By Gaëlle Rivard Piché
Ready for change. That was the Liberal Party’s main slogan during the Canadian electoral campaign that brought Justin Trudeau into power on October 19. It is also the state of Canada-Haiti relations after four years of sullenness due to a decline in Canadian funding for Haiti’s reconstruction and successive diplomatic faux pas.
After a decade of Conservative reign driven by hard-line security imperatives and a development strategy resolutely based on economic priorities, a new Liberal government suggests a change in Canadian foreign policy. Considering Trudeau’s commitment to restore Canada’s image abroad, what will be the Canadian role in the next chapter of Haiti’s development?
In 2004, Paul Martin’s Liberal government agreed to participate in a multilateral effort towards Haiti’s stabilization and reconstruction. Under the following Conservative governments, Haiti officially remained a priority, but a shift in the rationale for aid put a stop to several bilateral programs, including quick impact projects funded by the Department of Foreign Affaires and International Trade’s Stabilisation and Reconstruction Task Force. The reduction of the budget envelope had a direct impact on the ability of the Canadian embassy to engage with its Haitian counterparts. The lack of a clear strategy after the end of the earthquake recovery phase in 2012 also marginalized the role and the importance of Canada at the donors’ table. Canada still remains a key contributor to the MINUSTAH, the UN peace operation deployed since 2004, but the foreseen end of the mission after 2016 raises serious concerns about the future of international assistance.
Maybe it is the result of too many TV shows about organized crime and bad guys that romanticize the whole criminal life. But crime is making its way in IR and political science. State-building and development discussions have brought in all these informal actors that play a much bigger role than expected in the peace and development process of so-called fragile states. In fact, criminal versus political motives seems to be the new greed versus grievance. Yet, the empirical literature of the last decade has taught us that if this distinction is easily made on paper, it is rarely as clear in practice.
In the context of IR, what does “crime” and “criminal agenda” refer to exactly? Is it strictly about illegal behaviors, or does it also include informal activities outside of the state’s reach? Does it encompass matters of corruption and rent-seeking by government officials? Often, criminal actors and their agenda are pictured as being free of any political ambitions. If it is recognized that political actors can use illegal or criminal means to pursue certain ends, criminal actors are rarely allowed political purposes as well. The whole discussion about the current truce in El Salvador is a prime example. The debate at the national level focuses on the pros and cons of negotiating with criminals, delinquents. Several foreign analysts also put the emphasis on the negotiated cease-fire between gangs, the role of the FMLN government in the negotiation of the truce, the reduction of homicides, and the state of extortion in Salvadorian cities declared free of violence. Yet, the story rarely told publically is the one about what the gangs demanded at the local level to broker such a deal with state’s officials and the adversary gang: social and economic reinsertion programs, access to employment, education and health care. This is a prime example of how criminal actors can actually have individual and collective political grievances, beside strict criminal interests.
In March 2012, the two most prominent Salvadorian gangs, the Maras Salvatrucha and the Barrio 18, concluded a cease-fire in the greatest secrecy. After years of fighting and extreme violence between them, the two gangs reached a secret accord to stop the constant massacre that broke so many families and communities. Following the conclusion of the truce, the number of homicides dropped by 41%, from 4,371 in 2011 to 2,576 in 2012, according to the National Civil Police (PNC). This change was unhoped-for in the country that presented the highest homicide rate on average in the region for the last decade. In a country of a little more than 6 million in population, the number of gang members is estimated at approximately 60,000. Therefore, change in the behaviours of gangs and their members may certainly affect the crime and victimization portrait of the country.
The truce was initially negotiated by the Monsignor Fabio Colindres, head chaplain of the Salvadorian military and police, and the ex-congressman Raul Mijango. The Funes administration, the first government directed by the Frente Farabundo Martí de Liberación Nacional since the end of the civil war in 1992, claimed at first that it was not involved in any ways in the negotiation of the truce. For its part, the Catholic Church distanced itself from the role played by the Bishop Colindres, illustrating the profound division within the institution.