BY JOE YOUNG
MONTREAL - On December 22 the last of the 650 Canadian troops who had been part of the occupation of Haiti were withdrawn. However, Canadian police will remain as part of a United Nations force that is organizing Haitian cops to replace the army as the principal repressive force in the country.
Canada's rulers have used the occasion of the troops' return to try to restore the reputation of the Canadian army as a "peace-keeping" force. The aim is to win support from working people for the continuing presence of Canadian forces in several countries, including in Bosnia, and for future imperialist interventions. In addition to the occupation of Haiti in recent years, the Canadian army and air force were part of the assault on Iraq during the Gulf War.
The real role of the Canadian forces was starkly revealed by a series of brutal murders of Somalis during the presence of the Canadian Airborne Regiment in that country in 1993 as part of a UN "humanitarian" mission. This considerably damaged the reputation of the Canadian army, and the Airborne Regiment was dissolved.
Interviewed by the Montreal daily La Presse at a ceremony in Haiti's capital to mark the departure of the Canadian army, Brig. Gen. Robin Gagnon declared, "Security had been reinforced and the 650 troops have the feeling that they have carried out their duty. And that's without taking account of the numerous humanitarian projects our soldiers have carried out." Speaking alongside Haitian president René Préval, Gagnon admitted, "There were some times when people threw rocks at our vehicles... Some leaders that I would qualify as marginal tried to mobilize the population against us but it didn't really work."
There were in fact protests against the Canadian forces in Haiti. One such incident was reported in the March 27, 1997, La Presse when protesters shouted "Go Home" in English at Canadian soldiers who were patrolling near the national Parliament building. Canadian soldiers were also involved in brutalizing prisoners. The Aug. 7, 1997, La Presse reported on two incidents where Haitians taken prisoner by Canadian forces were "insulted and humiliated."
The occupation of Haiti followed the Sept. 19, 1994, invasion by 20,000 U.S. troops, sent on the pretext of restoring Jean-Bertrand Aristide to the presidency. He had previously been ousted in a military coup. Haiti, which is one of the poorest countries in the world, had long been a victim of imperialism. Washington carried out a 19-year occupation starting in 1915, and was instrumental in establishing the dictatorship and organizing the army, which ruled the country for many years. Canadian capitalism has benefited as well from the superexploitation of the Haitian workers and peasants.
Canadian soldiers first arrived in Haiti in March 1995 along with 30 cops. In February 1996 the Canadian forces took the central responsibility for the military force in Haiti, after the Chinese government forced the UN Security Council to set a limit on the number of soldiers that could be financed by the United Nations.
Canadian cops will continue to be present in Haiti as part of a 300-strong police force set up by the Security Council at the end of last November. Washington will supply helicopters and up to 50 cops for the force. The Argentine government will supply a special intervention force of 90, and other cops will come from France and Mali. This force is to continue training the 5,200-strong Haitian police force. With the dissolution of the army in 1994, the National Police is now the principal repressive force in the country.
However, the weakening of imperialism is shown by the fact that the military occupation has not been able to halt ongoing protests against government austerity measures pushed by the International Monetary Fund and the sell off of state-owned enterprises to U.S. investors.
Joe Young is a member of United Steelworkers of America
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