Commentary | The corporatization of Canada’s foreign aid

A response to “Harper’s Social Justice Hit List”

In her article, “Harper’s Social Justice Hit List” (January 23, Page 8) on the politically motivated defunding of Canadian NGO’s, Tamkinat Mirza talks about formerly government-funded NGO’s having their funding cut and their reputation attacked for disagreeing with the Harper government’s policies regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It is important to condemn the actions of our government, but also to look at this defunding as a part of the larger issue of Canadian International Development Agency’s (CIDA) ongoing politicization. While the Palestinian issue may be one important example of this  pattern, it is in Latin America where the biggest changes to foreign aid funding have taken place.

In 2009, CIDA cut back its aid to African countries, choosing to focus it in Latin America and the Caribbean. The primary reason for this shift: the promotion of Canadian mining interests in the region. 34 per cent of Latin American mines are Canadian owned, with Canadian companies such as Barrick Gold, Gold Corp, and Inmet Mining as key world players in this industry. Thus, when Minister for International Development Bev Oda says that CIDA’s new strategy will focus on countries that align with “Canadian foreign policy priorities”, it is the needs of those companies that are being prioritized. A quick glance at CIDA’s operations in Peru give a good idea of the way in which the interests of the government and Canadian mining companies have become aligned. One of CIDA’s key projects to promote sustainable growth happens to occur in the Quiruvilca region, in the same communities that have – for the last seven years – been in conflict with Barrick Gold over water contamination and overuse due to their Lagunas Norte Project (Fact Check).  CIDA’s other projects in the area aim to “Enhance the Development Impact of Extractive Industries” or “Promote Corporate Social Responsbility”, and are often partially funded by corporate bodies. I do not mention this to degrade the good work CIDA often does in these communities, but, rather, to demonstrate the dangerously close relationship our aid agency has with these often exploitative companies.

Recent Wikileak’s cables also show Canadian embassy staff speaking about the importance of Canada’s mining interests and identifying anti-mining activists as potential threats. This trend was prevalent under Paul Martin’s administration; in 2005, the Canadian government informed the Canadian Lutheran World Relief that they would have their funding cut off if they continued to support Peruvian NGOs that protested against Canadian mines. The Canadian NGO subsequently cut funds to these organizations. Other groups such as Kairos and Development and Peace have decided to maintain their criticism of the mining industry, and have had their funding cut. So while it is important to condemn the actions Mirza discusses in her article, let us not forget the larger efforts taken by this and previous governments to politicize aid and promote Canadian mining in Latin America, often at the expense of free speech, local sovereignty, and socially just development.

Sean Phipps is a U1 Latin American Studies student. He can be reached at sean.phipps@mail.mcgill.ca


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