Category Archives: Haiti

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.

The Long March to Post-Capitalist Transition: Pan-Africanist Perspectives

The following talk was given by Ameth Lô in a French-language panel, “L’aurore de notre libération,” in Montreal on May 20, 2018, at “The Great Transition: Preparing a World Beyond Capitalism.”

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The centenary of the October 1917 Russian revolution, a world-shaking historic event, was an occasion for celebration throughout the world.

Many diverse interpretations are advanced as to its success in achieving a radical transformation of society, both in terms of its history and its overall impact. Nonetheless, there is no denying that this event altered forever the course of history.

For Black peoples, this revolution arrived just over a century after the victory in Haiti in 1804. That event was the first massive and successful revolt of Black slaves, and an important step toward the long-overdue abolition of slavery worldwide.

The establishment of the first Black republic in the Northern Hemisphere emerged from an extended process of resistance to oppression, marked by massive slave revolts on the plantations of Jamaica, Brazil, and elsewhere. Even today, Haiti continues to pay the price for its audacity and steadfastness, for which it has never been forgiven by proponents of the slave system. This dramatic breakthrough later contributed to achievement of a collective consciousness among Blacks.

Indeed, these events demonstrated that freedom comes only through struggle. That is how Blacks laid the foundations for pan-Africanism throughout the African diaspora. Brought to the fore by figures such as the great Marcus Mosiah Garvey, W.E.B. Dubois, Edward Blyden, and many others, this movement was linked to the struggles of workers and oppressed peoples across Europe and beyond, which culminated in two historic revolutions:

  • The French Revolution of 1789.
  • The Bolshevik Revolution of October 1917.

During this process two historic currents, the international Communist movement and pan-Africanism, established strong ties, forged through suffering and resistance. This is not to deny that there were occasional conflicts, resulting from the exigencies of episodic struggles and underlying strategy.

In what follows, we will attempt to illustrate how these two currents, which evolved almost simultaneously over the course of almost a century, became interrelated. This inquiry will reveal a perspective for a transition toward a world with increased justice and greater capacity to assure the survival of the human species and of our planet – in a word, a better world, free from the system of domination that victimizes Black peoples around the world. Most of oppressed peoples live in countries at the periphery of the world capitalist system, but they also are present as layers of common people in the metropolitan countries.

Communism and Pan-Africanism: A Zigzag Relationship

Let us note first of all that Pan-Africanism emerged within the African diaspora, that is, outside the continent. The dire conditions faced by Black peoples during several centuries of slavery provided a fertile ground for emergent revolts. These uprisings in turn gave rise to Pan-Africanism as an ideological tool for the liberation of oppressed Black peoples. It should be noted that millions of Blacks worked for hundreds of years without any form of payment – that is, for nothing. This servitude made possible the industrial revolution and the acceleration of capitalism’s development as a global system, spreading out from its initial strongholds in Europe and North America.

The international Communist movement, from its foundation in 1919, was committed to struggle on behalf of the oppressed and exploited worldwide. It thus took note of the conditions of Black peoples and solidarized with their struggles, not only in the African continent but also in countries like the United States where racial segregation was at its peak from 1920 to 1924. Brief passages in the Communist International archives take note of the struggles carried out by Blacks not only in the diaspora but in countries subjected to colonial domination in Africa. The Communist movement’s statement on African liberation, adopted in 1922, was markedly pan-Africanist in inspiration. Indeed it was written by Black delegates who were strongly influenced by the movement led by Marcus Garvey.

In the years that followed, however, this principled position was subject to several mutations, caused by contradictions internal to the socialist movement. In addition, the difficulties were aggravated by complications imposed on national liberation movements in the Cold War context, where conflicts both between and within alliances often took priority over ideologically principled positions with respect to unconditional support for the struggles of colonial peoples for self-determination. These struggles continued throughout the rise of fascism in Europe, grew more intense in the 1930s, and found expression in the anti-colonial wars and the defeat of Apartheid in Africa. The outcome of these wars played a central role in dismantling colonial structures and heralding a period of decolonisation.

During this development, a crucial role was played by the large number of Africans that took part in freeing Europe from Hitler’s claws. Conscript soldiers from across all of West Africa were organized in the Tirailleurs sénégalais (Senegalese Sharpshooters). Their courage and their decisive contribution has never received its proper reward. Quite to the contrary, and upon their discharge form service, when these soldiers at the end of 1944, asked to receive their demobilization payment, the French colonial authorities on December 1, massacred dozens –  hundreds  of these protesters. This crime took place at the Thiaroye camp a few miles from Dakar, capital of Senegal, and is known today as “the massacre of Thiaroye.”

Cold War, National Liberation Movements, and Internationalist Solidarity

Among the precursors of the pan-Africanist movement was George Padmore, a native of Trinidad and Tobago who came to the United States as a young student. He quickly joined the U.S. Communist Party and played a significant role in the international Communist Movement, where he worked for the goals of pan-Africanism. Assigned as a revolutionary cadre to work in the Soviet Union and Germany, he nonetheless cut his ties with this movement in 1934. Profound disagreements had arisen with regard to the decolonization of Africa, still under the yoke of the old colonial empires, above all those of Britain, France, and Portugal.

During the 1930s and after, the Communist movement sought to align its course regarding decolonization with its own interests in terms of positioning itself in the contest under way among the Western powers. This process convinced progressive pan-Africanists of the need to take their distance from the Communist movement, achieve autonomy of thought and action, and steer their course in conformity with the interests of oppressed Black peoples. In a word, they had to rely above all, on their own strength.

This is the context that led Padmore, who had enjoyed a measure of success in keeping the colonial question on the agenda of the Communist movement, to leave it in 1934 and return to Britain. There he met C.L.R. James, his childhood friend, who was quite active both in Trotskyist circles and in the Black community in London.

In 1936, Italy invaded Ethiopia, which along with Liberia was the only African country that had succeeded until that point at avoiding colonization. The Italian attack had great symbolic significance. It alerted the African diaspora within Europe to the need not only to mobilize against this invasion but also to hasten the organization of nationalist movements with a pan-Africanist outlook in order to speed the end of colonialization.

The Black students in Europe were already active during this period and were laying the foundations for “returning to their roots” – that is, of going back to Africa in both the cultural and political sense for the liberation of their peoples. Among the more prominent currents was the FEANF (Federation of Students from French-Speaking Black Africa). In Portugal, there were students that united around the “Case Africa,” among whom were the majority of leaders who organized and directed national liberation struggles in the then-Portuguese colonies of Angola, Mozambique, Guinea-Bissau, and Cape Verde (Eduardo Mondlane, Agostinho Neto, Amilcar Cabral).

In Britain, this current was based on figures linked to a structure called IASB (International African Service Bureau), among whom were C.L.R. James; Ras Makonen of British Guyana; Jomo Kenyatta, the first president of Kenya; Kwame Nkrumah, father of Ghana’s independence, whom James had introduced to Padmore; and others.

The outbreak of World War 2 led to a breach between the pan-Africanists and the Communist movement. The official line advanced by Moscow from 1941 was to support the war against the Nazi forces and to postpone anticolonial struggles until a later date. Ironically, the Soviet Union had been diplomatically aligned with Germany from 1939 until 1941. Obviously, this approach could not win favour among the pan-Africanists, given that almost all the African colonies were under the yoke not of Germany but of the countries that Moscow now viewed as its allies against Hitler.

Once again, the specific conditions in which the struggle developed globally made clear to the pan-Africanists the path to follow and the need to retain a degree of autonomy, seeking to base the liberation struggle on their own forces, without closing the door to forms of internationalist solidarity that were truly disinterested.

Somewhat later, after the end of World War 2, close and deep ties with internationalist solidarity movement were re-established to support the African peoples in the struggle against colonialism’s last bastions in Africa. Che Guevara’s revolutionary mission in the Congo (1965) fell short of success, as did his expedition to Bolivia (1966-67). Yet these setbacks did not dissuade Cuba from remaining true to its ardent desire to support Africa in its moments of peril.

This tradition also found expression some years later in Cuba’s close collaboration with Burkina Faso during the short revolutionary experience led by Thomas Sankara and his comrades between 1984 and 1987.

The historic battle of Cuito Cuanavale (1987-88), in which Cuban soldiers fought side by side with guerrillas of liberation movements in Southern Africa, succeeded in routing the army of the racist apartheid system in South Africa. This victory opened the road to Namibian independence, freedom for Nelson Mandela, and South Africa’s first multiracial elections in 1994.

South Africa’s racist regime, backed by consistent support from the Western imperialist powers of Europe and by the USA, then posed a mortal danger to the African peoples. The victory in Angola constituted an initial decisive step toward removing this danger. Yet despite this victory’s importance, it did not end the struggle, given that the power of large-scale capital in South Africa has not been ended and still controls the decisive sectors of its economy.

Cuba demonstrated to the world its celebrated generosity, despite its limited resources and vulnerability as a state under siege by imperialism. Cuba thus brought back to life, a half-century after the fact, the initial vision of internationalist solidarity that prevailed in the first years of the international Communist movement after the triumph of the Bolshevik revolution.

During those years, prominent progressive activists and pan-Africanists such as Lamine Senghor (Senegal), Guarang Kouyaté (Mali), and Messali Hadj (Algeria) took part in the Brussels congress of the Anti-Imperialist League (1927), whose honorary president was the celebrated scientist Albert Einstein and which spoke in the name of all the colonial peoples oppressed by imperialism. The congress already prefigured, in embryonic form, the movement of non-aligned countries that was launched by the Bandung conference in 1955. The Non-Aligned Movement brought together the most prominent leaders of dozens of African and Asian countries, including Gamal Abdel Nasser (Egypt), Jawaharlal Nehru (India), Soekarno (Indonesia) and Zhou Enlai (China). The gathering marked a decisive step in the decolonization of the Global South.

It must be noted, however, that during this entire period of anticolonial struggle by national liberation movements in Africa, they suffered from the impact of ideological rivalries within the Communist movement. Sometimes liberation movements acted as mouthpieces for this or that Communist current. Nationalist, pan-Africanist, and progressive movements in Africa became fragmented along the lines of cleavage that then prevailed in the so-called socialist camp. These currents failed to overcome their differences and to unite their scattered forces in a massive movement capable of undertaking the sweeping decolonization needed to make possible the transition from a colonial state to an independent state. Even today, the aftermath of these divisions represents a continuing barrier to the urgent unification of forces in a united front capable of countering imperialism’s aggressive restructuring and responding to present-day challenges.

Left-wing forces in Latin America have succeeded in creating such united fronts. This surely should convince pan-Africanists and progressives of the need to overcome the wounds inflicted by past divisions. A new era in the struggles of our peoples must be opened up by forces that transcend the limits of the neo-colonial states. The fact that many activists span both these two historic movements can be an asset in unifying the existing pan-Africanist and socialist nuclei. Such a reorganization is a basic precondition in advancing toward new horizons of progress and – why not? – a post-capitalist transition.

But what is the present state of the pan-Africanist movement and of the socialist and communist forces in Africa and in the diaspora?

The Left and the Pan-Africanist Movement: Their Present Reality

Before addressing the prospects for such a transition, we must first carefully assess the present state of pan-Africanist and socialist forces. The torch of resistance in Africa to the capitalist system and its expansion was carried for a time by the national liberation movements in southern Africa and the former Portuguese colonies. Here we saw promising attempts at a radical transformation beyond the limits of the neo-colonial state. They were disrupted, however, by murderous destabilization organized by imperialism acting through local agents. Samora Machel in Mozambique, Amilcar Cabral in Guinea-Bissau, Steven Bantu Biko and Chris Hani in South Africa, Patrice Lumumba in the Congo – all were cut down by imperialism. This halted temporarily every effort at radical transformation. The systematic assassination of every anti-imperialist leader created a vacuum, a lull that has lasted several decades.

During this period capitalism’s great financial institutions recovered their vigor and, little by little, dismantled all the gains that had been achieved through the sacrifices of courageous patriots loyal to the ideals of pan-Africanism and socialism. The only exception to this extended lull was the leap forward registered by progressive forces led by Maurice Bishop and the New Jewel Movement in Grenada (1979) and Thomas Sankara in Burkina Faso (1984). Ultimately, the fall of the Berlin Wall (1989) further disoriented and finished off forces already weakened by internal disputes regarding ideological positioning and by the inadequacy of their roots among the popular masses of Africa.

Nonetheless, the South African Communist Party, one of the oldest on the continent, succeeded in playing an important role in destroying the Apartheid system (1994) and in forging a fruitful partnership with nationalist forces (the ANC) and the workers’ movement organized in strong unions such as COSATU (Congress of South-African Trade Unions).

The present state of the pan-Africanist and socialist forces – enormously fragmented into still embryonic nuclei – is not favourable for the emergence of a movement capable of mounting a serious challenge to present-day imperialism. New struggles have arisen; popular revolts have broken out that overturned the regimes of Ben Ali in Tunisia and Mubarak in Tunisia and of Blaise Compaore in Burkina Faso.

Will we see the emergence of new leaderships capable of doing the necessary to build political movements sufficiently prepared, organizationally and ideologically, to face the dangers posed today? That task remains to be accomplished. In the meantime, the absence of vanguard movements sufficiently rooted in the masses could well explain in part the inability of the various popular revolts mentioned above to grow over into full-fledged revolutions.

The Sankara experience: A model for our future.

During the period following the national liberation movements, the revolution in Burkina Faso stands out as the most relevant case of an attempt to break away from the colonial/capitalist system. This revolution drew its strength from both its anti-imperialist orientation and its deeply pan-Africanist inspiration.

Burkina Faso is a small country of the West-African Sahel, characterized by extreme poverty. It is wedged into a region often afflicted by periods of drought that drive its population to emigrate into Ivory Coast and other countries. For many years, Burkina Faso was mired in political upheavals stemming from the fierce struggles among elites for control over the state apparatus and the personal enrichment that it brings.

From the moment of revolution on August 4th 1983, when Thomas Sankara became president, the revolutionary leader and his comrades showed their colours through their solidarity with all struggles of oppressed masses around the world (Palestine, Western Sahara, etc.). They invited the people of Burkina Faso (the Burkinabé) to roll up their sleeves in building a foundation for endogenous and autonomous development, relying on their own efforts.

Although the revolution lasted only four years, it continues to provide a model to all youth in Africa and the world over who seek a better world, one based on humanism and solidarity, in a contest against imperialist dominance sustained by military or economic coercion and by devastating neoliberal policies that enable the masters of global financial capital to control the world.

The central goal of the Burkinabé alternative lies in meeting the needs of the African masses impoverished by decades of the punitive IMF’s “structural adjustment programs,” which imposes continual payments of so-called debt to sinister “funding agencies.”

Oftentimes, any project of revolutionary transformation encounters major obstacles. Nonetheless, many projects spearheaded by Sankara were not only accomplished, but qualitatively changed the Burkinabé population’s conditions of existence. With the help of Cuban volunteers and within the space of a few months, more than 2.5 million children were inoculated against the infectious diseases that plague the very young. Access to education more than doubled and increased to 22% from 10% in three years. During the same period, intensive efforts were made to counter desertification by planting ten million trees.

The event that had the greatest impact on consciousness was the institution of “Women’s Wednesdays,” in which men carried out women’s traditional household tasks. This initiative helped modify popular modes of thought previously shaped by traditional beliefs. It sought to make men more aware of the difficult conditions that women had to contend with every day in order to enable the family to live in decent conditions. Without such a change in thinking, the revolution cannot possibly embrace the population, since almost half of it now lives in conditions of servitude.

Many dikes were constructed to retain water, enabling the rural population to cultivate their land throughout the year and thereby increase their income. Ouagadougou, the capital, was transformed through the construction of new revolutionary housing developments and by an ambitious program to upgrade slum areas that had formerly been virtual ghettos. As regards culture, the emergence of people’s theatre and cinema made it possible to rally the population for the tasks of national reconstruction.

This promising experience had a tragic conclusion: the assassination of Sankara and the end of the revolution in October, 1987. This outcome should lead us to reflect more deeply on the type of organizational framework needed to carry such a radical project for the transformation of African societies to a successful conclusion.

In our view, there is no way around the necessity of building a broad progressive alliance, based on the project of an alternative society carrying out a radical transformation of a capitalist and/or neo-colonial society. To achieve this goal, we must break with the dogmatic positions that often obstruct efforts for consensus around what is essential. By unduly exaggerating such minor and/or secondary contradictions, such dogmatism contributes to undermining worthy initiatives, as in Burkina Faso and Grenada.

In addition, a systematic struggle is required against the elitism of petty bourgeois groupings made up of an intelligentsia cut off from the masses and popular culture, groupings that wallow in theoretical battles disconnected from concerns of the population. Finally, although every social experience has aspects that are universal, we must break with mimicry – the desire to impose such specific experiences on a social environment with its own historical reality.

For this reason, the present renewal of the pan-Africanist movement both within the continent and in the African diasporas can fulfill its great potential only if it unifies the task of rallying pan-African forces once more through popular struggles around the challenges faced by the popular masses, such as ongoing land seizures, economic partnership agreements, sovereign control of the currency, and resistance to heightened militarism and economic degradation driven by climate change.

Toward a Post-Capitalist Transition? Tasks and Perspectives

One hundred years after the Bolshevik revolution and fifty years after the end of colonialism in the formal sense, we still face the challenges of bringing a new world into being and making the transition to a post-capitalist society.

With the stagnation of the anti-imperialist movement in the south, free-market ideologists seized on the brief lull in radical struggles to declare and present neo-liberalism as the final victory of capitalism. Yet the inherent contradictions of the capitalist mode of production are still intact and continue to pose the same fundamental questions that will determine whether or not humanity survives. This period is characterized by a rapid deterioration of our ecological system and a deepening of disparities among different social layers – both within countries and at a global level; both within the countries of the South and in the advanced centres of the capitalist system.

Just as Karl Marx predicted, the capitalist mode of production has reached its limits and has today become a barrier to human development. Far from liberating working people by qualitatively reducing their hours of work, advanced robotization is pushing millions of proletarians into the army of the unemployed and the ranks of the lumpen proletariat.

Africa, whose fate is so central for pan-Africanism and for the world, is currently witnessing the massive seizure of the continent’s natural resources. This pillage is sustained by increased militarization, including through the presence of dozens of foreign military bases, which serve to protect the geostrategic interests of the imperialist powers. The post-colonial state’s very nature testifies to the fact that the process of independence remains incomplete. Added to this are questions of collective survival posed by so-called jihadist movements that, in fact, are all too often a creation by the very forces that claim to be combating them.

In reality, the instigators of the present organized pseudo-chaos act as “pyromaniac firemen” – ready to seize on sinister forces crouching in the shadows and press them into action. In this way, the imperialist forces seeking a new mode of domination, strive to make themselves indispensable on the continent in order to attain unfettered control of the continent’s immense energy resources. Countries of the “triad” – Western Europe, North America, and Japan – are dependent on their ongoing ability to draw on these resources almost without payment in order to maintain their countries’ standard of living.

In the Caribbean, the diasporic African population experiences a dependence on foreign food that grows day by day as a result of climate change, rising sea levels, and salination of their soils. Meanwhile, their economy is controlled by an outward-oriented tourist industry, foreign banks, and cruise ship companies. Added to that, agreements for unequal partnership with the European Union still prevent the emergence of local industry capable of competing with foreign multinationals.

U.S. imperialism has renewed its aggressive expansion with the goal of increasing the isolation of the so-called BRICS countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa) through a well-orchestrated strategy of encirclement. Meanwhile, imperialism extends its tentacles in Africa by installing a host of military bases (AFRICOM plus French, German, Turkish, and Chinese bases). All this underlines the urgency of mounting a credible alternative that can lead the world to think in terms of going beyond present-day capitalist society. Even though weakened by the emergence of new blocs, the monopoly enjoyed by the Triad is not going to collapse in its own right.

On the other hand, during the past century, the world has achieved significant advances in scientific knowledge that, if oriented to the urgent needs of humanity’s majority, will enable us to realize the advent of a new society, capable of transforming the world of work and, consequently, of the social relations that arise from the division of labour. However, despite the potential for a qualitative transformation, present technological progress – and above all the present revolution regarding tools such as artificial intelligence – bears within it seeds that could produce quite the opposite effect. These tools could be focused above all on achieving increased and permanent control of citizens through cyber-surveillance and manipulation, minimization of productive labour, concentration on financial speculation, and the like. This control is exerted not only in the physical but also in the mental domain in order to stifle any thought of questioning the established order.

In sum, the nature of social life in the post-capitalist era will be determined in large measure by the way in which these recent technological advances are utilized.

It is thus imperative for both socialists and pan-Africanists to reconnect with the traditions of radical struggle on a transnational level for the emergence of a new society. We need to reconnect with viable forms of transnational solidarity in order to promote the class struggle of oppressed layers of the population. This course requires that the Eurocentric Left recognize that such deep-going shifts in the international relationship of forces will involve a lowering of the standard of living in the richest countries. These living conditions have been made possible only through the systematic pillage of resources from the countries of the South and from Africa in particular. Is the new Left prepared for such an eventuality? The future will tell.

On the other hand, these struggles will necessarily take new forms, given the capacity of the capitalist system to assure its survival through continual adjustment. Sources seeking an alternative must therefore also display the same capacity for adaptation in developing the tactics and strategies needed to attain their goals.

For Africa and the Caribbean, such a transition should involve a deepening of pan-Africanism, which must pose again the urgency of decisive steps toward creation of a federal state – a federation of Africa and its diaspora – which alone can counter the dynamic of domination that draws strength from the fragmentation of our peoples. The weak neo-colonial states into which they are now divided are equally incapable, individually, of assuring their own survival or of exercising the flexibility needed to negotiate in sovereign fashion how their country is inserted into the world system. Such a federation will also offer the sisters and brothers of the African diaspora in the Northern countries a chance to go back to their roots in Africa, if they so desire. Their contribution will be decisive in terms of their daily experience as an oppressed Black minority in the countries of Europe and North America.

All other approaches are illusory and incapable of seriously challenging the alliance of the bourgeoisie in imperialist countries, sustained by their multinationals, with the African elites charged with managing these pseudo-states. The masses are held hostage by the comprador elites, acting as a supplementary force and a buffer between the dominant forces of world capitalism and the popular classes engaged in struggle.

The outcome of these struggles is far from settled. We face a transition in which advances will be made at a varying tempo, sometimes slow, sometimes fast. But this tempo can only arise from the capacity of peoples in struggle to manage their development. If one thing is certain, it is what was said a few decades ago by the former president of Burkina Faso, Thomas Sankara: “Freedom comes only through struggle.” So Aluta Continua! The Struggle Continues.