Canada & the Crisis in Central America // Review

Article excerpt

Late in 1993, despite strong diplomatic pressure from the United Nations (UN), Haitian military dictator General Raul Cedras refused to honour a commitment to leave presidential office, and to allow the return of ousted president Jean - Bertrand Artstide. In October, under a UN security council mandate, Canada responded to Cedras's intransigence by sending warships to the Caribbean Sea, joining the United States in a United Nations - sanctioned commercial blockade of Haiti. Many Canadians were uneasy about this threat of military force against a small island nation. Haitians were quick to draw parallels in the international press between the blockade and abusive American marine landings earlier in the century. In the weeks that followed the naval deployment reports circulated that malnutrition and infant mortality were on the rise as a consequence of the blockade. Canadians came to view the measure as an unpleasant departure in their foreign affairs. For many, this represented an abandonment of foreign and strategic policies independent of US interests.

Yet, despite the fact that Canada had rarely played so prominent and forceful a role in Caribbean international affairs, the Haiti blockade did not mark a policy sea change for Ottawa. Participation in the naval action, with the objective of removing Raul Cedras from power, dovetailed with a long history of Canadian policies in the Caribbean basin that stressed political stability and tacit support for American interventionism. Through the twentieth century, like the United States, Canada has been consistent in its Caribbean basin policy in one respect only -- a determined backing for North American commercial and investment opportunities in the region, and an associated support for political calm.

Beginning with Canada's entry into the Organization of American States (OAS) in January 1990, Canadian officials embarked on a period of policy - making toward Latin America and the Caribbean marked by a more open advocacy of these traditional objectives. In addition, Canada's goals in the early 1990s were characterized by a policy paradox. Canadians sought diplomatic leadership in the hemisphere from within the OAS while at the same time its policy - makers followed an American lead in pressing for neo - liberal international economic policies that highlighted the privatization of state companies, international economic integration, free trade, and open investment in the Americas. Canadian support for regional free - trade accords in the hemisphere and the vociferous criticism of militaristic episodes in Venezuela, Peru, and Haiti characterized Canada's commitment to "democracy" as a necessary precursor for the success of neo - liberal economic change. The willingness of Canadians to follow the United States in the threat of military force against Haiti's intransigent military rulers revealed that Canada would undertake unprecedented policy extremes in the drive for political and economic order.

Media interpretations and popular perceptions of the Canadian naval action in 1993 defined the blockade as an aberration in an otherwise "neutral" historical role for Canada in the Caribbean basin. This view ignored the long - term Canadian policy emphasis on objectives similar to those that prompted Canada to send warships to Haiti. In a parallel manner, much of the scholarly literature on relations between Canada and Caribbean basin countries has also advanced an exceptionalist vision of Canadian policy. This view rejects an imperial or dominating role for Canada in the region, a role conditioned by the policy priorities of trade, investment, and political stability. Scholars of Canadian - Caribbean basin relations have tended to stress, rather, policy themes that have received much media and political attention in the last three decades -- a neutral stand on conflicts between the United States and other nations in the hemisphere, concern for human rights violations in the region, development - related aid, and the movement of refugees to North America. …