Sometimes Why is the Wrong Question

I’ve never met Joe Emersberger, but he’s a tireless letter-writer, relentlessly logical, interested in Canada’s role in the world and the Americas, and so I can’t help but encourage his move towards article-writing and blogging. Here’s a short one he sent as a guest blog for the Killing Train:

by Joe Emersberger

I’ve often stumbled over a simple question about Haiti – and I’ve seen others either struggle with it or evade it. Why is Canada involved with trampling over democracy and human rights in Haiti? Similar questions about the UN and US role in Haiti have left me sputtering. I haven’t been prepared for the question. I’ve underestimated the importance people would attach to it. Even when you provide compelling evidence of Canada’s crime people still look for a motive. That’s surprised me. Wary of giving a longwinded (and inevitably speculative) reply I’ve been tempted to respond “Why worry so much about the motive when guilt is so evident? If you catch murderers in the act do you worry about establishing their motives more than you do about stopping them?” But a reply like that is condescending and ineffective – as is an overly detailed history or economics lesson. I’ve decided to try something that I hope will make me more succinct and effective by appealing to common sense. I’m going to try to answer the question “why?” with “why not?”.

Why is Canada on the side of a brutal regime in Haiti?

Why would Canada defy the US over Haiti? If the US were willing to let Haitian democracy develop then so would Canada. But in the absence of serious opposition – as existed against the Iraq war or against co-operation with US missile “defense” – Canada will do the bidding of the US. Thanks to the mainstream media, among other actors, Canada pays a negligible price as it helps its largest trading partner crush Haiti. Canada isn’t going out of it’s way. It is following the path of least resistance. Reversing course, especially now, would be costly. It would take quite a public outcry to bring about.

Why does Canada’s mainstream news media cover up what’s going on?

Why wouldn’t they? Why would they stand up for the rights of millions of Haitians who make less than $2 per day, who don’t buy their newspapers, or buy what advertisers sell? Why would they anger wealthy owners and advertisers who are members of the class that is pushing for deeper integration with the US? The media doesn’t even have to put out a large quantity of biased reports to cover things up. It isn’t a story, like the war in Iraq, that is too big to bury. Ignoring Haiti is fairly easy.

Why is the US so eager to support repression in Haiti?

Why should the US allow meaningful democracy to develop in Haiti? Why would the US risk having such a development get out of hand and spread to other poor countries? The bargaining power the US (and Canadian) elite have over their workforce depends largely on the poverty and desperation of people in poor countries. Why would the US elite risk losing any bargaining power because of the dangerous example set in small countries like Haiti? Why take that risk, even if it’s minimal, if they can very inexpensively back the Haitian elite who pose no threat at all? They’ve backed them for over a century. Why stop now? Who is going to stop them?

I’m happy to report that people, even very conservative people, that I’ve encountered aren’t naive about what the Canadian government is capable of. However, they (and I) can easily lose sight of the fact that our government, like any other that exists, is a repression maximizing institution (part of being accountable mainly to profit maximizing institutions). It doesn’t need to be strongly coerced or enticed to do horrible things. All it needs is for the public to look the other way.

Justin Podur

Author: Justin Podur

Author of Siegebreakers. Ecology. Environmental Science. Political Science. Anti-imperialism. Political fiction. Teach at York U's FES. Author. Writer at ZNet, TeleSUR, AlterNet, Ricochet, and the Independent Media Institute.

One thought on “Sometimes Why is the Wrong Question”

  1. It is an important point.
    It is an important point. After participating in Yves Engler & Anthony Fenton’s recent book tour, the first question in the Q&A was always “Why Haiti?”
    Many in Canada still view our foreign role as being one of the benevolent ‘peacekeeper’. It will take time to dispell this myth and Haiti is a perfect example to cite to those in denial.

Comments are closed.