By Owen Chalk, Canadian Dimension, Feb. 21, 2023
Canada’s foreign policy record is stained with countless examples of hypocrisy, opportunism, and aversion to democracy, especially when it leads down the road of left-wing reforms. Ottawa’s hypocrisy is a result of its often pro-corporate international agenda. In countries where Canadian companies have many lucrative investments, state violence is allowed to occur without comment, while in countries which don’t serve as significant reservoirs of Canada-based capital, criticism is levelled with high frequency and virulence.
Recently, two examples have arisen that expose an obvious split in Ottawa’s attitude toward protests in leftist-governed countries and those ruled by the right: namely, the July 11, 2021 protests in Cuba and the ongoing Indigenous-led uprising across Peru.
Short-lived protests in Cuba
On July 11, 2021, thousands of Cubans mobilized across the country for a day of protest against supply shortages caused by the US economic blockade. Elements of the protest movement called for the overthrow of the Cuban government, including several anti-communist diaspora groups. In the US, Cuban-American officials urged the Biden administration to intervene militarily; in one case, the mayor of Miami even called for airstrikes against Cuba to support the relatively small protests.
Ottawa sided with anti-government forces inside and outside Cuba, with Trudeau officials alleging that the Cuban government’s reaction was violent, repressive, and that it criminalized dissent. In the end, one protestor died and several sustained injuries.
Different groups offer varying estimates of the number of Cubans arrested in connection with the protests, but the number is generally listed as at least a few hundred. A continuation of the protests, organized by the anti-government organization Archipelago for November 15, 2021, never materialized.
Following the July 11 protests, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau unequivocally condemned Cuban authorities, stating that his government was “deeply concerned by the violent crackdown on protests by the Cuban regime” while criticizing what he described as “repression by the authorities of peaceful demonstrators.”
Meanwhile, a spokesperson from Global Affairs Canada stated that his department had “deep concerns over the violent crackdown on protests in Cuba” and the “repressive measures against peaceful protestors, journalists and activists, and arbitrary detention” as well as “harsh sentencing” of protestors. He also claimed that Ottawa “[stands] with the people of Cuba in their aspiration for democracy.”
In November 2021, GAC reiterated its position by telling CBC News that “Canada strongly advocates for freedom of expression, freedom of movement and the right to peaceful assembly free from intimidation, throughout the world, including Cuba.”
One year after the protests, the Canadian embassy in Cuba tweeted, “Canada remains deeply concerned by the harsh treatment to those involved in those events. [Canada] advocates for the freedom of expression and for the rights of the people of [Cuba] to peacefully assemble.”
While claiming to support freedom of movement and assembly “throughout the world,” Ottawa has sided unambiguously with the Peruvian state as it has attacked these rights for the people within its territory.
The national uprising in Peru
Since the removal and arrest of Peru’s elected President Pedro Castillo on December 7, 2022, Indigenous-led protests have swept through the country. The protestors are demanding immediate elections, freedom for Castillo, and a constituent assembly to rewrite the current constitution, which was implemented under far-right dictator Alberto Fujimori.
The Peruvian government responded by demonizing the protestors as “terrorists” receiving funds from outside the country, including from Bolivia’s socialist-oriented government, and dispatched the police and military to use lethal force against them.
When the protests erupted in December 2022, Ottawa’s immediate response was to prevaricate. GAC said that Canada was “actively engaged with the situation in Peru and continue to monitor the situation closely.” Very quickly, however, Minister of Foreign Affairs Mélanie Joly was vocally backing the unelected government. In a tweet from December 17, Joly offered Ottawa’s “support for the transitional government of President Boluarte” and “expressed [her] condolences to those who have died due to the social unrest,” without actually assigning blame for the deaths.
The Canadian ambassador in Lima followed suit. In December, Boluarte’s Foreign Minister Ana Cecilia Gervasi met with Canada’s Ambassador Louis Marcotte and “reiterated Peru’s gratitude for the commitment of his country to work with President Dina Boluarte.” Marcotte has also met with Peru’s vulnerable populations minister, mining minister, minister of production, and President Boluarte herself while reaffirming Canada’s support.
The Peruvian state’s response to the protests has been far more violent than the Cuban government’s reaction to July 11. So far, the police and military have killed almost 70 protestors and injured 1,700, including in massacres in the cities of Juliaca and Ayacucho. An unknown number have been arrested. In a video of police preparations in Andahuaylas, a hot spot of Indigenous resistance, the police chief can be seen telling his men to “kill [protestors] or die.” Meanwhile, the Peruvian government has suspended the constitutional rights to freedom of movement and freedom of assembly without a peep from Ottawa, despite Canada’s claim to support these rights in response to the July 11 protests in Cuba.
The deposed Castillo, who governed with low approval ratings, nevertheless enjoys broader popular support than the right-wing Congress that removed him and the president who has ordered the ongoing repression, Dina Boluarte. To fortify her precarious position, she has given more power to the notoriously far-right Peruvian military, an organization that attempted to organize the genocide of Peru’s Indigenous peoples under the framework of “Plan Verde” in the 1980s and 1990s.
Ottawa’s support for Boluarte has gone far beyond rhetorical backing. Canadian officials in Lima have worked hard to legitimize the unelected government, even as Boluarte’s regime has been condemned by regional governments including Argentina, Bolivia, Colombia, Cuba, Mexico, Nicaragua, Venezuela, and more. Therefore, Ottawa’s support for the wildly unpopular Boluarte not only shows Canada’s aversion to democracy in Peru—it also isolates the Canadian government regionally, aligning Canada with a reviled, unelected government that is repressing its people internally while burning bridges with any state that condemns its actions, as evidenced when Boluarte pulled her ambassadors from Argentina, Bolivia, Colombia, and Mexico in the midst of criticism.
Economic interests and media response
One consideration that likely influenced Canada’s support for the unelected Boluarte government and its silence about the massacred protestors is mining investment. Canadian mining companies have dominated Peru since Fujimori opened up his country’s resources to international investment. More than 70 Canadian companies operate in Peru with almost $10 billion in assets. This makes Peru a much more valuable site of Canadian investment than Cuba.
It is telling that, according to Statistics Canada data, Peru ranks number 14 in the list of countries with the most Canadian foreign direct investment, while Cuba ranks number 112. Obviously, the Canadian capitalist class is far better served by the current economic system in Peru than in Cuba.
Canada’s economic interests in a specific country also appear to influence the tone of media coverage. In regard to the short-lived protests in Cuba, for example, media coverage was constant and continued long after the events were finished. Further, there has been significant media space given to those imprisoned after the protests, with articles alleging that some are being held in “horrific” conditions.
At the same time, CBC News has published interviews with anti-government Cuban dissidents and diaspora groups, including those who openly call for the overthrow of the Cuban government and others who have urged Ottawa to implement sanctions against Havana. What’s more, Canadian media showed no interest in covering the pro-government counterprotests that arose in response to the events of July 11.
By contrast, the CBC has taken a much more muted tone on the violent repression in Peru. A December 16 article by Senior Reporter Evan Dyer uses the passive voice to describe the authorities’ murder of Peruvian citizens, writing that “eighteen people have died in clashes between Castillo supporters and police.” Another CBC article from December 18, 2022 centres the plight of Canadians tourists in Peru during the unrest. The subtitle comically reads “‘All of us just want to get home in time for Christmas with our families,’ tourist says,” as though Canadian tourists missing Christmas dinner have been the true victims in Peru.
A January 15 article refuses to assign responsibility for the Peruvian state’s murder of dozens of protestors, writing that, “More than 40 people have died in violent clashes between protesters and security forces since early December.” The article also describes Peruvians protesting against the unelected government as “lash[ing] out against Boluarte,” as though their actions were somehow irrational or unconsidered.
Additionally, the January article advises Canadian travellers that the protests have caused “transportation disruptions in many areas, including to rail services, inter-regional buses, and intercity public transportation.” One could hardly imagine Canadian media using this subdued tone if Cuban authorities had killed scores of protestors or if anti-government forces had seized major infrastructure and blockaded roadways throughout the country.
A case study in Canadian hypocrisy
While Canadian officials condemned the Cuban authorities’ response to protests as “violent,” Ottawa has never characterized the Peruvian government’s response so aggressively, even as the unelected government has killed almost 70 people.
Meanwhile, Canadian media refuses to report on the crisis in Peru with anywhere near the same urgency as the July 11 protests in Cuba.
This is a clear example of Canadian hypocrisy.
If the Cuban government had reacted to July 11 with anywhere near the violence that the Peruvian government has administered, the media and government responses would have been swift and unforgiving. Because a loyal ally in Lima is doing the repression, however, Ottawa allows them to continue killing without the slightest condemnation.
Owen Schalk is a writer based in Winnipeg. He is primarily interested in applying theories of imperialism, neocolonialism, and underdevelopment to global capitalism and Canada’s role therein. Visit his website at www.owenschalk.com.
Posted March 19, 2023