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The Occupation of Haiti

Unmasking the “Good Intentions” of Canadian NGOs

Tlaxcala

May 30, 2014

by Fernanda Sánchez Jaramillo

Interview with Nik Barry-Shaw, coauthor, with Dru Oja Jay, of Paved with Good Intentions, Canada´s Development NGOs from Idealism to Imperialism

Fernanda Sánchez Jaramillo: What is the contribution of your book to the understanding of Canadian Foreign Policy?

Nik Barry-Shaw: Canada’s participation in the 29 February 2004 coup d’état against Haiti’s democratically-elected government was what really woke up many people on the left (including Dru and I) to the reality of Canadian imperialism. Several of us involved in Haiti solidarity work began studying the history of Canadian foreign policy, and concluded that Canada was not simply being pushed around by the U.S.; it was an advanced capitalist power that had its own economic interests in the Global South that it sought to advance, through violence if necessary. Left nationalist analyses of Canada as a “rich dependency” under the thumb of the U.S. simply did not do justice to the high levels of initiative and involvement demonstrated by the Canadian state in orchestrating the Haitian coup, and many other instances. So one thing our book is trying to do is to debunk widely-held perceptions of Canada’s foreign policy as that of a uniquely benevolent “peacekeeper” nation.
The principle aim of our book is to dispel the notion that development non-governmental organizations (NGOs) are independent organizations driven solely by altruism. Instead, we demonstrate the heavy (and increasing) financial dependence of these organizations on funding from the Canadian government and the political effects this relationship has on NGOs. We then trace out historically how development NGOs, these nominally independent and nominally non-governmental agencies, have become ever more closely intertwined with the Canadian government’s foreign policy, and thus adjuncts to a policy that has nothing to do with fighting poverty or promoting social justice and everything to do with advancing corporate interests.
Again, Haiti was crucial in the formation of our ideas. Canadian NGOs – even self-styled progressive organizations close to the anti-globalization movement like Alternatives and Développement et Paix – were integrally involved in the coup, by training and financing anti-government groups and demonizing the elected government before the coup, and then working with the unelected, Canada-backed regime of Gerard Latortue (2004-2006) that took power afterward.
These Canadian NGOs and their Haitian partner organizations provided cover for the coup government’s violent repression of Haiti’s popular movement, lobbied the Brazilian government on its behalf and even blocked Montreal’s anti-war coalition from taking a stand against the coup. There were so many leaders of Haitian NGOs (nearly all of which received funding from Canadian NGOs) who took positions as ministers in the Latortue government that the regime was dubbed a “non-governmental government.” Analyzing how the NGO system functioned became a pressing task for those of us involved in Haiti solidarity activism. Haiti, known as “The Republic of NGOs”, was an extreme but far from exceptional case, as we found in the course of researching the book.

London, 1st of May 2012: Women of Colour in the Global Women’s Strike campaigners gather outside the British Red Cross offices, to protest alleged theft of money donated for humanitarian relief and of failing to alleviate the suffering of Haitians. Photo P Nutt

Aren´t Canadian NGOs hypocritical in claiming to help rebuild democracy and bring health care in Africa while oppressing First Nations and cutting health care services for Canadian citizens and refugees, including those from Africa?

NGOization: Depoliticizing Activism in Canada

New Socialist

May 25, 2014

By Dru Oja Jay

psf2

Across Canada, movement organizations are preparing for the People’s Social Forum, coming up in August. There’s a buzz of excitement and anticipation in the air as committees elect delegates, and strategies are debated. When hundreds of activists gather in Ottawa in a few months, we will be drawing from a rich, long-simmering cauldron of theoretical discussion and insight issuing from astute on-the-ground observations.

Members of a variety of organizations will gather to debate proposals and hear reports from paid organizers. Thousands will gather in major cities, and crowds ranging from dozens to hundreds are expected in smaller centres. In Kenora, a delegation of Indigenous activists are expected to present a proposal for a major change in the role of First Nations in Greenpeace campaigns. In Montreal, a left tendency within the membership is said to be preparing a resolution that would shift the Council of Canadians’ considerable campaigning clout to align more closely with the explicitly anti-capitalist student movement.

In BC, the Sierra Club will hold a series of general assemblies, bringing together its thousands of members for similar discussions. Canada World Youth, Engineers Without Borders, KAIROS and Amnesty International are holding local meetings to select delegates and discuss priorities. Southern Ontario is aflutter with activity as cross-sectoral workers’ committees meet independently of their unions to discuss strategies to proactively prevent the next plant closure and fight it with broad public support if it goes forward.

The question of which alliances to prioritize building when Canada’s still-nascent social movements gather in August is at the forefront of all these conversations. Which strategies will prevail? Which ideas will move to the fore? The anticipation is building.

Pure fiction?

With the exception of the People’s Social Forum, which is indeed planned for August 21 to 24 in Ottawa, the above scenario is pure fiction. The organizations listed above do have the membership and financial resources to open such spaces and expect people to take an interest, but few of them use that capacity. This is not an arbitrary fact of life; there are material and historical reasons why it is the case.

Decades of professionalization mean that if any of those organizations tried to hold assemblies like this, they would, at least initially, have trouble convincing people to come. Things would likely get off to an awkward start and require skilled and hands-on facilitation. A political culture of participation, collective decision-making and debate is all but missing. Decisions are made in offices and boardrooms, where professionalized staff preside over donors, petition signers and the occasional volunteer rather than a mobilized or empowered membership.

It wasn’t always like this. We don’t need to idealize the past to realize that there has been a concerted push to make what under other circumstance would be movement organizations into centrally-controlled bodies run by trained professionals. Exceptions to this trend are forever popping up: the environmental movement in the 1970s, the antiglobalization movement of the late 1990s, and most recently Occupy Wall Street are a few of the more prominent examples. But none of these exceptions has put an end to the process of bureaucratization and centralization. In fact, the process seems to accelerate when powerful grassroots movements enter onto the scene.

This process has been dubbed NGOization (after the increasingly-ubiquitous form, the Non-Governmental Organization, or NGO). While NGOization has been going on for decades, the concept is just starting to gain in currency beyond a few academics and grassroots organizers.

NGOization, write Dip Kapoor and Aziz Choudry in their edited collection by the same name, is a process of “professionalization and depolitization” which fragments and compartmentalizes the world into “issues and projects.” It works well, they add, “for neoliberal regimes.”

What NGOization precludes and inhibits is movement-building. Centralized control allows for an efficient mobilization of existing capacity, but it doesn’t provide the opportunities for masses of people to have new experiences, build their own ideas, do their own research, or start their own initiatives. It doesn’t provide the possibility of large numbers of people to decide, together, where to focus their energies or when to divide them.

The driving force behind the process of NGOization is not mysterious. Billions of dollars have been provided to Canadian NGOs to provide social services, dig wells in villages in African villages, support marginalized populations, campaign for environmental protection, and alleviate the effects of poverty. The money comes from government (the federal government spends close to a billion dollars per year on development NGOs alone) and private foundations (millions of tax-deductible dollars are spent annually to support environmental campaigns, for example).

But what do foundations and governments get for their money?

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