Who are the global citizens?

litbonanza.jpgOn my Spring Break (sorry, “reading week”) I took a brief trip to Haiti. I recommend the place: it’s a fascinating country, with an astonishing history and much to see.


It’s worth mentioning, however, that the Canadian government doesn’t want you to go. They say:

OFFICIAL WARNING: Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada advises against non-essential travel to Haiti.

Despite improvement since early 2007, the situation is relatively dangerous throughout the country owing to criminal activity combined with the difficulties the police have in organizing themselves and ensuring order. Personal safety cannot be guaranteed by local authorities, and police presence is not guaranteed in all cities. In most cities, the police are unable to respond in a timely manner to calls for assistance. It is strongly advised to avoid going out after nightfall, especially in the areas most at risk. In the Gonaïves region, Trou du Nord, the Cap-Haïtien region, and in the neighbourhoods of Martissant, Carrefour, Bel Air, Sonapi and Cité Soleil in the Port-au-Prince area, the security situation is particularly unstable and dangerous.

It is imperative that all Canadians who must travel to Haiti have suitable accompaniment. They must ensure that they are expected by family members, friends, colleagues, local business representatives or organizations able to meet them as soon as they arrive at the airport or border, and to guide them in their travels. No public transport of any kind is recommended.

Oh, well. I only just saw that warning. And it’s true that the public transport isn’t great. I was on a tap-tap (a pick-up used for inter-urban travel) when a tyre burst…


Anyhow, this warning (and of course similar travel advisories such as those put out by the USA and the UK) probably explains the fact that I saw very few tourists while I was there. In fact, I’m not sure that I saw any tourists at all. NB I wasn’t exactly a tourist, but I was very close to being one, as the research I was doing was on what would in other circumstances probably be the country’s number one tourist attraction.

I did, however, see at least a couple of Canadians. On the whole, when I saw other white people they were in enclosed spaces: either in restaurants or hotels, or in their own personal vehicles. This was no exception. I was in a bakery in downtown Cap Haitien, and along came two Canadian policemen, to buy some doughnuts. (OK, I made up the doughnut bit, but pretty close.) I could tell that they were policemen, and that they were Canadians, because they were in the full uniform of the Quebecois police force, holstered guns by their side, as well as wearing identification to show that they were there with the forces that are in the country as part of the United Nations “stabilization mission”.

There are at least a couple of UN compounds in Cap Haitien: they had satellite dishes in their grounds, high walls, guards in towers, rolls of razor wire, and armoured troop transports parked nearby. One seemed to belong to the Chilean forces; the other to a contingent of Nepalese. In general, the UN vehicles were pretty noticeable around and about the town. But these Canadians were the only two UN representatives that I saw face to face.

I would have taken photos, both of the Canadian cops and of the UN compounds, but long experience in Latin America has taught me to be rather wary of photographing the military and their installations.

There’s much that could be said about Haiti, the UN, and Canada. Some of it has been said by my friend Peter Hallward in his book Damming the Flood: Haiti, Aristide, and the Politics of Containment. (Hallward was in fact here at UBC last summer, as a keynote speaker at the congress of the Canadian Association for Latin American and Caribbean Studies. He also gave a talk on Haiti at the Vancouver Public Library.) But in the context of Terry’s mission of global citizenship, here’s my question:

Who are the global citizens?

Presumably, the UN-affiliated Quebecois thought they were. Indeed, this is the usual conception of global citizenship, implicit for instance in UBC’s official rhetoric: global citizenship is about upstanding individuals from the industrialized West travelling the world, learning more about it, and helping to impart the values of liberal democracy and so on.

We’ll put to one side the question of whether in fact the UN or Canada are helping to impart democracy in Haiti. (Hallward argues strongly that Canada as well as the US was very much complicit in the aftermath of the coup that brought down democratically-elected President Aristide in 2004.) My question is more simple: is being global cop compatible with claims for global citizenship?

Or put it the other way around: is it the not the Haitians who are being forced, rather reluctantly, to become global citizens as they come under the authority of these global cops? In other words, it is the Haitians, who hardly move, and are hardly able to move all that much (we’re talking, after all, of the poorest country in the Western hemisphere) who become global citizens as they are forced to give up some of the rights and privileges of being Haitian citizens, one of which might be the right to live in a country with full national sovereignty.

OK, now a brief addendum. It’s not quite true that there are no tourists in Haiti. Right near Cap Haitien is a place called Labadie or, as the Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines call it, Labadee®. It is, Royal Caribbean tell us, their own “private paradise.” (And yes, they seem to have actually trademarked the name.) That might be because there is barbed wire preventing any un-authorized Haitians from spoiling the cruise-ship passengers’ day trip to Caribbean paradise. Indeed, the cruise line have their own private security force to ensure that all is safe for their precious cargo.

Are these tourists then also global citizens?

I suspect that they are: they rely on their own privatized bit of land and their own private army, precisely so that they are no longer at the mercy of the perceived failings of national governments and national boundaries. They’re global citizens in the same way that McDonalds is a global franchise. Or perhaps the best equivalent is Guantánamo Bay: a sliver of land that is beyond national jurisdiction and which therefore by definition incarnates the global.

You can just about see the cruise ship, dead center of this image.

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Jon Beasley-Murray is an assistant professor in the Department of French, Hispanic, and Italian Studies. He teaches Latin American Studies.