Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is supporting Haiti’s President Jovenel Moise, who has lost all legitimacy, if he ever had any, and at the same time it is in the forefront in opposing Venezuela’s Nicolas Maduro, who had a more legitimate election and has more supporters, says Yves Engler
SHARMINI PERIES: It’s The Real News. I’m Sharmini Peries in Baltimore.
The difference between what is currently going on in Haiti and Venezuela is that in Venezuela the country is extremely polarized and deeply divided, says our next guest. In Haiti, on the other hand, the population, civil society, and even some government institutions are all on the same page. They want Jovenel Moise to go. So then why is Canadian foreign policy, which is pushing regime change in Venezuela when it comes to Maduro, and wants Haiti’s Prime Minister Moise to stay?
Joining me now to help us understand the Trudeau government’s approach to Venezuela and Haiti is Yves Engler. Yves is a Canadian commentator and author of several books, and the most recent among them is Left, Right: Marching to the Beat of Imperial Canada. Thanks for joining us, Yves.
YVES ENGLER: Thanks for having me.
SHARMINI PERIES: All right, Yves, let’s start off with you just explaining this hypocrisy of the Canadian government when it comes to policy towards Venezuela and Haiti.
YVES ENGLER: Yeah. So with regards to Nicolas Maduro’s government in Venezuela, the Canadian government has been right at the forefront of trying to remove that government, condemning the government, sanctioning the government, bringing the government to the International Criminal Court, supporting opposition forces financially, supporting opposition forces diplomatically. Obviously part of the Lima Group building the international coalition to oppose Venezuela’s government. And they claim they’re doing all this because there is a lack of democracy in Venezuela, because there’s constitutional problems and whatnot.
But as you mentioned in the intro, I think Venezuela is actually quite a divided society where there’s a significant portion of the population that is supportive of overthrowing Maduro almost no matter how, maybe even including some form of U.S. military intervention. There’s also maybe a quarter of the population that’s behind Maduro, strongly supportive, maybe half the population, somewhere in between. Generally not very supportive of economic sanctions, and certainly not supportive of foreign military intervention. So you have a divided society, but Canada’s taking this hardline position against that government.
In Haiti, on the other hand, I would say that we don’t know, we can’t say for sure, because polling is not particularly reliable in Haiti. But a large portion of the population, possibly as high as 90 percent of the population, wants the president to go. And they want the president to go for a series of reasons, some of which are actually directly tied to Venezuela. So most importantly, the subsidized fuel program the Venezuelan government set up, the Petrocaribe, the current president, Jovenal Moise, is associated with big corruption, stole hundreds of millions, even into the billions of dollars, from that program, him and his political party that he’s allied with, the previous president, they stole hundreds of millions of dollars from that subsidy program. So there’s a whole lot of anger against Moise for that. There’s also anger for Moise because he had actually voted against Venezuela at the Organization of American States last month. That added to a longstanding anger. There’s just general anger at the government because it’s out of touch. It’s a government of the wealthy, it’s a government of the corrupt. It’s a government of a very, very small segment of the country. And it’s a government that is–its electoral legitimacy is very, very thin. I mean, it was 18 percent, 18 percent of the population that voted in the last election, that there’s very strong signs of fraud in that election that brought him to power.
So like I said, the vast majority of Haitians want the government to go, including into some of the, you know, the Chamber of Commerce, it’s almost come out in favor of–almost come out in favor of that position. And there’s been massive demonstrations since February 7. They paralyzed most of the urban areas in the country for over a week. Schools shut down, businesses shut down. Most transport shut down, et cetera. And the Canadian government’s response to the situation in Haiti, where you have 90 percent of the country, maybe as high as 90 percent of the country, wanting the government to go is total opposite to Venezuela. And it’s very supportive of his government. Canada is part of the core group that put out a statement three days into the recent protests basically supporting the government. Previous statements by the core group have supported the government. Canada has been supporting the Haitian National Police. The only reason the Moise government is able to stay in Haiti is because the national police has been able to repress these demonstrations over recent months and recent days. Many people have been killed in recent months. Dozens of people have been killed.
SHARMINI PERIES: All right, Yves, it’s very clear what interests Canada has in Venezuela. It has a lot of mining and extraction business there through Canadian corporations. It might be wanting a friendly government. But when it comes to Haiti, why is Canada so involved in Haiti? What interest does it have there?
YVES ENGLER: Well, I think that the main corporate interests that Canada has in Haiti is there is mining, there’s significant efforts at mining. Canadian mining company St. Genevieve was a company that had longstanding interests. At one point they had prospecting rights for 10 percent of all of Haitian territory. And there’s been a push to bring about a more pro-foreign mining corporation legislation that Canadian companies have been pushing for in Haiti. There’s also substantive interest in the sweatshop sector, notably Gildan Activewear, a Montreal-based company, was the–at different points has the biggest, the largest producer of blank t-shirts in the world. And they have major subcontracting with the company headed by Andre Apaid, a leading capitalist and political player in Haiti.
And so I think the Canadian government, at least since 2004, has aligned itself very clearly with a small strata of extremely wealthy Haitians, and has aligned itself very clearly with U.S. policy in Haiti, in terms of overthrowing the Aristide government 2004, but also supporting a Haitian economic model based upon low–extremely low wages in the sweatshop [sector], and opening [inaudible] to foreign players. And Canada’s the major global mining power. It’s Canadian mining companies that are at the forefront of trying to seek out those mineral riches in Haiti.
SHARMINI PERIES: All right. Let’s get back to Venezuela. There’s a lot at stake the tensions are rising. We know that Chrystia Freeland has had a number of meetings with the opposition in Venezuela and the pseudogovernment that many countries, at least Western countries around the world, Europe, Latin America, as well as North America, has now accepted as the transitional government. But tell us more about the relationship that the Trudeau government and Chrystia Freeland and this Lima Group has forged over the last two years in terms of ensuring that they would be able to oust Maduro from power.
YVES ENGLER: Well, the Canadian government, since at least early 2017, has been coordinating clearly with the opposition forces in Venezuela. For instance, the wife of the volatile populist party, the party of Juan Guaido, the wife of Leopoldo Lopez, who is the head of that party, met with Prime Minister Trudeau in Ottawa not long after meeting and having dinner with Donald Trump at the White House. And the Guardian reports that she was acting as a emissary of Leopoldo Lopez to sort of build international support for, I think, some of the, you know, the sort of slow motion coup we see taking place [inaudible] in Venezuela. Also, since early 2017, Canada has been part–Canada and Peru were the two main countries that set up the so-called Lima Group of governments opposed to the Venezuelan government. And it was Chrystia Freeland that really initiated that with her Peruvian partner. And there’s some meetings they had with the head of the UN which seemed like they were designed to move in that direction. Canada’s Prime Minister Trudeau, again, he–back in May of 2017 had a phone call that’s on the public record. He had a phone call with Peruvian president on the question of Venezuela.
So that, Canada has been, you know, at least two years now of that building. And then according to the Canadian press and Associated Press stories, in the months–in the words of the Canadian press before Juan Guaido self-declared himself president, Canadaas working with with with him and other opposition forces to get behind this self-appointment. So you know, Canada has played, I think, a very significant level, maybe the most important level, in terms of building the coalition, right, in terms of the Lima Group, building an international coalition. And that’s also included Trudeau phone calling the leaders of at least a half dozen countries to pressure them to support Guaido. Also the head of the European Union and the head of the International Monetary Fund. So they’ve been building that coalition.
And I think from the standpoint of Washington, if it can appear that it’s Canada that’s leading this coalition, that looks better from a sort of public relations perspective. But of course, this is–this is taking place alongside U.S. policy. And the New York Times reported that Chrystia Freeland is very clearly working with Mike Pompeo, her U.S. counterpart, on the question of Venezuela and on the questions the Lima Group are pursuing. But Canada has really been a central player in building the sort of international support for Juan Guaido.
SHARMINI PERIES: And at the same time Canada has been quite involved in Haiti, and assisting the government there. And recently we learned that there was a paramilitary group in Haiti. At least, that’s what’s being reported by The Miami Herald. Various arrests were made by the police in Haiti. And then quickly and swiftly, these people ended up in Miami, and apparently a number of them are Americans, as well as a Serbian and a Russian, clearly armed. And they were arrested for having guns that were, obviously, not registered upon entering the country. Tell us about that incident, and what has happened thus far; at least, what do we know about it, and the Canadian involvement there?
YVES ENGLER: Yeah. Well, I mean, what’s been reported is that there were seven white well-armed former soldiers. As you mentioned, Russian, mostly American and Russian and a Serb. And they they had heavy weapons. They had all kinds–they apparently had a drone. They had all kinds of high tech communication gear. The speculation among Haitians is that they were being used by the president to repress the demonstrations over the recent days. And that seems like a very plausible explanation to me; certainly after the, you know, the president tried to claim that these were forces that were supporting the opposition to terrorize the country. And then the president, the government, allowed them to immediately leave Haitian custody and leave to the U.S., which very much confirms that these were forces that were supporting the government, and that probably there was some level of U.S. government sort of okaying of their presence in Haiti, as they were high-level former U.S. soldiers.
That’s received a fair bit of attention. What’s received less attention, only reported on by the Haiti Information Project, as far as I know, is that there were Canadian special forces, Canadian troops on the ground at the Port-au-Prince airport a couple of days ago. The Haiti Information Project provided a series of photos and videos of these troops. I asked a prominent journalist dealing with the Canadian military his opinion of these individuals, and he said he thought they were almost certainly Canadian Joint Task Force 2, which is the most–the most elite element of the Canadian military. They operate in basic–total secrecy. That’s one of the reasons the Canadian military and the Canadian government likes to have them, is because they don’t have to divulge any information about JTF2.
So they were on the ground in Port-au-Prince. The Haiti Information Project reported that they thought that they were helping get members of Jovenel Moise, the president’s, family out of the country, to help secure their passageway to the airport and get them out of the country. I have no idea if that’s true. I have no idea–it’s certainly possible these Canadian special forces were in some way working with the U.S. and Russian, Serbian, mercenaries. You know, I have no idea whether they–Moise’s government OKed the deployment of these Canadian troops to Haiti.
And we should also see this in a bit of a more historical light, which is that on the evening of February 29, 2004, when Jean-Bertrand Aristide, the then-elected president, was forced out of the country by U.S. Marines, there were Canadian special forces at the airport, at the Port-au-Prince airport, when Aristide says he was kidnapped by U.S. Marines and dumped in the Central African Republic. So the deployment of Canadian troops in Haiti is, of course, something that, you know, in and of itself should be viewed as highly, highly sort of political. But it also needs to be viewed in this context of Canada’s role in propping up undemocratic forces in Haiti. Certainly that’s the case today.
SHARMINI PERIES: All right. And then finally, Yves, until recently there appeared to be tension between the Trump administration and Trudeau’s administration, especially over the steel taxes, and so forth. What changed? What happened, where now they’re collaborating, it appears, both on Venezuela and Haiti?
YVES ENGLER: Well, I don’t–I don’t know that the tension–I mean, there was tension over NAFTA, renegotiating NAFTA, and you know, steel tariffs, and you know, other questions. There’s lots of tensions, longstanding tensions, on different trade relations issues between Canada and the U.S. [inaudible]. I think that the tensions probably got slightly exaggerated.
But I think, you know, issues like Venezuela, clearly one of the reasons why Chrystia Freeland, Canada’s foreign minister, has been so forceful on taking on the Venezuela file is because Mike Pompeo and the Trump administration, you know, is very supportive of ousting Maduro. So that alleviates any tensions in other areas. You know, Canada’s policy on Haiti being in alignment with the U.S., that goes back to before 2004’s overthrow of Aristide’s government. And we have internal documents showing, or discussions talking about how, you know, the former defense minister talked about how, because Canada didn’t officially join the U.S.’s coalition of the willing in Iraq, 2003 war in Iraq, that getting on side with Haiti was viewed very positively by the Bush administration.
So it’s Canada’s alignment with Haiti in the core group–Canada is one of the–the U.S., Canada, France have been the main members of the core group since before 2004. And so they very much aligned their policy, the core group. They call themselves the Friends of Haiti, but they really are the enemies of Haiti. And they are the ones that have been behind, you know, Martelly’s election in 2010. It was a Canadian-U.S. intervention that forced the electoral council to put Martelly, Michel Martelly, in the second round of the runoff. So yes, Canada has been really aligned with U.S. policy in Haiti for at least–basically two decades, maybe even before that.
SHARMINI PERIES: All right, Yves. I thank you so much for joining us today. So we are going to be inserting this interview with Yves Engler into our article he has produced also on this very topic, which will be wrapped around this video, so do read it. I thank you so much for joining us.
YVES ENGLER: Thanks for having me.
SHARMINI PERIES: All right. I’ve been speaking with Yves Engler, Canadian author, writer, and now going to be doing regular reports for The Real News Network. Thank you for joining us here on The Real News Network.