Category Archives: Haiti

“Down with the Rebels against the Bill of Sale!”

One hundred years ago this fall, on the morning of October 7, 1919, a group of two hundred to three hundred armed Haitian rebels launched an attack on U.S. occupation forces in Port-au-Prince. Wielding “swords, machetes, and pikes,” these cacos (as they were called) entered the city with hopes of national liberation, driven to violence by a brutal, racist U.S. occupation.1 This occupation had subjected Haitians to the hated forced labor system of the corvée, seized control over Haitian finance, and rewritten the Haitian Constitution at gunpoint, enabling foreign companies to acquire land in the country. But though well-armed with grievances, the rebels were outgunned; American troops and their Haitian gendarmerie decimated them with rifles and automatic weapons. Rebel leader Charlemagne Peralte was able to escape (for the moment), but dozens of rebels were slaughtered, their base camp overrun, their one field canon seized.2

By November 1919, Peralte himself would be betrayed and assassinated, his lifeless body strung up and photographed by his killers as so-called proof that resistance was futile. The American occupiers deliberately spread the photo of Peralte’s corpse across Haiti, attempting to demoralize supporters of the uprising. But standing stripped to the waist, strapped to a door with his arms flung wide, the slain Peralte resembled nothing so much as a victim of crucifixion, martyred by the American Rome. The propaganda image boomeranged on its makers, creating an unintended consequence: Charlemagne Peralte became hailed as a national hero.3

As many as three thousand Haitian people would be killed in what has been called the Second Cacos War (1917–20). Yet despite such repression, Haitian resistance to the U.S. occupation would continue for the next decade among students, peasants, and workers alike, until the exit of U.S. troops in 1934. As Haitian-American novelist Edwidge Danticat put it in a 2015 New Yorker article:

During the nineteen years of the U.S. occupation, fifteen thousand Haitians were killed. Any resistance to the centralized, U.S.-installed puppet governments was crushed, and a gendarmerie—a combination of army and police, modelled after an occupation force—was created to replace the Marines after they left. Although U.S. troops officially pulled out of Haiti in 1934, the United States exerted some control over Haiti’s finances until 1947.4

The distorting and oppressive impacts of the U.S. occupation have been felt in Haitian society ever since. As scholars such as Michel-Rolph Trouillot have long shown, the restructuring of the Haitian state during this period—from its financial institutions to its dreaded military police—created an enduring and corrupt governmental entity that answered less to the Haitian people than to local elites and foreign interests.5

The American occupation of Haiti (1915–34) had unintended consequence in the United States itself as well, where it spurred anti-imperialist consciousness and organizing. As Steve Striffler reviews in his critical history, Solidarity: Latin America and the U.S. Left in the Era of Human Rights, resistance in the 1920s was first centered in the African-American and Haitian émigré communities, with figures such as James Weldon Johnson of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) playing a critical role. The focus on U.S. abuses in Haiti encouraged greater internationalism within the existing “Negro” rights movement, while drawing together a broad anti-imperialist tendency that included magazines like the Nation as well as elements of the radical socialist/communist left. “Such efforts,” Striffler writes, “made the occupation increasingly unpopular in the United States by the mid-1920s, and created space for expanded opposition in Haiti,” ultimately making the formal military occupation untenable.6

One lasting legacy of this oppositional movement can be found in the work left behind by politically engaged authors, who, in their creative and critical writings of this period, foreground Haiti and the burning issues its history raises. Across the 1930s, U.S. radical writers looked to Haiti not just to dramatize Black victimization or American brutality, but for insight and inspiration that could empower progressive labor, antiracist and antifascist struggles in the United States and worldwide. As Benjamin Balthaser has shown in his recent book Anti-Imperialist Modernism, left-wing writings from the period of the U.S. occupation of Haiti often emphasized the historical, revolutionary agency of this long-oppressed people.7 Against the grain of dominant North American discourses that routinely depict the Haitian people as helpless victims, unruly mobs, postapocalyptic zombies, exotic-erotic tourist attractions, or raw human material ripe for exploitation, anti-imperialist literary representations of Haiti from the 1930s treat Haitians as potential revolutionary subjects. A now-well-known work such as C. L. R. James’s Black Jacobins (1938) was not alone in its insight, but rather emerged from the crucible of a broader radical movement that sought to put Haiti front and center—both as capitalist profit center and as site of revolutionary ferment.8

Among the all-but forgotten figures in this underappreciated anti-imperialist movement was the writer Guy Endore (1900–70). Turning to study the history of Haiti just as the formal U.S. military occupation was coming to its end in 1933–34, Endore was inspired to create one of the great neglected, anti-imperialist works in twentieth century U.S. literature, his historical novel of slavery and revolution, Babouk—a book that is still in print, thanks to Monthly Review Press. Born in Brooklyn, raised partly in Europe, partly in an Ohio orphanage, fluent in French as well as German from youth, Endore lacked a sense of a stable social position. He would state later that he had “never been able to discover exactly where I fit in…everything sort of cancels out in me. I’m neither European, nor American; neither Jew nor Christian; neither of the country nor the city; neither of this century nor the last; neither rich nor poor; and even in my studies, I was always divided, always torn between the sciences and the arts.”9 By the mid–1930s, Endore was, like many young writers of his generation, turning to the left. He would spend two decades as a committed member of the Communist Party (CPUSA)—finding there a kind of home for his homelessness. However, though his political awakening was shaped by the Great Depression and the rise of fascism, “it was when I studied that Haiti business,” Endore recalled, “that I really began to take a side and began to see that there were exploiters and exploited.”10 In Babouk, “my intention,” he wrote, “was to make the reader feel and smell and taste the crime of slavery, until he abominated it; and not only historical slavery, but all those too-numerous characteristics of it that have survived into our own day.”11

Such comments make clear that while eighteenth century Saint Domingue was Endore’s immediate focus, his aims extended beyond that singular situation. He sought to intervene not only in the historiography around Haiti, but also in contemporary 1930s struggles for social justice. To pursue this split purpose—addressing not just “historical slavery” but its present surviving aspects—Baboukdeploys a self-conscious narrative voice that frequently “interrupts” the action of past events to comment directly to the modern reader, drawing parallels to more contemporary injustices and pointing out the failures of traditional history or literature when it comes to representing such issues. While working closely from primary historical documents—thanks to his fluency in French—Endore crafted a meta-historical form that could simultaneously do justice to the historical reality of Haiti, while also allowing the fires of exploitation and revolution there to illuminate a broader contemporary web of capitalism, racism, and empire. Baboukthus deserves attention today not only as a historical document of the “Hands off Haiti” movement, but also as an exhortation and provocation to revolutionary thought and practice more generally.12

To be sure, this radical book emerged from an unlikely quarter.

Originally, Endore had been commissioned in 1933 by a commercial publisher to write a “Caribbean romance” set against the horrifying “backdrop of tom-toms.” Exoticizing travel narratives of Haitian “voodoo,” after all, had been in vogue since the U.S. occupation13 and Endore was at this time best-known as a horror writer, especially for his New York Times bestseller Werewolf of Paris (1933). But Endore’s research, which included an extended trip to Haiti, led him to produce a very different kind of book, one that not only brings the horrifying “backdrop” of Haiti into the foreground, but inverts the nature of the “horror” we encounter. The horror here is not on the side of “native savagery,” but of so-called civilization. From its first page to its last, Babouk confronts us with the callous strategies and often monstrous technologies of physical and ideological repression that were building blocks of colonization and slavery. Readers turning to Babouk for a glimpse of the “monstrous Other” then are likely to be surprised, for the book compels us to recognize how the true monstrosity afflicting Haiti were the products of capitalist “reason” in the service of profit and empire.

And so, sent to Haiti to write a romantic/horrific page-turner, Endore wrote instead a masterpiece to overthrow masters with, a horror tale in which the three-headed monster is capitalism, racism, and empire, and the heroes are slaves in revolt. His commissioned employer, Century Press, seeking a different kind of horror, refused to publish the book and other major commercial publishers followed suit. Clifton Fadiman, then editor at Simon and Schuster and lead book reviewer for the New Yorker, wrote Endore privately to compliment him, “Babouk is a powerful, moving piece of work,” but he added that “it won’t sell because it’s just too horrible. The reviews would warn people away from it. We would be afraid to handle it.”14

Fadiman was not far off in his commercial estimates—though considering his position of influence, his lament was something of a self-fulfilling prophecy. Brought out by the small radical press Vanguard, Endore soon found his novel denounced by the New York Times as an attempt to inspire a “race riot,” and criticized in the New Republic by reviewer Martha Gruening, who charged Endore with producing not a novel at all, but a mere “calendar of horrors.”15

Make no mistake: there is certainly plenty in Babouk that could be seen as “horrible,” beginning with the history itself—enslavement, resistance, and ruling-class repression. Moreover, the writing in the text often retains an element of the sensationalist horror style that put Endore on the map. The very first page of the book contains a detailed discussion of the “work” done by a “genius,” a so-called “nigger taster” whose trained tongue helps tell which of the enslaved are healthy enough to be purchased, and which not. (The slave traders after all, are interested in cheating one another as well, hiding the illness of their captives with perfumes and make-up and even fake teeth.) Later chapters detail grotesque diseases and conditions aboard the slave ship, the torture techniques used to punish rebel slaves, and even the brutal pike-impaling of a white infant at the height of the slave rebellion. The book at times seems to sarcastically revel in revealing the historical monstrosities that enslavers and colonizers devise to manage and rationalize their vicious regime. Endore’s wager seems to have been that his talent for the graphic and gothic could be leveraged to bring a broader popular readership to confront uncomfortable social and historical truths. He had clear political motivations for Babouk to be sure, but, as he put it, he also “wrote the book to sell.”16 In 1934, somehow, it had not seemed impossible for a book to be both an anticapitalist horror and a commercial hit. After all, hadn’t his 1933 horror novel Werewolf of Paris topped the charts, despite (or perhaps because of) its class-conscious account of the Paris Commune?17

But it would be a mistake to write off Endore’s vivid depictions of violence as mere sensationalism, or as a left-wing replication of the “exotic discourses” that predominated in U.S. depictions of Haiti at the time.18 Similarly, it would be a mistake to see Endore’s representation of the repressive effects of imperialism and slavery as a gratuitous objectification of black bodies, aimed at stirring the sentimental emotions of (predominantly white) readers. Rather, Endore’s goal in so vividly depicting historical horror is to bring to consciousness the ways that the most seemingly extreme and “monstrous” acts of the slave system—for instance, the public burning of slave rebels, the clipping of ears from runaways, elaborate regime of torture, and so on—were in fact “logical” and “rational” outgrowths of the capitalistic logic of profit-maximization and social control. At the same time, Endore draws out the ways that such extreme measures of repression testify to the pervasive resistance of the enslaved.

As an exploration of history, Babouk remains remarkable for the way it explores the dialectic of oppression and resistance, foregrounding how contradictions among the ruling classes themselves (such as the contradiction between maximizing short-term profit and sustaining long-term social control, or the contradiction between different blocs of rival property owners), open up space for resistance from below. Even such a totalitarian system as racialized chattel slavery had its cracks and weak links. At the same time, Endore zooms in on slave resistance in its own right, emphasizing the importance of cultural practices—and in particular practices of collective story-telling—as a crucial site of mass resistance and revolutionary preparation. Through the story-telling gifts of his titular character Babouk, Endore suggests the ways in which the verbal arts can be used strategically, raising the consciousness and sustaining the spirit of the oppressed, while puncturing the myths of racial or class superiority that seek to naturalize ruling power. Thus, at the same time as it confronts us with the stark limits of traditional Western historiography, Babouk—as imaginative fiction—explores the importance of creative culture for preparing the path to revolution. Babouk himself might be read as a figure for the radical artist that Endore may have aspired to become, working with complex inherited cultural materials—African trickster stories and European Bible tales alike—to forge unity among the oppressed and to clarify the need for a general revolt.

Thus, while Endore constantly exposes the “background” apparatus of exploitation, the main story of Babouk reimagines the leadup to the Haitian Revolution, through the coming-of-age story of an eponymous protagonist based loosely on the historical figure of Boukman Dutty. Remembered as a crucial catalyst of the early uprisings of 1791, known for his key role at the ceremony of Bois Caiman, Boukman’s early death left subsequent leadership to other, now better-known figures, such as Toussaint L’Ouverture and Jean-Jacques Dessalines. It also left Boukman himself something of a historical mystery, creating room for much subsequent historical debate, while providing Endore with the space for reimagining the unrecorded pre-history of the revolution.19

Endore presents Babouk as a field slave, emphasizing his talents as an unconventional, yet popular story teller. In stark contrast to those nationalist writers of the 1920s and ’30s who sought to champion Haiti in the face of imperialist degradation by celebrating its long line of strong black military men, from Toussaint and Dessalines to Henry Christophe, Endore chose instead to foreground a lowly field worker, whose only power among the Haitian masses comes through his well-chosen words. Though Toussaint and Dessalines are never mentioned by name in the book, Endore implies a sharp distinction between Babouk and those leaders who were “as astute as the whites” and would come to dominate the Haitian state after the revolution. Emphasizing the “gold bedizened uniforms” of leaders who seek to imitate their former masters, Endore reminds us that some of these figures were all too eager to compromise with colonial powers, some even proposing the reintroduction of slavery. “Babouk,” Endore writes, “had nothing to do with these.”20

Babouk thus attempts a tense balance: conjuring the emancipatory spirit of slave insurrection and emphasizing the revolutionary importance of storytelling, but without romanticizing the contradictory aftermath of a revolution that—despite its historic achievements—would leave in place new forms of egregious exploitation and inequality. Recalling Peralte’s attack on Port-au-Prince, Endore chooses to focus Babouk’s climax not on a heroic moment of victory, but on an insurgent attack that fails…but that (like this historical uprising led by Boukman in 1791) helps usher in a broader mass upsurge. As we finish Endore’s novel, we are still in 1791, the Haitian Revolution represented not as monumental accomplishment of the past, but as an insurgent necessity of the present. He leaves us looking at the burning sugar cane fields beyond the walls of the city; the horizon of emancipation remains a future to be fought for.

In this way, Endore distinguishes his narrative from accounts that portray the human aspirations of the Haitian Revolution as fulfilled with the achievement of national independence alone, as if the formal rejection of foreign rule had thereby ended economic exploitation and extreme social inequality in the formal colony.

In his critical report from Haiti in 1934, “Haiti and U.S.A. Occupation,” published concurrently with Babouk, Endore specifically targets the ruse of nationalism as a main danger to the cause of liberation. In this (nonfiction) piece, published in the antifascist magazine Fight, Endore offers a sharp class critique of Haitian nationalism (and the U.S. liberalism that embraces it), taking aim at the notion that rule by the local elite represents genuine progress as far as the working Haitian masses are concerned. This local elite is a class of exploiters, he underscores, just as much as U.S. financiers and occupiers, notwithstanding their claims to the contrary.

At the same time, Endore’s essay makes an effort to understand why well-intentioned liberal or African-American intellectual observers feel the impulse to rally to a nationalist defense of Haiti, as “the last refuge” of “Negro pride” in a world dominated by European colonialism. But to identify Haitian elite rule with a refuge from racism or class domination would be, Endore argues, not only “erroneous” but “vicious.” “A Negro bourgeoisie can and has in some places replaced a white bourgeoisie with no improvement in the lot of the majority,” as he points out. “Such are the fruits of Haitian nationalism acquired so painfully at the price of the lives of a hundred thousand Negroes.”21

Nor is Endore’s problem only with the particular nationalism of the Haitian elite. Rather, he generalizes the point, arguing that “national prejudice is only a different form of the class system by which the ruling class is assured of always having someone to remove its garbage or do its unskilled factory work, someone whom the ruling class will despise and keep in his ‘place.’” Whether in the United States or elsewhere, Endore writes, race prejudice is “fostered by capitalism to disrupt the strength of the proletariat by preventing the oppressed white worker from acting in concert with the Negroes.” (We can hypothesize that Babouk was aimed in part at helping those oppressed white workers to see why they should act in concert with their black brethren and reject the racist bait of their own ruling class.)

Endore closes his Fight article by asking readers to “strip the bright paint of patriotic idealism off the Haitian upper classes and reveal what is beneath,” while at the same time forging a Hands off Haiti movement that sides not with the “gros negre kulaks,” (that is, the wealthy Haitian landowners), but with the “cacos spirit” for the “realization of full social justice.” Clearly, Peralte’s Cacos insurgency of 1919 was not far from Endore’s mind as he attempted to articulate a class-conscious anti-imperialism.

While Endore abstains from commenting directly on the U.S. occupation in Baboukitself, there can be no doubt that what he learned from Haitians themselves had a major effect on his novel. For instance, during his trip to Haiti, Endore learned of how the U.S. military occupation facilitated massive land theft, turning literacy itself into a weapon against the Haitian masses. It was “easy” to steal local peasants’ land, Endore recalled:

You just go up to a man and you say, “Who owns this land?” He’ll say, “I do.” Then you go to the land records office and you record your name for that land, and then you go to him and you say, “I’ve got a record for this land. I own it. Where’s your record? Let’s see which one is the real one.” Of course, he hasn’t got a record.… If the man refused to leave [the land] the American would threaten him with a gun, and if he was halfway decent, he’d give him a job. So, in this way, a number of plantations were built up.22

Acutely conscious of the power of written “records” backed by guns, it is surely no coincidence that, near the climax of Babouk, as the Haitian masses set fire to the sugar fields outside the capital, Endore champions the insurgents, not merely as race rebels or as black workers, but as “rebels against the bill of sale.” Employing his ironic narrator to ventriloquize a self-righteous ruling class, he sarcastically declares:

Here is our bill of sale! Flag of the unmapped land that covers the earth!

Revolt against that if you dare and you will be broken on the wheel!…

Millionaires! you true internationalists who regiment your workers into countries, hoist aloft your flag: the bill of sale!

You wretches out in the burning plain before Le Cap, where is your bill of sale? What! Have you [slaves] taken your liberty and you have no bill of sale?

Then beat the general alarm!… Down with the rebels against the bill of sale!23

Reframing the historic slave revolt this way, Endore distills from the rebellion of 1791 a universal meaning that can resonate with readers in other places and times, beyond the immediate context of the fight to end chattel slavery or colonialism. To be sure, as is now widely known, generations of Haitians have been burdened with a massive and odious “bill of sale” forced on them by French gunboats and U.S. banks after 1804, as penance for its costly “theft” of property in flesh, (a debt the equivalent of $21 billion today).24  But Endore’s “bill of sale” frame resonates even more broadly, allowing us to see a kinship to other struggles as well, wherever the militant movement of the people come up against the sacred “property rights” of their would-be masters—whether that be in the form of an eviction blockade, a workplace occupation, or the expropriation of the expropriators of Marxist prophecy.

In such a way, Endore implies that the mass of humanity—across the illusory lines of race and nation—is still in a sense enslaved to the domination of “the bill of sale.” At the same time, he suggests that the kinds of brutal repression brought down on eighteenth century Haitian rebel slaves may lie in wait for all those who are serious about depriving the ruling class of their most precious property. Babouk thus asks readers to see in the revolt of Haitian slaves the vanguard of a more general and global revolution, while confronting us all with the sobering fact that, if the goal is revolution, grievances alone will not be enough.

The second to last chapter of the novel ends with a description of how Babouk’s body is decapitated, dismembered, and publicly displayed—not unlike Peralte’s own—as a warning to those who would challenge the masters’ power.But like the photo of the martyred Peralte, the displaying of Babouk’s corpse does more to incite rebellion than to quell it. In this way, Endore pays closing honor to the cacos martyrs whose brave attack on imperialist occupation—however ill-fated—nonetheless helped raise the consciousness of people who came after them, including North American writers such as himself. Perhaps Endore wagered that, like the death photos of Peralte, the depicted brutalities of his own book would help inspire new waves of revolt.

*****

Coming off Babouk, in 1935, Endore seemed to be full of the sense of radical possibility, publishing a vision for what he called a “new school of Marxian historical fiction,” whose principal aim would be “the revelation of the hidden but unending class struggle of the ages.” His enthusiasm for the work to be done is palpable as he lists what might have been his next series of books: “Gracchus [Babeuf], Spartacus, the Crusades, the Peasant Wars, colonial expansion—history is replete with magnificent untouched material that the old novelist bent on portraying love triumphant, picturesque adventures or some trivial plot, could not use.”25

But, sadly, Endore would not complete—indeed, would hardly even begin—the avowedly revolutionary literary project he outlined. Quickly, he fell from this vista of enthusiasm; Babouk sold only a few hundred copies, met mixed reviews, and soon went out of print. Even sympathetic comrades failed to grasp the richness of his radical work. African-American Marxist literary critic Eugene Gordon praised the book in The New Masses as the “best of its kind” and yet, notwithstanding Endore’s comments to the contrary, criticized Babouk as “too nationalistic,” suggesting that it implied a modern world driven by racial resentments, rather than the systemic forces of capitalism.26

Having his forgotten masterpiece fail to connect was a profoundly deflating experience. By 1941, while still publicly identifying as a communist, Endore wrote not to herald a new revolutionary genre, but to lament a radical conundrum:

The writer’s task is to amuse, to interpret, to exhort. It is my aim to do all three together, whenever possible.… The predicament of the writer is that the average person wishes to be amused and not instructed in his short leisure; he does not wish to be made aware of his misfortunes; he wants something to help him forget; while the upper classes threaten to tear the social structure down with them, if, by interpretation or exhortation, their privileges are attacked.27

Still later, Endore lamented: “I wrote [Babouk] to sell, but I misjudged the people, I misjudged the time, everything. So, I turned away from that kind of writing and worked on motion pictures.” (Soon after he would be blacklisted from Hollywood for his communist political affiliations.) Chastened by Babouk’s failure, Endore would later refer to himself as a “hack writer” who wrote only “for money to support myself and my family, and that’s it.” It is important to underscore that Endore would remain active for decades, as a writer of Hollywood screenplays and popular novels, and as a communist activist, authoring pamphlets against racism and teaching writing in CPUSA-run schools near Los Angeles. But the revolutionary fusion of literary and political intervention that Babouk represented was no longer on his agenda. Yet decades later Endore would still refer to Babouk as his “forgotten masterpiece.”16

But though it failed commercially in Endore’s own time, Babouk deserves renewed consideration in ours, from those interested in reimaginings of slavery and the Haitian Revolution, and more broadly. For by closely studying the particular history of Haiti, Endore presents us with broader insights about the ongoing class struggles that continue to drive world history, while offering a radical critique of the ways that inherited literature and dominant history tend to hide those struggles from view. At the same time, Endore points us towards the need for a different kind of historical imagining—and a different kind of story-telling—that might become a weapon in the revolutionary struggle. At one point, Endore apostrophizes his own main character, confronting the paradox of recovering voices of resistance that all too often have been lost to written history:

Babouk, we have gone beyond your century. Your voice is lost in the past. Your wavering voice is lost in the steaming field of Saint-Domingue. It is lost both in time and space. And yet it cannot be lost altogether, Babouk. It cannot die in a void. Oh, no. All the wavering voices of the complaining Negro, be they of the dead or of the living, of Africa or America, yet they will someday be woven into a great net and they will pull that deaf master out of his flowery garden and down into the muddy stinking field.28

If studying Haitian history helped inspire Endore to take the side of the exploited and oppressed, Babouk weaves together stories of struggle, arming readers for the battle to come. Whatever we ultimately make of the literary weapon he forged, Endore’s own story reminds us that, by confronting the horror and hope of history, it is possible for people (even from ostensibly privileged groups) to transform themselves and their work in solidarity with the oppressed.

And let us not forget, even in Endore’s own time, there were readers who were ready for Babouk. The glowing 1935 review for The Crisis, the journal of the NAACP, makes that very clear. “Here is a book that should be in the bookcase of every Negro family” as they wrote:

Devastating is the only word that describes adequately the irony running from its first page to the last. Speaking through Babouk and seeing through the slaves’ eyes, the author punctures all the cruelty, greed, pomp, and vainglory of whites with deadly rapier thrusts. There is scarcely a topic in this whole race problem which the author does not permit Babouk to address.… Babouk should be in your library.29

Thankfully today, Monthly Review Press continues to keep Babouk’s voice alive into the twenty-first century. In a world more than ever dominated by “the bill of sale,” and still shaped by the legacies of slavery, Endore’s “forgotten masterpiece” deserves a place on the radical bookshelf.

  1. Benjamin R. Beede, The War of 1898 and U.S. Interventions, 1898–1934: An Encyclopedia (New York: Routledge, 1994), 435.
  2. Ivan Musicant, The Banana Wars: A History of United States Military Intervention in Latin America from the Spanish-American War to the Invasion of Panama (New York: Macmillan, 1990), 215.
  3. The image of Peralte’s slain body can be found in “An Iconic Image of Haitian Liberty,” New Yorker, July 28, 2015.
  4. Edwidge Danticat, “The Long Legacy of Occupation in Haiti,” The New Yorker, July 28, 2015.
  5. Michel-Rolph Trouillot, Haiti,State Against Nation: The Origin and Legacies of Duvalierism (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1990).
  6. Steve Striffler, Solidarity: Latin American and the U.S. Left in the Era of Human Rights (London: Pluto, 2019), 62.
  7. Benjamin Balthaser, Anti-Imperialist Modernism: Race and Transnational Radical Culture from the Great Depression to the Cold War (Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press, 2015).
  8. See Mary A. Renda, Taking Haiti: Military Occupation and the Culture of U.S. Imperialism, 1915–1940 (Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 2004). Also see Paul Farmer , The Uses of Haiti (Monroe, ME: Common Courage, 1994).
  9. Reflections of Guy Endore: Oral History (Guy Endore Papers, University of California, Los Angeles, Special Collections Library, 1964).
  10. Reflections of Guy Endore, 133–34.
  11. New Republic, November 28, 1934, 283. For biographical and literary overviews of Guy Endore, see Alan Wald, “The Subaltern Speaks,” Monthly Review 43, no. 11 (April 1992); Robert Niemi, “Guy Endore,” in American Writers, vol. XVII, ed. Jay Parini. (Farmington Hills, MI: Gale, 2008); Joseph G. Ramsey, “Guy Endore and the Ironies of Political Repression,” Minnesota Review 70 (2008): 141–51.
  12. Guy Endore, Babouk (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1991).
  13. See Renda, Taking Haiti.
  14. Clifton Fadiman, letter to Guy Endore, March 31, 1934 (Guy Endore Papers, University of California, Los Angeles).
  15. New Republic, October 17, 1934, 283.
  16. Reflections of Guy Endore.
  17. For a timely discussion of Werewolf of Paris, see Carl Grey Martin, “Guy Endore’s Dialectical Werewolf,” Le Monde Diplomatique, English ed., September 15, 2014.

  18. See, for instance, Mary Renda’s brief and rather dismissive discussion of Babouk in Taking Haiti.
  19. See Carolyn E. Fick, Making Haiti: The Saint Domingue Revolution from Below(Knoxville, TN: University of Tennessee Press, 1990).
  20. Endore, Babouk, 168–69.
  21. Guy Endore, “Haiti and the USA Occupation,” Fight, January 1934, 13.
  22. Reflections of Guy Endore, 81.
  23. Endore, Babouk, 181.
  24. See for instance, Jérôme Duval, “Haiti: From Slavery to Debt,” Counterpunch, November 10, 2017.
  25. Guy Endore, “Review of Black Consul,” New Republic, 1935.
  26. Eugene Gordon, “Black and White Unite and Fight,” New Masses, October 1934, 24–25. Gordon’s concerns about Babouk have been echoed by later Marxist critics such as Barbara Foley, in her important study Radical Representations: Politics and Form in U.S. Proletarian Fiction, 1929–1940(Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1993).
  27. Guy Endore. About the Author to Werewolf of Paris (New York: Pocketbooks, 1941), 324–25.
  28. Endore, Babouk. 97.
  29. R. W., “BABOUK, by Guy Endore, 297 pp.…,” The Crisis 41, no. 12(December 1934).

Time for Direct Action International Solidarity

How do we make people question the lies they have been told? How do we make our voices heard? Direct action democracy is required.

In order to show politicians, the media and even many progressives that some of us are hostile to Canadian foreign policy we need to raise our voices and be disruptive in the cause of international solidarity.

Last Sunday Haitian Canadian activist Jennie-Laure Sully interrupted Justin Trudeau at a press conference to ask why Canada is supporting a corrupt, repressive and illegitimate president in Haiti. As the prime minister began to address a room full of political leaders (Montréal mayor Valérie Plante, Green party leader Elizabeth May, NDP head Jagmeet Singh, etc.) Sully rose to ask her question. While Trudeau evaded the question in his response, everyone in the room and a couple thousand others online heard the question.

Sully’s intervention was part of a series of similar actions by Solidarité Québec-Haiti #Petrochallenge 2019. Since July 15 members of the Haiti solidarity group have interrupted two press conferences by Minister of La Francophonie and Tourism Mélanie Joly. The message delivered at these events was that the Liberals need to stop propping up the corrupt, repressive and illegitimate Jovenel Moïse. We also raised our voices at a barbecue in her riding — the unofficial launch of her re-election campaign — where her staff sought to dissipate the challenge by offering a meeting with the minister (while simultaneously saying the invention hurt our cause!)

Clips of the various actions have been widely shared on social media and have generated significant coverage in Haitian media as well as Montréal’s Haitian community media. They’ve also received a bit of attention in the dominant Canadian media.

Over the past six months members of two small anti-imperialist groups Mouvement Québécois pour la Paix and Palestiniens et Juifs Unis have directly challenged ministers on different aspects of the Liberals’ foreign policy. We have interrupted:

  • a Université de Montréal talk by foreign minister Christia Freeland to criticize Canada’s effort to overthrow Venezuela’s government;
  • a corporate luncheon with defence minister Harjit Sajjan to condemn increased military spending, arms sales to Saudi Arabia and NATO deployments;
  • a press conference by Justice Minister David Lametti to challenge his promotion of a Bombardier surveillance plane sale to the UAE and Canada fueling the war on Yemen;
  • an event by Environment Minister Catherine McKenna to criticize spending tens of billions of dollars on heavy carbon emitting fighter jets and naval vessels amidst the climate crisis;
  • press events by Transportation Minister Marc Garneau and prime minister Trudeau on their anti-Palestinian positions.

A number of these actions garnered corporate media attention. Clips of almost all of them have been widely viewed on social media.

Raising our voices in Montreal has helped inspire similar actions in other cities. Ideally this could lead to a growing snowball of democratic engagement against pro-corporate and pro-empire foreign policy measures.

People are often reluctant to demonstrate their international solidarity because they think their voices will not be heard. In my experience these people crave signs of resistance. And acts of resistance generally beget more such acts.

There are many ways to confront a minister or politician. It’s generally best if one individual focuses on filming the challenge while others speak. Depending on the context, it’s good to have each individual make their speech one after another, which extends the disruptive impact. If there is media in the room, try to get directly in front of the camera and position any sign in a way that is easy to film. If one is uncomfortable about speaking in public write the message out or simply stand next to the politician with a placard. While better to divide tasks, it is possible (and maybe the only option if security is tight) to film oneself challenging a politician. Or after filming another’s interruption film oneself making a statement.

Smart phones make it easy to record an intervention and social media makes it relatively easy to disseminate the video clips.

With the dominant media refusing to cover critical perspectives on important international issues, we need to find other ways to put forward our message and push back against government policies. We also need to give the decision-makers a bit of a headache and inspire like-minded individuals to act. Disrupting ministers and politicians at public events can be a high impact form of international solidarity and is an example of much needed direct action democracy.

Justin Trudeau “feminizes” Support for Corrupt and Repressive Haitian President

The Trudeau Liberals are attempting to “feminize” their support of an illegitimate government hated by the vast majority of Haitians. And Radio-Canada seems to have fallen for it.

After Radio-Canada published a story about nine of eighteen ministers in Jovenel Moïse’s newly proposed government being women, Haitian Canadian feminist Jennie-Laure Sully replied:

Haitians of all social classes have been demonstrating for more than a year demanding the resignation of the president and a change in the political system. But what does Radio-Canada talk about in this country? A cosmetic measure adopted by this fraudulently elected government accused of embezzlement and human rights violations. Gender parity in such conditions is a smokescreen (“poudre aux yeux”). Radio-Canada is doing identity politics of the lowest order while ignoring Canada’s role in maintaining corruption in Haiti.

With little support among Haitians, Moïse needs good press in the two main countries sustaining his presidency. Recently he has been on a campaign to shore up his image in the US, publishing an op-ed in the Miami Herald and hiring a new Washington, DC, based lobbyist.

In presenting a gender balanced cabinet Moïse’s proposed Prime Minister, Fritz William Michel, deftly aligned with a stated foreign policy objective of Justin Trudeau. Along with praise for Moïse, Global Affairs Canada’s webpage about “Canada’s international assistance in Haiti” focuses on gender equity. At the top of the page, it lists a series of feminist goals under the heading of “To strengthen Haiti’s Government capacity to respond to gender equality issues.”

(In 2017 the Trudeau government launched a much-hyped Feminist International Assistance Policy, but their commitment to feminist internationalism is paper-thin. Since July 21, for instance, Ottawa joined Washington as the only country to vote against a UN Economic and Social Council resolution stating, “the Israeli occupation remains a major obstacle for Palestinian women and girls with regard to the fulfillment of their rights”; Canada signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the misogynist UAE; the Trudeau government was criticized by the chair of the UN Working Group on Business and Human Rights Surya Deva for gutting their promise to rein in Canadian mining abuses abroad, which disproportionately affect women.)

Moïse has faced massive popular protests in recent months, including multiple general strikes. As I detail here and here, the only reason he remains in power is because of support from Washington, Ottawa and a number of other countries. Canada has provided financial, policing and diplomatic support to the unpopular government. In the latest indication of diplomatic backing, Canada’s ambassador in Port-au-Prince, André Frenette, met Moïse to discuss “bilateral cooperation” two weeks ago. The embassy also continues to support a police force responsible for countless abuses. On Sunday Global Affairs Canada’s Haïti account tweeted “congratulations” to police graduates who they trained in collaboration with the US.

On July 15 Solidarité Québec-Haïti #Petrochallenge 2019 activists interrupted a press conference by Minister of La Francophonie and Tourism Mélanie Joly to call on the Trudeau government to stop propping up a corrupt, illegitimate and murderous Haitian president. As this video shows, Joly was unable to respond to our simple question.

While the disruption was reported on by various media outlets, Radio Canada wasn’t interested. More than any other major media outlet, the French language public broadcaster has been the mouthpiece for Canadian imperialism in Haiti over the past 15 years. Unlike other outlets, Radio Canada covers Haitian affairs fairly regularly. But, it is almost entirely from the perspective of ‘Ottawa/Canada doing good’ in the impoverished nation.

Radio Canada largely failed to report on Canada’s role in planning the 2004 coup; destabilizing Jean-Bertrand Aristide’s government; building a repressive Haitian police force; justifying politically motivated arrests and killings; militarizing post-earthquake disaster relief; pushing the exclusion of Haiti’s most popular party, Fanmi Lavalas, from participating in elections.

When active with Haiti Action Montréal in the mid 2000s I experienced the politicized nature of the subject at Radio Canada. I called the news editor to inquire if they’d received our press release and instead of a yes/no we might/we can’t send anyone to cover the event that is usually part of this type of media outreach, the news editor somewhat angrily accused me of being an Aristide supporter, which was odd both because the event was focused on Canada’s role in Haiti and Aristide was elected by the country’s historically excluded.

In a 2008 article titled “Embedding CBC Reporters in Haiti’s Elitist Media” Richard Sanders describes Radio Canada’s participation in a Canadian government funded project to support media outlets that were part of L’Association Nationale des Médias Haïtiens (ANMH), which officially joined the Group of 184 that campaigned to oust Aristide. Sanders writes about Québec journalists sent to “train” Haitian reporters for a month, but who were, in fact, being “submerged in the propaganda campaigns of Haiti’s elite media.” Assistant program director for Radio Canada news, Guy Filion was one of the reporters who interned with ANMH. 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 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!”

Radio-Canada’s reporting on gender parity in a proposed new government helps legitimate Trudeau’s support of Moïse. It puts a progressive veneer on a corrupt, repressive and unpopular president who is dependent upon Radio-Canada’s patron. It is yet another attempt to justify Canadian policy that sides with the interests of multinational corporations and a small elite over the needs of Haiti’s impoverished majority.

Canada enables corrupt Haitian president to remain in power

At the front of a protest against Haiti’s president last week a demonstrator carried a large wooden cross bearing the flags of Canada, France and the US. The Haiti Information Project tweeted that protesters “see these three nations as propping up the regime of President Jovenel Moïse. It is also recognition of their role in the 2004 coup.”

Almost entirely ignored by the Canadian media, Haitian protesters regularly criticize Canada. On dozens of occasions since Jean Bertrand Aristide’s government was overthrown in 2004 marchers have held signs criticizing Canadian policy or rallied in front of the Canadian Embassy in Port-au-Prince. For their part, Haiti Progrès and Haiti Liberté newspapers have described Canada as an “occupying force”, “coup supporter” or “imperialist” at least a hundred times.

In the face of months of popular protest, Canada remains hostile to the protesters who represent the impoverished majority. A recent corruption investigation by Haiti’s Superior Court of Auditors and Administrative Disputes has rekindled the movement to oust the Canadian-backed president. The report into the Petrocaribe Fund accuses Moïse’s companies of swindling $2 million of public money. Two billion dollars from a discounted oil program set up by Venezuela was pilfered under the presidency of Moïse’s mentor Michel Martelly.

Since last summer there have been numerous protests, including a weeklong general strike in February, demanding accountability for public funds. Port-au-Prince was again paralyzed during much of last week. In fact, the only reason Moïse — whose electoral legitimacy is paper thin — 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 another statement effectively backing Moise. The brief declaration called for “a broad national debate, without preconditions”, which is a position Canadian officials have expressed repeatedly in recent weeks. (The contrast with Canada’s position regarding Venezuela’s president reveals a stunning hypocrisy.) But, the opposition has explicitly rejected negotiating with Moïse since it effectively amounts to abandoning protest and bargaining with a corrupt and illegitimate president few in Haiti back.

In another indication of the “Core Group’s” political orientation, their May 30 statement “condemned the acts of degradation committed against the Senate.” Early that day a handful of opposition senators dragged out some furniture and placed it on the lawn of Parliament in a bid to block the ratification of the interim prime minister. Canada’s Ambassador André Frenette also tweeted that “Canada condemns the acts of vandalism in the Senate this morning. This deplorable event goes against democratic principles.” But, Frenette and the “Core Group” didn’t tweet or release a statement about the recent murder of journalist Pétion Rospide, who’d been reporting on corruption and police violence. Nor did they mention the commission that found Moïse responsible for stealing public funds or the recent UN report confirming government involvement in a terrible massacre in the Port-au-Prince neighborhood of La Saline in mid-November. Recent Canadian and “Core Group” statements completely ignore Moise’s electoral illegitimacy and downplay the enormity of the corruption and violence against protesters.

Worse still, Canadian officials regularly promote and applaud a police force that has been responsible for many abuses. As I detailed in a November story headlined “Canada backs Haitian government, even as police force kills demonstrators”, Frenette attended a half dozen Haitian police events in his first year as ambassador. Canadian officials continue to attend police ceremonies, including one in March, and offer financial and technical support to the police. Much to the delight of the country’s über class-conscious elite, Ottawa has taken the lead in strengthening the repressive arm of the Haitian state since Aristide’s ouster.

On Wednesday Frenette tweeted, “one of the best parts of my job is attending medal ceremonies for Canadian police officers who are known for their excellent work with the UN police contingent in Haiti.” RCMP officer Serge Therriault leads the 1,200-person police component of the Mission des Nations unies pour l’appui à la Justice en Haïti (MINUJUSTH).

At the end of May Canada’s ambassador to the UN Marc-André Blanchard led a United Nations Economic and Social Council delegation to Haiti. Upon his return to New York he proposed creating a “robust” mission to continue MINUJUSTH’s work after its planned conclusion in mid-October. Canadian officials are leading the push to extend the 15-year old UN occupation that took over from the US, French and Canadian troops that overthrew Aristide’s government and was responsible for introducing cholera to the country, which has killed over 10,000.

While Haitians regularly challenge Canadian policy, few in this country raise objections. In response to US Congresswoman Ilhan Omar’s recent expression of solidarity with Haitian protesters, Jean Saint-Vil put out a call titled “OH CANADA, TIME TO BE WOKE LIKE ILHAN OMAR & MAXINE WATERS!” The Haitian Canadian activist wrote:

While, in Canada, the black population is taken for granted by major political parties who make no effort to adjust Canadian Foreign policies towards African nations, Haiti and other African-populated nations of the Caribbean, where the Euro-Americans topple democratically-elected leaders, help set up corrupt narco regimes that are friendly to corrupt Canadian mining companies that go wild, exploiting the most impoverished and blackest among us, destroying our environments in full impunity… In the US, some powerful voices have arisen to counter the mainstream covert and/or overt white supremacist agenda. Time for REAL CHANGE in Canada! The Wine & Cheese sessions must end! We eagerly await the statements of Canadian party leaders about the much needed change in Canadian Policy towards Haiti. You will have to deserve our votes, this time around folks!

Unfortunately, Canadian foreign policymakers — the Liberal party in particular — have co-opted/pacified most prominent black voices on Haiti and other international issues. On Monday famed Haitian-Canadian novelist Dany Laferrière attended a reception at the ambassador’s residence in Port-au-Prince while the head of Montréal’s Maison d’Haïti, Marjorie Villefranche, says nary a word about Canadian imperialism in Haiti. A little discussed reason Paul Martin’s government appointed Michaëlle Jean Governor General in September 2005 was to dampen growing opposition to Canada’s coup policy among working class Haitian-Montrealers.

Outside the Haitian community Liberal-aligned groups have also offered little solidarity. A look at the Federation of Black Canadians website and statements uncovers nothing about Canada undermining a country that dealt a massive blow to slavery and white supremacy. (Members of the group’s steering committee recently found time, however, to meet with and then attend a gala put on by the anti-Palestinian Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs.)

A few months ago, Saint-Vil proposed creating a Canadian equivalent to the venerable Washington, D.C. based TransAfrica, which confronts US policy in Africa and the Caribbean. A look at Canadian policy from the Congo to Venezuela, Burkina Faso to Tanzania, suggests the need is great. Anyone seeking to amplify the voices from the streets of Port-au-Prince should support such an initiative.

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.