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Democracy watch 

Activists and a visiting journalist tell the real story behind Canada’s push for elections in Haiti.

Canadians have learned a few things about Haiti from our mainstream news outlets. We’ve learned that it’s the birthplace of our governor general, Michaelle Jean. We’ve learned it’s been affected by Atlantic storms this hurricane season, and we’ve learned that the UN is playing its part to disarm local gangs.

What we haven’t learned is that there are allegations Canada has played an active role in the commission of human rights abuses there. And we haven’t learned that Canada is overseeing the next presidential election process in December, while fully aware of reports that nearly 1,000 people sitting in jail are political prisoners. Stuart Neatby and Justin Podur hope that this week’s Pan Canadian Week of Action will give Haligonians the other side of the story.

“Canada’s story has been democracy promotion, i.e., actively taking part in arranging the elections,” says Neatby of the presidential elections scheduled for December 11 to 18. “Elections Canada are involved, but the members of the Lavalas”—the party of ousted former president Jean-Bertrand Aristide—“are either dead, in jail or in exile. It raises questions of how legitimate the election is.”

As member and co-founder of Haiti Action Halifax, Neatby has organized a series of events to help raise awareness of the current political situation in Haiti, and the role Canada has played in creating it. The events kick off on Thursday night with a screening of filmmaker Kevin Pina’s documentary Haiti: The Untold Story, which Neatby describes as “brutal” in its depiction of human rights violations. Friday night, Toronto-based activist-journalist Justin Podur, having recently returned from Haiti, will be giving a talk at the Sobey’s Building at Saint Mary’s University, and the series caps off with a demonstration Saturday in downtown Halifax, beginning at 1pm at the corner of South Park and Spring Garden.

Neatby invited Podur to speak because his reports painted a different picture from what the mainstream press was reporting. “Justin’s dispatches from Haiti were totally new, what he came out with had not been reported by anyone. One of his dispatches focused on crime within Port Au Prince, violence that came out of the poorest areas of the countries. UN officials agreed this was social violence, theft because of immense poverty, but referred to actions in those centres as urban warfare.”

That was the UN admitting it had committed offences against the citizens of that city, Neatby says, and no one else had gotten quotes like that.

Podur will be speaking about his experiences in the Haitian cities of Cite, Soliel, Bel Air and Port-Au-Prince, where he says the living conditions are appalling. But above and beyond the particulars of life in Haiti, Podur wants to explore the notion of “Democracy Promotion,” the process by which foreign countries co-opt the term democracy to legitimize its actions.

“What’s interesting about this overthrow is this one was justified by democracy and human rights,” says Podur. “And it was organized by NGOs and funded by USAID, CIDA.” So while overthrowing regimes was once the exclusive domain of governments—“It used to be states that were the enemy”—that job is more and more being assumed by non-governmental organizations who are funded by governments, thereby adding an additional layer of cover for the ouster, while providing legitimacy to the cause.

For Neatby and Podur, their goals are clear.

“I’d like to see Haiti’s future be decided by Haitains for once” says Podur. As for this weekend, they expect to see hundreds of people attending the events, and that’s the most important thing. “We all have a roll to play, it would be nice if we all called attention to what Canada was doing.”

Haiti: The Untold Story, November 17, room 255, Sobey Building, Saint Mary’s. Justin Podur lecture, November 18, 7pm, room 255, Sobey Building. Demonstration, November 19, 1pm in Victoria Park (corner of South Park and Spring Garden). 422-3208.

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