Paved with Good Intentions links Development NGOs with Imperialism

Sunday, October 6, 2013


Written by Peter Miller

The mainstream media will have us believe that people living in Canada should be proud of our country’s aid around the world. Nikolas Barry-Shaw and Dru Oja Jay busted this myth with their book Paved with Good Intentions: Canada’s development NGOs from idealism to imperialism. 
The co-authors were recently on tour talking about their book, and made a stop in Guelph on September 25 at 7pm. 
They presented a compelling argument explaining that Canadian Non Governmental Organizations (NGOs) are being used as tools to support Canadian imperialism.
Oja Jay and Barry-Shaw both became interested in the role of NGOs as a result of their Haiti solidarity work. In 2004 there was a coup in Haiti that ousted President Bertrand Aristide, who’s party Fanmi Lavalas had popular support and was trying to implement progressive measures, like an increase in the minimum wage, implementation of literacy programs, and increased taxes on the rich. 
The Canadian government not only supported but also was actively involved in the coup. Canadian troops were on the ground when Aristide was flown out of Haiti. Following the coup, the Canadian Government also ramped up aid to Haiti. This aid went mostly to Haiti’s police force that violently cracked down on popular protests against the coup. 
Oja Jay and Barry-Shaw sought out the Quebec NGO, Alternatives to show support 
for Haiti solidarity work. Alternatives was supposed to publish an article against the coup, but soon stopped returning phone calls to solidarity activists. “Alternatives had received part of the funding to go out and do work in Haiti,” explained Barry-Shaw.
“The coup was financially a huge boom for the NGOs.”
Many NGOs pride themselves for being autonomous from the Canadian Government. However, according to Barry-Shaw and Oja Jay, NGOs on average get 60 per cent of their budget from the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA). Where funding comes from has a huge effect on the politics of NGOs. 
“We saw that clearly in the case of Haiti. NGOs testified a few weeks after the coup in saying the new government was a wonderful thing,” said Barry-Shaw. 
“As soon as NGOs start talking about things like imperialism, Canadian corporate interests in the third world, they cross the line, and funding is jeopardized.”
Canadian NGOs have lost funding from the Harper government for speaking out against Israeli Apartheid and other issues. However, NGOs were forced to tow the +government’s political line in the past as well.
In the 1970s, Canadian University Service Oversees (CUSO) was highly influenced by left wing, student radicals, according to the authors.
CUSO denounced Canada’s participation the Vietnam war; the organization took part in the movement against South African apartheid; activists also worked with CUSO on solidarity work with Chile.
On September 11, 1973 Chile’s democratically elected president who was a socialist, Salvador Allende, was overthrown by Augusto Pinochet with the help of Chilean Armed Forces, police, and the CIA. Brutal repression of Chilean social movements resulted, with tens of thousands of people arrested and held in the National Stadium, where people faced brutal torture.
The Canadian embassy did not give any shelter to Chilean people after the coup. However, CUSO organized a solidarity speaking tour and forced government to open doors to Chilean exiles. As a result of CUSOs movement building, “Canadian government foreign policy was shifted in a positive way,” explained Barry-Shaw. 
But in 1979, funding for CUSO was cut off from the Canadian government. CUSO was replaced by non-activists, and was de-radicalized, with democracy in the organization diminished.
According to Oja Jay, the proliferation of NGOs in Canada has occurred with the rise in neoliberalism around the world. The amount of NGOs in Canada doubled between 1990 and 2009, increasing from 240 to 500 NGOs.
Canadian governments have been supportive of structural adjustment programs that have been forcefully implemented in underdeveloped countries. Structural Adjustment Programs make countries go through painful changes in order to receive funding. These painful changes include cuts to social services, elimination of fuel and food subsidies, privatization, and forced shifts to export driven economies. 
The results of these programs include deepening poverty and inequality, reduced access to essential services like health care and education, and increased resource extraction.
Canadian corporations have benefited from increased resource extraction in countries in Africa and Latin America that have underwent structural adjustment programs. Royalties on mines are often extremely low, and environmental devastation occurs for local populations as rich corporations and shareholders make huge profits from exploitation. 
Oja Jay discussed social funds that are implemented as a result of these structural adjustment programs. Social funds give NGOs the opportunity to receive funding to operate in countries around the world that have received structural adjustment loans. NGOs get social funds to dull the edge, but not get rid or reduce poverty. 
Social funds and NGOs create as system of cooptation. “If you want to do work and get paid for it, all you have to do is work on social issues but not talk about the root causes,” said Oja Jay.
“NGOs isolate anyone who wants to resist the root causes of poverty.”
According to Oja Jay, despite failure at reducing poverty, social funds have continued to proliferate all over the world. 
Paved with Good Intentions reveals Canada isn’t a force for good in the world. The book looks at what Canada is doing to keep people in poverty and exploit the underdeveloped countries.
Both the authors led discussion at the end of their presentation. They asked what alternatives there are to Canada’s foreign policy. Event participants agreed that a role for activists in Canada should be to do solidarity work and stop our government from interfering in other countries. This way, hopefully events like the coup in Haiti, will not happen again. 
It is also important to understand exploitation in Canada and connect it with exploitation around the world. In Canada, tuition fees are increasing; wages are falling or stagnated for the 99 percent; the environment is being devastated by projects like the tar sands that most negatively affect aboriginal populations living near by. By recognizing how we are exploited at the workplace, our analysis becomes stronger, and we can more effectively work in solidarity with progressive movements around the world.
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