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"This ‘Investment’ means Robbery.”

Event links up struggles against Canadian Imperialism in Haiti and Honduras

by Megan Kinch

Betty Matamoros, an organizer from Honduras, spoke to a crowd of about 80 people (photo: Raul Burbano)
Betty Matamoros, an organizer from Honduras, spoke to a crowd of about 80 people (photo: Raul Burbano)

What are the connections between a place like Canada, and a place like Honduras or Haiti?  An event last Friday reminds us that connections go both way- connections of imperialist exploitation on the one hand, and, on the other, of solidarity.  In the current context with the Occupy movement in North America, the Arab Spring, and massive civil discontent in Europe, it is important to remember and solidify links with peoples that have been on this road a long time. Haiti and Honduras are two of these places.  Deeply affected by colonialist extraction, neo-liberal austerity and North American coups, the people of these countries also show us the way of resistance in the face of massive repression- as illustrated by a mini-documentary that screened at the start of the event, Jesse Freeston’s “The Deadliest Place in the World for a Journalist”.

Three presenters spoke on Canadian Imperialism in Haiti and Honduras to a capacity crowd of over 80 people at Beit Zatoun. The highlight was a speech from Betty Matamoros, an Honduran organizer and representative of the Central American coordination of the Hemispheric Social Alliance. Sponsored by organizations- Common FrontiersToronto Haiti Action Committee and the Latin American and Caribbean Solidarity Network- that have a history of sustained solidarity work , this event was not simply informational but connects up with community organizing. Present in the minds of those attending was the Occupy movement and Occupy Toronto, which has changed the context of activist work in this city and across Turtle Island. Although Occupy has captured the attention of people in Canada who have set up many encampments  across the country, a specific analysis of Canadian capitalism has been lacking, and the international aspects have been underdeveloped.

The first presenter was Todd Gordon, author of a recent book “Imperialist Canada”. He set the stage with his analysis of the impact of Canadian intervention on the two countries. “The story of Haiti and Honduras are probably the best examples of specific interventions by the Canadian state. In Haiti you have Canada …engaged in pacification schemes in slums. CIDA [The Canadian International Development Agency] funding prison projects, and funding to elections in which Aristide’s party was not allowed to participate.”  Canada also was the first government to recognize the right-wing coup in Honduras in 2009, and actually sent troops to perpetrate a coup against Aristide in Haiti.

Chillingly, Gordon also talked about how so-called ‘democracy funding’ and ‘NGO * human rights organizations’ have served to undermine democratic process against leftist governments in Latin America and the Caribbean.  Canadian interventions in policy there are targeted to making the region more ‘friendly’ to outside capitalism, such as maquiladoras [sweatshops], the energy sector and mining. He also argued that Canada’s economy is increasingly becoming oriented to Latin America, and that as that happens “are increasingly seeing a more aggressive foreign policy stance.”

This point was reinforced by the second speaker, Kevin Edmonds, from Toronto Haiti Action Committee .  He also talked about “NGOs’’ and how even before the 2010 earthquake, 80% of public services were delivered through unaccountable ‘NGOs’.  Kevin is one of the co-authors of ”MINUSTAH: Keeping the Peace or Conspiring Against it?” which specifically looks at the effects of the so-called “UN stabilization mission’ on post-earthquake Haiti, which include introducing cholera to Haiti through poor sanitation practices, sexual assaults on Haitians by UN troops, and  repressing political dissent.

Kevin argues that the intolerable situation in Haiti makes it impossible for a ’stabilization’ force that re-enforces the status quo to have a mandate from the Haitian people. “Haiti is a country where 80% of the people make less than 2$ a day. “ he argued forcefully. “If they’re allowed to vote they’re not going to vote for a businessman or a technocrat to go with the status quo.”

The presentation argued forcefully that Haiti was a target of Canadian economic and military imperialism, with Canada supporting the set up of export processing zones, which are an integral part of the ‘development’ plan for Haiti. “1.6 million people lost their homes in the earthquake. And the development plan is to make sweatshops. They’re building the factory for 10,000 workers and the people will not have any houses they’re going to be set up in a tent camp. Sot that’s telling you the ‘development’ plan…. the owners of the factories are anti-union and they hire paramilitaries to kill union organizers… In short, the reasons why Canada is so intensely focused on security, is because they have been actively subverting democracy in Haiti

Canada has similar extraction plans for Honduras, both in the mining sector and in the low-paid labour of its people.  The low wages in Honduras and Haiti: two of the lowest in the hemisphere, put pressure on every other country to lower wages and workplace standards to the lowest common denominator. Just as ‘Free trade’ destroyed good union jobs in Canada, a new trade agreements just negotiated with Honduras will put extreme pressure on unions to make concession to compete with Honduran workers who have trouble organizing under deadly repression.

Betty Matamoros spoke about that repression and the spirit of the Honduran people to resist.  She spoke quietly through a translator, wrapped up in a huge jacket against the November weather , but her message came through loud and clear. The people of Latin America are not mere passive targets of Canadian imperialism , but are actively fighting against these processes.  In fact, people Latin America and the Caribbean are in many ways leading the way towards not only reversing these changes but creating a more equal and participatory world in the process. As activists from the Occupy movement in the global north seek to create consensus- based organizations and struggle against the power of the 1%, they have a lot to learn from people like Betty Matamoros.

Betty said that the elites of North America cooked up the 2009 coup against President Zelaya. She added: “What they didn’t count with, and I think this is very significant, is the Honduran Resistance. Historically in Honduras anything could happen and no one would say anything. I think it was a surprise for the world that the people continued 169 days non-stop on the streets… On the 28th of June we become the Frente Nacional de Resistencia Popular [The National Front of Popular Resistance], in which we are all. Since then we have maintained a position of resistance, but this had to be at a price. We have more than 200 dead.”

Serious thoughts for activists in Toronto, for whom the G20 is still a watershed moment of repression, and where the 40 day ‘Occupy’ camp was dismantled Wednesday with only token resistance.  If we are to be serious about solidarity, we have to become more serious about transforming our own government, as the Canadian State is part of the economic exploitation of the Honduran people. Betty said: “Honduras is signing new free trade agreements, most recently with Canada. And since February also with the E.U. Those free trade agreements do not benefit any people. You can see in them how many mining activities we’re going to have in the country. Even if they say it’s about investment, this ‘investment’ means robbery.”

Betty told the crowd how even after deposing President Zelaya, the oligarchy is attempting to force Hondurans to participate in broken electoral processes. In the 2009 ‘elections’ that Canada was so quick to recognize as valid, less than 30% of Hondurans voted. In the negotiated deal to allow Zelaya to return to Honduras, part of the conditions were that the Frente re-vamp itself as an electoral party. Betty said “I think that this [electoral] strategy has been pushed forth… so that when we are in process of social mobilization we are pushed towards the electoral process so that they, the system, takes control.’ Nonetheless, she said that the electoral and community organizing facets of the movement “must continue building within so that the Frente is not disintegrated. So that both decisions that have been taken continue in the same road of popular resistance.”

In the question period, Betty concluded with some suggestions on the way to move forward for struggles in both the Global South and the Global North, which includes Canada:

“I was also want to talk about solidarity union that was mentioned by our sister here. The system is trying to globalize all our resources, and we have to be having the same way. We have to globalize struggles.”

Attendees left the event inspired to continue with or embark on solidarity work, which involves learning about how Canada is implicated in neo-liberal imperialist projects, but also taking lessons from the Global South about how to mobilize in the streets and in our own communities for democracy and economic justice. 

 


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Megan Kinch (Megan Kinch)
Toronto Ontario
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is a writer and editor with the Toronto Media Co-op.

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