In the News: Bev Oda leaves behind a poor record in Haiti

by Roger Annis, published on, July 10, 2012

Recently resigned Minister of International Cooperation Bev Oda was a symbol and point person for many of the harmful policies of aid and international relations that mark the Conservative government of Prime Minister Harper.

As Green Party MP Elizabeth May has noted, Oda may have been more of a hand raiser than policy and decision maker. Regardless, during her tenure, the government cut aid to some of the poorest countries in the world in Africa, it tied aid funding ever more closely to the interests and promotion of Canadian business abroad, and it cut funding to respected NGOs such as KAIROS that do not follow its foreign policy line.

Coincidental to these Conservative aid policy changes have been massive increases to military spending (begun by the Liberals), including establishing seven, new Canadian military bases circling the globe.

One of the most egregious aid failings during the Oda years has been in Haiti. Notwithstanding the solidarity and good will expressed by millions of Canadians and other people around the world following the calamitous earthquake on January 12, 2010, Haiti remains in the grip of a profound humanitarian crisis to which the wealthy powers have either contributed or failed to adequately assist in mitigating.

Sure, good intents have been voiced and money has been spent (though much less than promised). But during Minister Oda’s watch, Canada’s post earthquake performance has seen a renewal of the same neo-colonial policies that made Haiti so vulnerable to the earthquake in the first place.

My recent article on Rabble, co-authored with the editor of the weekly Haiti Liberté, documents the housing situation. It is proving intractable. Hundreds of thousands of Haitians were without homes prior to the earthquake; hundreds more thousands joined their ranks following it.

Canada has spent close to $20 million on a much-vaunted ‘housing’ program” that is anything but. Prospects for the homeless of getting a roof over their heads anytime soon do not look good, short of another earthquake, this time in the political realm.

Health care assistance was a success story in the months following the post-earthquake effort and remains so, but it has been deeply scarred by the reckless introduction of cholera into by the UN military occupation regime that the U.S., Europe and Canada brought into existence following the coup d’etat they supported in 2004.

We were told by Minister Oda that education policy is making great progress under the new government brought to power in 2010/11. But we then learn that the policy amounts to patchwork subsidizing of a patchwork system of private and charity-run schools.

The New York Times has just published a devastating exposé of a centerpiece of the proposed economic development plan for a future Haiti, a factory zone in the north of the country that is heavily financed by the U.S., and owned and operated by a South Korean conglomerate, Sae-E Trading. Toronto writer Augusta Dwyer has also written an analysis of the project.

The zone is being built on prime agricultural land on the shore of one of Haiti’s most beautiful but ecologically sensitive ocean bays, Caracol. Hundreds of peasant families have been displaced. The project is promising 20,000 cheap labour jobs in a fenced-in factory zone but will deliver far fewer. Sae-E Trading has a terrible labour relations record, including in Guatemala where it bitterly fought efforts to unionize its factories and then pulled out when it lost.

Perhaps we could take solace in the resignation of Bev Oda if it were to signal some change in the direction of aid policy in Haiti and elsewhere. But in her place we get a career police chief with no background or experience in international cooperation and who has himself been a point man for the worst Conservative file of all, that of military procurement.

An international campaign, ‘Under Tents,’ has been launched on behalf of the hundreds of thousands of Haitians who were homeless before the 2010 earthquake and the hundreds of thousands more who joined their ranks afterward. The campaign is needed because the shelter effort is probably the most serious sign of a failed or inadequate international relief effort by the big powers, the post-earthquake Haitian government, and the NGOs who choose to work under their umbrellas.

Please take a moment to sign the international petition of the Under Tents campaign. And let’s ask the opposition parties in the House of Commons what proposals they have for assistance to Haiti. The silence in Ottawa on the issue is deafening.