of JTF2. The uniformed individual could also be JTF2 but at times both JTF2 and CSOR work together.” (CSOR is a sort of farm team for the ultra-elite Joint Task Force 2.)

What was the purpose of their mission? The Haiti Information Project reported that they may have helped family members of President Jovenel Moïse’s unpopular government flee the country. HIP tweeted, “troops & plainclothes from Canada providing security at Toussaint Louverture airport in Port-au-Prince today as cars from Haiti’s National Palace also drop off PHTK govt official’s family to leave the country today.”

Many Haitians would no doubt want to be informed if their government authorized this breach of sovereignty. And Canadians should be interested to know if Ottawa deployed the troops without parliamentary or official Haitian government okay. As well any form of Canadian military support for a highly unpopular foreign government should be controversial.

Two days after Canadian troops were spotted at the airport five heavily armed former US soldiers were arrested. The next day the five Americans and two Serbian colleagues flew to the US where they will not face charges. One of them, former Navy SEAL Chris Osman, posted on Instagram that he provided security “for people who are directly connected to the current President” of Haiti. Presumably, the mercenaries were hired to squelch the protests that have paralyzed urban life in the country. Dozens of antigovernment protesters and individuals living in neighborhoods viewed as hostile to the government have been killed as calls for the president to step down have grown in recent months.

Was the Canadians’ deployment in any way connected to the US mercenaries? While it may seem far-fetched, it’s not impossible considering the politically charged nature of recent deployments to Haiti.

After a deadly earthquake rocked Haiti in 2010 two thousand Canadian troops were deployed while several Heavy Urban Search Rescue Teams were readied but never sent. According to an internal file uncovered through an access to information request, Canadian officials worried that “political fragility has increased the risks of a popular uprising, and has fed the rumour that ex-president Jean-Bertrand Aristide, currently in exile in South Africa, wants to organize a return to power.” The government documents also explain the importance of strengthening the Haitian authorities’ ability “to contain the risks of a popular uprising.”

The night president Aristide says he was “kidnapped” by US Marines JTF2 soldiers “secured” the airport. According to Agence France Presse, “about 30 Canadian special forces soldiers secured the airport on Sunday [February 29, 2004] and two sharpshooters positioned themselves on the top of the control tower.” Reportedly, the elite fighting force entered Port-au-Prince five days earlier ostensibly to protect the embassy.

Over the past 25 years Liberal and Conservative governments have expanded the secretive Canadian special forces. In 2006 the military launched the Canadian Special Operations Forces Command (CANSOFCOM) to oversee JTF2, the Special Operations Regiment, Special Operations Aviation Squadron and Canadian Joint Incident Response Unit.

CANSOFCOM’s exact size and budget aren’t public information. It also bypasses standard procurement rules and their purchases are officially secret. While the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS), Communications Security Establishment and other government agencies face at least nominal oversight, CANSOFCOM does not.

During a 2006 Senate Defence Committee meeting CANSOFCOM Commander Colonel David E. Barr responded by saying, “I do not  believe there is a requirement for independent evaluation. I believe there is sufficient oversight within the Canadian Forces and to the people of Canada through the Government of Canada — the minister, the cabinet and the Prime Minister.”

The commander of CANSOFCOM simply reports to the defence minister and PM.

Even the U.S. President does not possess such arbitrary power,” notes Michael Skinner in a CCPA Monitor story titled “Canada’s Ongoing Involvement in Dirty Wars.”

This secrecy is an important part of their perceived utility by governments. “Deniability” is central to the appeal of special forces, noted Major B. J. Brister. The government is not required to divulge information about their operations so Ottawa can deploy them on controversial missions and the public is none the wiser. A 2006 Senate Committee on National Security and Defence complained their operations are “shrouded in secrecy”. The Senate Committee report explained, “extraordinary units are called upon to do extraordinary things … But they must not mandate themselves or be mandated to any role that Canadian citizens would find reprehensible. While the Committee has no evidence that JTF2 personnel have behaved in such a manner, the secrecy that surrounds the unit is so pervasive that the Committee cannot help but wonder whether JTF2’s activities are properly scrutinized.” Employing stronger language, right wing Toronto Sun columnist Peter Worthington pointed out that, “a secret army within the army is anathema to democracy.”

If Canadian special forces were secretly sent to Port-au-Prince to support an unpopular Haitian government Justin Trudeau’s government should be criticized not only for its hostility to the democratic will in that country but also for its indifference to Canadian democracy.

Canadian Policy on Venezuela and Haiti reveals Hypocrisy that Media Ignores

If the dominant media was serious about holding the Canadian government to account for its foreign policy decisions, there would be numerous stories pointing out the hypocrisy of Ottawa’s response to recent political developments in Haiti and Venezuela.

Instead silence, or worse, cheer-leading.

Venezuela is a deeply divided society. Maybe a quarter of Venezuelans want the president removed by (almost) any means. A similar proportion backs Nicolas Maduro. A larger share of the population oscillates between these two poles, though they generally prefer the president to opposition forces that support economic sanctions and a possible invasion.

There are many legitimate criticisms of Maduro, including questions about his electoral bonafides after a presidential recall referendum was scuttled and the Constituent Assembly usurped the power of the opposition dominated National Assembly (of course, many opposition actors’ democratic credentials are far more tainted). But, the presidential election in May demonstrates that Maduro and his PSUV party maintain considerable support. Despite the opposition boycott, the turnout was over 40% and Maduro received a higher proportion of the overall vote than leaders in the US, Canada and elsewhere. Additionally, Venezuela has an efficient and transparent electoral system — “best in the world” according to Jimmy Carter in 2012 — and it was the government that requested more international electoral observers.

Unlike Venezuela, Haiti is not divided. Basically, everyone wants the current “president” to go. While the slums have made that clear for months, important segments of the establishment (Reginald Boulos, Youri Latortue, Chamber of Commerce, etc) have turned on Jovenel Moïse. Reliable polling is limited, but it’s possible 9 in 10 Haitians want President Moïse to leave immediately. Many of them are strongly committed to that view, which is why the country’s urban areas have been largely paralyzed since February 7.

In a bid to squelch the protests, government forces (and their allies) have killed dozens in recent months. If you include the terrible massacre reported here and here in the Port-au-Prince neighborhood of La Saline on November 11-13 that number rises far above 100.

Even prior to recent protests the president’s claim to legitimacy was paper-thin. Moïse assumed the job through voter suppression and electoral fraud. Voter turnout was 18%.  His predecessor and sponsor, Michel Martelly, only held elections after significant protests. For his part, Martelly took office with about 16 per cent of the vote, since the election was largely boycotted. After the first round, US and Canadian representatives pressured the electoral council to replace the second-place candidate, Jude Celestin, with Martelly in the runoff.

While you won’t have read about it in the mainstream media, recent protests in Haiti are connected to Venezuela. The protesters’ main demand is accountability for the billions of dollars pilfered from Petrocaribe, a discounted oil program set up by Venezuela in 2006. In the summer demonstrators forced out Moïse’s prime minister over an effort to eliminate fuel subsidies and calls for the president to go have swelled since then. Adding to popular disgust with Moïse, his government succumbed to US/Canadian pressure to vote against Venezuela at the OAS last month.

So what has been Ottawa’s response to the popular protests in Haiti? Has Global Affairs Canada released a statement supporting the will of the people? Has Canada built a regional coalition to remove the president? Has Canada’s PM called other international leaders to lobby them to join his effort to remove Haiti’s President? Have they made a major aid announcement designed to elicit regime change? Have they asked the International Criminal Court to investigate the Haitian government? Has Justin Trudeau called the Haitian President a “brutal dictator”?

In fact, it’s the exact opposite to the situation in Venezuela. The only reason the Haitian president is hanging on is because of support from the so-called “Core Group” of “Friends of Haiti”. Comprising the ambassadors of Canada, France, Brazil, Germany and the US, as well as representatives of Spain, EU and OAS, the “Core Group” released a statement last week “acknowledging the professionalism shown by the Haitian National Police.” The statement condescendingly “reiterated the fact that in a democracy change must come through the ballot box, and not through violence.” The “Core Group’s” previous responses to the protests expressed stronger support of the unpopular government. As I detailed10 weeks ago in a story headlined “Canada backs Haitian government, even as police force kills demonstrators”, Ottawa has provided countless forms of support to Moïse’s unpopular government. Since then Justin Trudeau had a “very productive meeting” with Haitian Prime Minister Jean Henry Ceant, International development minister Marie-Claude Bibeau‏ declared a desire to “come to the aid” of the Haitian government and Global Affairs Canada released a statement declaring that “acts of political violence have no place in the democratic process.” Trudeau’s government has provided various forms of support to the repressive police that maintains Moïse’s rule. Since Paul Martin’s Liberals played an important role in violently ousting Jean-Bertrand Aristide’s government in 2004 Canada has financed, trained and overseen the Haitian National Police. As took place the night Aristide was forced out of the country by US Marines, Canadian troops were recently photographed patrolling the Port-au-Prince airport.

Taking their cue from Ottawa, the dominant media have downplayed the scope of the recent protests and repression in Haiti. There have been few (any?) stories about protesters putting their bodies on the line for freedom and the greater good. Instead the media has focused on the difficulties faced by a small number of Canadian tourists, missionaries and aid workers. While the long-impoverished country of 12 million people is going through a very important political moment, Canada’s racist/nationalist media is engrossed in the plight of Canucks stuck at an all-inclusive resort!

The incredible hypocrisy in Ottawa’s response to recent political developments in Haiti and Venezuela is shameful. Why has no major media dared contrast the two?

Justin Trudeau’s High-mindedness

Justin Trudeau likes making high-minded sounding statements that make him seem progressive but change little. The Prime Minister’s declaration marking “Haiti’s Independence Day” was an attempt of the sort, which actually demonstrates incredible ignorance, even antipathy, towards the struggle against slavery.

In his statement commemorating 215 years of Haitian Independence, the Prime Minister failed to mention slavery, Haiti’s revolution and how that country was born of maybe the greatest example of liberation in the history of humanity. From the grips of the most barbaric form of plantation economy, the largely African-born slaves delivered a massive blow to slavery, colonialism and white supremacy.

Before the 1791 revolt the French colony of Saint Domingue was home to 450,000 people in bondage. At its peak in the 1750s the ‘Pearl of the Antilles’ provided as much as 50 per cent of France’s GNP. Super profits were made from using African slaves to produce sugar, cocoa, coffee, cotton, tobacco, indigo and other commodities.

The slaves put a stop to that with a merciless struggle that took advantage of divisions between ‘big white’ land/slave owners, racially empowered though poorer ‘small whites’ and a substantial ‘mulatto’ land/slave owning class. The revolt rippled through the region and compelled the post-French Revolution government in Paris to abolish slavery in its Caribbean colonies. Between 1791 and 1804 ‘Haitians’ would defeat tens of thousands of French, British and Spanish troops (Washington backed France financially), leading to the world’s first and only successful large-scale slave revolution. The first nation of free people in the Americas, Haiti established a slave-free state 60 years before the USA’s emancipation proclamation. (It wasn’t until after this proclamation ending slavery that the US recognized Haiti’s independence.)

The Haitian Revolution’s geopolitical effects were immense. It stimulated the Louisiana Purchase and London’s 1807 Act for the Abolition of the Slave Trade. The revolutionary state also provided important support to South American independence movements.

Canada’s rulers at the time opposed the slave revolt. In a bid to crush the ex-slaves before their example spread to the English colonies, British forces invaded Haiti in 1793. Halifax, which housed Britain’s primary naval base in North America, played its part in London’s efforts to capture one of the world’s richest colonies (for the slave owners). Much of the Halifax-based squadron arrived on the shores of the West Indies in 1793, and many of the ships that set sail to the Caribbean at this time were assembled in the town’s naval yard. Additionally, a dozen Nova Scotia privateers captured at least 57 enemy vessels in the West Indies between 1793 and 1805. “Essential tools of war until the rise of large steam navies”, the privateers also wanted to protect the British Atlantic colonies’ lucrative Caribbean market decimated by French privateers. For a half-century Nova Scotia and Newfoundland generated great wealth selling cheap, high-protein cod to keep millions of “enslaved people working 16 hours a day”.

A number of prominent Canadian-born (or based) individuals fought to capture and re-establish slavery in the French colonies. Dubbed the “Father of the Canadian Crown”, Prince Edward Duke of Kent departed for the West Indies aboard a Halifax gunboat in 1793. As a Major General, he led forces that captured Guadalupe, St. Lucia and Martinique. Today, many streets and monuments across the country honour a man understood to have first applied the term “Canadian” to both the English and French inhabitants of Upper and Lower Canada.

Other “Canadians” played a part in Britain’s effort to corner the lucrative Caribbean slave plantations. Born into a prominent Québec military family, Charles Michel Salaberry “was part of successful invasions of Saint-Dominique [Haiti], Guadeloupe and Martinique.” A number of monuments commemorate Salaberry, including the city in Québec named Salaberry-de-Valleyfield.

To commemorate Haitian independence the Secretary General of the Caribbean Community, Irwin LaRocque, also released a statement. Unlike Trudeau, LaRocque “congratulated” Haiti and described the day as “a timely reminder of the historic importance of the Haitian Revolution and its continued significance as a symbol of triumph over adversity in the quest for liberty, equality and control of national destiny.”

Trudeau should have said something similar and acknowledged Canadians’ role in the slave trade and crimes against the free people of Haiti.

Justin Trudeau’s High-mindedness

Justin Trudeau likes making high-minded sounding statements that make him seem progressive but change little. The Prime Minister’s declaration marking “Haiti’s Independence Day” was an attempt of the sort, which actually demonstrates incredible ignorance, even antipathy, towards the struggle against slavery.

In his statement commemorating 215 years of Haitian Independence, the Prime Minister failed to mention slavery, Haiti’s revolution and how that country was born of maybe the greatest example of liberation in the history of humanity. From the grips of the most barbaric form of plantation economy, the largely African-born slaves delivered a massive blow to slavery, colonialism and white supremacy.

Before the 1791 revolt the French colony of Saint Domingue was home to 450,000 people in bondage. At its peak in the 1750s the ‘Pearl of the Antilles’ provided as much as 50 per cent of France’s GNP. Super profits were made from using African slaves to produce sugar, cocoa, coffee, cotton, tobacco, indigo and other commodities.

The slaves put a stop to that with a merciless struggle that took advantage of divisions between ‘big white’ land/slave owners, racially empowered though poorer ‘small whites’ and a substantial ‘mulatto’ land/slave owning class. The revolt rippled through the region and compelled the post-French Revolution government in Paris to abolish slavery in its Caribbean colonies. Between 1791 and 1804 ‘Haitians’ would defeat tens of thousands of French, British and Spanish troops (Washington backed France financially), leading to the world’s first and only successful large-scale slave revolution. The first nation of free people in the Americas, Haiti established a slave-free state 60 years before the USA’s emancipation proclamation. (It wasn’t until after this proclamation ending slavery that the US recognized Haiti’s independence.)

The Haitian Revolution’s geopolitical effects were immense. It stimulated the Louisiana Purchase and London’s 1807 Act for the Abolition of the Slave Trade. The revolutionary state also provided important support to South American independence movements.

Canada’s rulers at the time opposed the slave revolt. In a bid to crush the ex-slaves before their example spread to the English colonies, British forces invaded Haiti in 1793. Halifax, which housed Britain’s primary naval base in North America, played its part in London’s efforts to capture one of the world’s richest colonies (for the slave owners). Much of the Halifax-based squadron arrived on the shores of the West Indies in 1793, and many of the ships that set sail to the Caribbean at this time were assembled in the town’s naval yard. Additionally, a dozen Nova Scotia privateers captured at least 57 enemy vessels in the West Indies between 1793 and 1805. “Essential tools of war until the rise of large steam navies”, the privateers also wanted to protect the British Atlantic colonies’ lucrative Caribbean market decimated by French privateers. For a half-century Nova Scotia and Newfoundland generated great wealth selling cheap, high-protein cod to keep millions of “enslaved people working 16 hours a day”.

A number of prominent Canadian-born (or based) individuals fought to capture and re-establish slavery in the French colonies. Dubbed the “Father of the Canadian Crown”, Prince Edward Duke of Kent departed for the West Indies aboard a Halifax gunboat in 1793. As a Major General, he led forces that captured Guadalupe, St. Lucia and Martinique. Today, many streets and monuments across the country honour a man understood to have first applied the term “Canadian” to both the English and French inhabitants of Upper and Lower Canada.

Other “Canadians” played a part in Britain’s effort to corner the lucrative Caribbean slave plantations. Born into a prominent Québec military family, Charles Michel Salaberry “was part of successful invasions of Saint-Dominique [Haiti], Guadeloupe and Martinique.” A number of monuments commemorate Salaberry, including the city in Québec named Salaberry-de-Valleyfield.

To commemorate Haitian independence the Secretary General of the Caribbean Community, Irwin LaRocque, also released a statement. Unlike Trudeau, LaRocque “congratulated” Haiti and described the day as “a timely reminder of the historic importance of the Haitian Revolution and its continued significance as a symbol of triumph over adversity in the quest for liberty, equality and control of national destiny.”

Trudeau should have said something similar and acknowledged Canadians’ role in the slave trade and crimes against the free people of Haiti.

The Plight of Children in a Neoliberal World

The New York Times wrote Christmas Day that an 8-year old Guatemalan boy died in US Border Control custody. The circumstances are not clear, or are simply not reported. A month earlier, a 7-year old girl, also from Guatemala, died also in US Border Control custody. Here too, the circumstances are not revealed. How many more children, not mentioned by any media, or any statistics have already perished, trying to make their way to a better future?  A better future, because their real and beloved future in their own countries has been miserably destroyed by the US empire’s imposed corporate abuse and fascist-like dictatorships. But who cares? They are just children of illegal immigrants; children separated from their parents to dissuade parents to migrate to the US of A.  Welcome to paradise of hell!

Currently a large portion of the US Government is shut down, due to a budget dispute between President Trump and the ultra-right wing of the Republican Party breathing down his neck and the Democrats. At stake are US$5 billion for a Border Wall Trump requests as part of the general budget, and the Democrats refuse to sign-off on it. The Border Wall would have countless nefarious and more serious killer effects. More kids in border custody, some dehydrated, some simply exhausted from the long journey, some sick, all separated from their parents, maybe for good, and neglected by US Authorities, and most of them just simply left to their plight which, in many cases, may be death.

Welcome to the Land of the Free, the land of exemplary democracy!

Are Trump and his handlers murderers? Yes, they are. There is absolutely no doubt. Not just for the abject, inhuman abuse of migrants and migrant children, but for killing children and adults in the ever-increasing number of wars and conflicts around the globe, waged and initiated by the US, NATO, and the European puppets’ armies. He,Trump, could stop them at once. He may risk his life, but somebody who aspires to such high office must take risks. Besides, his life may be at stake for many more reasons. Enemies abound. A life is just a life, highly precious, though, to be saved by all means, but killing wantonly millions of children – the future of civilization – what is that if not a crime of the very, very highest degree, a crime of unfathomable dimensions, a crime that should be punishable by – well, let’s just call it by a war crimes court à la Nuremberg.

If someone would tell Trump that he is a murderer, would he grasp it? Would his conscience kick in and make him realize what he
is doing, he the all-powerful, who could stop it all? Or would he simply call his secret service to arrest you and put you behind bars for insulting him, albeit, telling him the truth?  We may never know. I have asked a similar question about Obama. How can they sleep at night? Do they take a pill that eradicates their conscience, their human brain power?  I truly wonder. It’s been known forever that power intoxicates. But to that extent? No repenting, not even after the four- or eight-year’s tour of duty?  No. Rather collect astronomical talking fees, cash-in on the power of indiscriminate killing.

Trump’s predecessors for hundred-plus years back belong to the same clan of criminals. Their crimes have become the new normal. The west watches over their killings on TV with media reports that banalize war and war death as normal, because war is war where it belongs to. And it’s so profitable. It’s the industry of killing – killing babies and their mothers, adolescents, starving them to death, destroying their systems of minimal hygiene – Yemen – a case in point; Syria is in the same league, Afghanistan, Iraq — the list is endless. Hundreds of thousands of children were killed and are still being killed in the world’s longest war, seventeen years and counting in Afghanistan. Nobody seems to care. Afghanistan, one of the resource richest countries on earth, has no future; not as long as it is dominated by greedy, murderous western powers, ahead of all – the corporate and military US of A.

Killing is the name of the game. And mind you, this killing spree is driven by a blood-thirsty elite of bankers, pharma-kings, weapon industrialists, GMO-agri-businesses, hydrocarbon kingpins – a dark deep-state elite that feeds on the idea that the world is over-populated and must be reduced by factors of thousands, so that this small elite may survive much longer on the ever-diminishing resources of Mother Earth.

This is no joke. Infamous top war criminal, Henry Kissinger, propagated this idea already in the 1960s as a prominent member of the Rockefeller clan, called “Bilderberg Society”. The Bilderbergers’ objective Numero Uno is just that – reducing the world population by any means. War is one of them. And who to target best?  Children, of course. They are the gene-bearers of future generations. If gone, there are no off-springs, nobody to lead the world into a better future, a future of peace – yes, a future of peace, because these children have known war and would most likely opt for a different set of life values.

And imagine the suffering of these children until they eventually succumb to death?  Many without parents, without shelter, food, health care, let alone minimal education, being exposed to the abuses of humanity – unpaid hard labor, rape, diseases. The west not just watches on, but helps their plight along by supplying weapons, bullets, bombs to those who do the killing.

The western public takes it as, well, the new normal. We can’t imagine a world without war, a world in peace. That’s the extent to which we have been indoctrinated. And as we live in comfort what is easier to believe than what we are told by the presstitute? No worries, our leaders (sic) do the right thing; we are safe. And just in case there is any doubt, the governments concerned ‘launch’ a ‘false flag’ terror attack, justifying more severe crack-downs on the population to, indeed, keep them safe by militarization of society, all the while continuing killing children with their mothers and relatives, children alone, children on the move as refugees, children as slaves, children uncounted by any statistics.

Trump, yes, he is a murderer. And the Border Wall is a murder weapon. Assassins are also Trump’s predecessors, not least Obama, who knowingly killed thousands of children through his extra-judiciary drone attacks – and let’s stress this – of which he boasted to personally approve each and every one of these drone killings. Clinton killed Haitians by the thousands, many of them children, through his forced “free” trade agreements, giving US corporations access to child labor, miserably paid child labor, which was and is nothing more than legalized enslavement, often leading to impoverishment, famine, disease and death.

When will justice be done? Or, are we talking about justice ‘after death’? Are we talking about a collective Karma that will eventually pull our entire civilization down the drain into an inescapable abyss, giving room to a new beginning?

• First published at New Eastern Outlook (NEO)

Marie-Claude Bibeau: Canada’s Minister of International Development and Propaganda

Few are aware that Canada’s aid agency has spent tens of millions of dollars on media projects designed in part to draw journalists into its orbit and shape perceptions of Ottawa’s international policies.

For example, “Find Out How Canada is Back!” was the title of Journalists for Human Rights’ (JHR) Night for Rights fundraiser at the start of October. The keynote speaker at the Toronto Hilton was Minister of International Development Marie-Claude Bibeau.

The minister almost certainly chose not to discuss her government’s arms sales to Saudi Arabia, backing for brutal mining companies, NATO deployments, antagonism towards Palestinian rights, efforts to topple the Venezuelan government, promotion of military spending, etc. Rather than reflect the thrust of this country’s foreign policy the “Canada is Back” theme is a sop to a government that’s provided JHR with millions of dollars.

As part of JHR’s “partnership” with “the Government of Canada and our Embassies abroad”, it has drawn powerful media workers to a worldview aligned with Canadian foreign policy. JHR’s list of international trainers includes CTV news host Lisa LaFlamme, former Toronto Star editor Michael Cooke and former Globe and Mail editor John Stackhouse. It’s also run foreign affairs focused news partnerships with CTV and Global News while the Toronto Star and CBC have sponsored its events. At its annual gala JHR also awards prizes that incentivize reporting aligned with its views.

In addition to the millions of dollars put up for JHR’s international media initiatives, Canada’s aid agency has doled out tens of millions of dollars on other media projects broadly aligned with its “development” outlook. Between 2005 and 2008 the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) spent at least $47.5 million on the “promotion of development awareness.” According to a 2013 J-Source investigation titled “Some journalists and news organizations took government funding to produce work: is that a problem?”, more than $3.5 million went to articles, photos, film and radio reports about CIDA projects. Much of the government-funded reporting appeared in major media outlets.

During the war in Afghanistan CIDA operated a number of media projects and had a contract with Montréal’s Le Devoir to “[remind] readers of the central role that Afghanistan plays in CIDA’s international assistance program.” In another highly politicized context, CIDA put up $2 million for a “Media and Democratic Development in Haiti” project overseen by Montréal-based Réseau Liberté (RL) and Alternatives. As part of the mid-2000s project, RL supported media outlets that were part of L’Association Nationale des Médias Haïtiens (ANMH), which officially joined the Group of 184 that campaigned to oust elected President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, who was overthrown by the US, France and Canada in 2004. RL sent Canadian (mostly Québec) journalists to “train” their Haitian reporters for a month. In an article titled “Embedding CBC Reporters in Haiti’s Elitist Media” Richard Sanders writes:

If RL’s Canadian journalists did not already harbour anti-Aristide sentiments before their intensive ‘coaching’ experiences, they would certainly risk absorbing such political predilections after being submerged in the propaganda campaigns of Haiti’s elite media. … RL journalists would likely return home from Haiti armed with newly implanted political biases that could then be spread liberally among their colleagues in the media and hence to the broader Canadian public.

A number of leading Québec reporters interned with ANMH media outlets. Assistant program director for Radio Canada news, Guy Filion was one of them. Even though ANMH outlets barred Haiti’s elected president from its airwaves in the lead-up to the coup, Filion described those who “formed the ANMH” as “pro-Haitian and they are pro neutral journalistic people … as much as it can be said in this country.” Filion also praised the media’s coverage of the 2006 election in which Haiti’s most popular political party, Aristide’s Lavalas, was excluded. In a coded reference to Aristide supporters, Filion noted, “even thugs from [large slum neighbourhood] Cité Soleil were giving interviews on television!”

A smaller part of CIDA’s “Media and Democratic development in Haiti” project went to Alternatives. The Montréal-based NGO created a “Media in Haiti” website and paid for online Haitian media outlet AlterPresse, which aggressively opposed Lavalas. During the 2007 Québec Social Forum AlterPresse editor Rene Colbert told me there was no coup in 2004 since Aristide was never elected (not even the George W. Bush administration made this absurd claim).

What the supposedly left-wing Journal d’Alternatives’ — inserted monthly in Le Devoir with funding from CIDA — published about Haiti was shocking. In June 2005 the individual in charge of its Haiti portfolio wrote an article that demonized the residents of impoverished neighbourhoods targeted for repression by the installed government. In particular, François L’Écuyer denounced community activists Samba Boukman and Ronald St. Jean, who I’d met, as “notorious criminals.” This was exceedingly dangerous in an environment where the victims of police operations were routinely labeled “bandits” and “criminals” after they were killed.

Seven months earlier L’Ecuyer published a front-page article headlined “The Militarization of Peace in Haiti”, claiming “Chimères, gangs loyal to and armed by President Aristide,” launched “Operation Baghdad” to destabilize the country. Echoing the propaganda disseminated by the Bush administration, it claimed the exiled president was profiting politically from violence. Although Alternatives printed numerous articles about Haiti during this period, their reporting omitted any mention of political prisoners, violent repression of Lavalas activists, or basic facts about the coup.

Why does Canada’s aid agency spend millions of dollars on journalism projects designed to draw journalists into Global Affairs’ orbit and shape perception of Ottawa’s policies abroad? Is that really ‘aid’?

Perhaps the title of the cabinet member in charge should be changed to Minister of International Development and Propaganda.

Ernesto Che Guevara Medical-Cultural Brigade: In Santos Lugares… looking for Haiti

V Ernesto Che Guevara Brigade Signs Off from Santos Lugares

The fifth Ernesto Che Guevara Medical-Cultural Brigade took place on August 18 and 19, in the village of Santos Lugares, in the province of Santiago del Estero, Argentina. Having been present in the brigade, in this article we report on the activities that took place, both in terms of healthcare and education. During two very intense days, Che’s footprint was present in Northern Argentina.

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Santos Lugares is a remote village, with a population of 300 according to the last official census, and the current estimate is of around 7000 people in a 100 km radius. With no telephone lines, the radio is the main source for communication and information, and that was how people were informed about the arrival of this brigade.

The climate is dry and the land is not fertile for agriculture. Locals mostly dedicate themselves to raising cattle (cows, sheep, pigs, chickens) which, in the absence of grazing land, roams around freely looking for food. Another sustenance activity is the production of vegetable charcoal, which has caused a severe deforestation of the area. Nevertheless, the main struggle in this corner is the defense of the land against the expanding agro-business interests. This struggle, which is decades old, has seen the emergence of movements such as the MOCASE (Campesino Movement of Santiago del Estero), with whom the coordination was made to organize this brigade.

The 128-strong brigade arrived on two buses, which made the journey of more than 11 hours from the city of Córdoba. These were joined by other people coming from other places in the province of Santiago del Estero, or from neighboring provinces such as Tucumán. With a large contingent of doctors who studied at Cuba’s Latin American School of Medicine, the ELAM, the brigade also brought other healthcare professionals such as dentists, opticians, ophthalmologists, as well as educators from the literacy program Yo Sí Puedo (“Yes I can”), students, culture, recreation and sports professionals, communicators and journalists, and others.

The accommodation was offered by Colegio San Benito, a religious school for boys and girls, in a place where, to no surprise, the church is the main cultural influence. For an outside observer it was an extraordinary sight to see religious images hanging on the walls and then an army of green scarves walk past them.1 But for now the goals were different: to bring medical attention, and more, to these people. It is fair to point out as well that the local pastor has always been very committed to the peasant struggle.

Dry landscape of Santos Lugares (Photo: Ricardo Vaz)

The two main axes of the brigade were the literacy program Yo Sí Puedo and healthcare, especially ophthalmology. Most of these operations were set up in Santos Lugares, but 8 small groups, 4 on Saturday and 4 on Sunday, also went to isolated places around Santos Lugares.

Around these two activities there was also room for organizing children’s activities, with sports, educational games and a mobile library. On Sunday everyone participated in the local children’s day activities, and there was also a discussion group concerning gender and women’s rights. It is worth mentioning that Brazilian comrades from the Movement of the Landless Rural Workers, the MST, participated in all of these activities, which allowed for an interesting exchange of experiences.

Rooting out illiteracy from the remotest corners

The members of the Yo Sí Puedo literacy program2, including Cuban advisors and volunteers that coordinate the program in different parts of Argentina, split up in small groups to go door to door in Santos Lugares and in nearby places. In total 148 visits were made, in which 60 potential students for the program were found. On Sunday there were training sessions for 32 facilitators, which will remain in touch with the program coordinators as they move forward.

We had the chance to go along with one of these groups that went door to door. In one case we were warmly welcomed, with mate [note: traditional Argentinian drink] and cookies, by the Juárez Faría family. The mother, Margarita, told us that she has two teenage kids with disabilities, who never learned how to read and write in school. She currently lives with them during the week in Santiago (capital of the province), so that they can attend a special school, and brings them back to Santos Lugares on the weekends. Learning how to read and write will make them much more independent, and Margarita herself will play the role of facilitator.

Beyond the pedagogical method, which is truly revolutionary, the main trump of this program is perhaps its flexibility. Oel Hernández, program coordinator in Argentina, reiterated that the program will only work if it adapts to the needs of the people. The possibility of holding the classes in a nearby place, or in someone’s home, the closeness of the facilitator which comes from the community, is what allows everyone to learn and advance at their own pace. In the end, the feeling of being able to finally write a letter to a grandson is something that no words can describe. No words except those in the letter, of course.

Small team from Yo Sí Puedo going door to door (Photo: Ricardo Vaz)

Filling a hospital with doctors

The doctors in the brigade mostly set up in the recently built hospital of Santos Lugares. However, while the infrastructure is new, there are no doctors. Currently only a nun, who is a doctor and is stationed in Santos Lugares, comes to the hospital once a week. With the arrival of the brigade the hospital was suddenly full of doctors and, especially, patients. In total more than 450 consultations took place, between general clinic, pediatrics, neurology, cardiology, gynecology, and others. The brigade also brought a large amount of donated medicines, which were prescribed to some patients and also stocked the hospital’s pharmacy.

Norma Vega, one of the people in the hospital we spoke to, was bringing her granddaughter for a check-up. Besides that, she wanted to talk to a neurologist about her disabled daughter, to get a second a opinion, since the doctors in the capital city of Santiago del Estero want her to have surgery. This is common issue to most medical specialties, like cardiology or neurology, namely, the need for patients to travel 4 or 5 hours to Santiago (capital) to find specialized medical attention. This without mentioning, like Norma explained, the ordeal and costs required to access the necessary drugs.

Hospital of Santos Lugares (Photo: Ricardo Vaz)

A second unit, mainly dedicated to ophthalmology, set up in the Casa del Santo Padre. There they did 330 ophthalmological consultations, which included prescribing eyeglasses for 83 patients. There were also 30 patients identified with cataracts or pterygium, and with those the task now is to coordinate so they can come and have surgery at the Ophthalmological Center in Córdoba, where Operación Milagro is based.3 The first patients are due to travel as soon as September.

One of the most noteworthy events took place in the early hours of Sunday, when people came from the town asking for help, as a pregnant woman had gone into labor. Even though the previous night had been, let us put it mildly, of intense conviviality, two ELAM-trained doctors quickly responded and helped with the successful delivery of little Inés.

We could ask ourselves: what is it that drives a doctor to go out of some place in Argentina, get all the way to Córdoba to then embark on an endless bus journey, stay in less than comfortable accommodation, in order to see hundreds of patients in a forsaken village, for free, on a weekend? There will not be any explanations in any Ted Talk, nor in Andrés Oppenheimer’s latest book. Some will point towards an (irrational) sense of duty, which is surely there, but behind all of this are the great feelings of love and commitment that guide true revolutionaries, like Che used to say.

Finally, we need to say a word about Aleida Guevara. If her arrival was announced everywhere, the truth is that Aleida truly came at the head of the brigade. Beyond everything that is demanded of her, in terms of speeches and interviews, she was in the hospital both days, from beginning to end, seeing patients like all the other pediatricians. And while among the people one could hear rumors that “Che’s daughter” was in town, the truth is that most mothers and kids will have left her office simply thinking that a very kind Cuban doctor had just seen them.

Ophthalmological exam (Photo: Ricardo Vaz)

Looking for our Haiti

Claudia Camba, president of the UMMEP foundation, which coordinates the Cuban missions and organizes these brigades, told us that, after an outbreak of cholera that followed the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, Fidel Castro insisted that the ELAM graduates should be brought to Haiti. Not just because they were sorely needed at the time, but also because contact with these “wretched of the Earth” was also a school, so that doctors never forgot what their mission was. But in the specific case of the Argentinian ELAM graduates, it was not possible to find the funds to send them to Haiti. Nevertheless, a few months later, an idea emerged – “let us look for Haiti in Argentina”.

That is how these brigades were born, and Aleida joined them. On five occasions they have gone to the most remote locations in Argentina4 to bring not only healthcare but also education, culture and sports. It is important to stress, as we said before, that this is not just about bringing an oasis that leaves as quickly as it came. By bringing medical attention to a place where there is none, besides solving any immediate issues people might have, the goal is to orient patients so they can seek the medical care they need. The same holds true for the literacy mission, which, through the door to door research and the training of local facilitators, plants the seeds that will allow the program to develop in the future.

But looking for Haiti can be more than this. Haiti was the stage for the first and only successful slave rebellion. During a few truly revolutionary years, the army of slaves, hell-bent on breaking free of their chains once and for all, managed to militarily defeat the armies of the French, Spanish and British empires. All this took place under the leadership of Toussaint Louverture, a former slave that proved too cunning, militarily and diplomatically, for his European enemies.

Therefore looking for Haiti also has this connotation, of fighting for liberation. Fighting for the liberation of peoples who, while no longer under slavery5, are still yearning for their dignity under this system that is not only responsible for their misery and exclusion, but actually feeds off of them. While only for two days, the brigade brought small revolutionary seeds of healthcare and education that will help these people break free of their chains. And their liberation will also be ours, and that of all those who struggle.

• First published in Investig’Action

The Che Guevara brigades, as well as the internationalist education and healthcare missions (Yo Sí Puedo and Operación Milagro), are coordinated in Argentina by the Un Mundo Mejor Es Posible Foundation (UMMEP, “A Better World is Possible”). The missions are sustained by the generosity of the Cuban government and the solidarity of people around the world. Donations can be made following this link.

• Special thanks to Luciana Daffra for her corrections and suggestions.

  1. The green scarf has become the symbol of the struggle for the legalization of abortion in Argentina.
  2. The Yo Sí Puedo (“Yes I Can”) program, designed by Cuban pedagogue Leonela Relys, has allowed over 10 million people, in 130 countries, to learn how to read and write. It is based on 65 lessons, in audiovisual format, and on the presence of a facilitator, who ensures that the students are learning, and works as a liaison with the Cuban advisors of the program.
  3. Operación Milagro is an eye healthcare program to fight preventable blindness, mostly due to cataracts. The mission has gone through several stages before finally opening, in 2015, the Dr. Ernesto Che Guevara Ophthalmological Center in the city of Córdoba.
  4. The four previous brigades went to the provinces of Chubut (in Patagonia), Jujuy, Córdoba and Misiones.
  5. There is a clarification to be made here, which is that, unlike what bourgeois historiography would have us believe, the abolition of slavery, wherever it took place, was not a magnanimous act by whoever was in charge at the time. Simply put, due to the evolution of capitalism and the growing resistance from slaves, from an economic standpoint it made more sense to have serfs/laborers than to have slaves.