Monday, July 2, 2012

Happy Canada Day!

Back when I was backpacking through Guatemala in 1998, the Americans that I ran into used to joke that if anyone asked where you were from, you should say Canada. Guatemala was, obviously, emerging from 36-years of war in which the US played a not so pleasant role.

Today, when I hear that the US has lost influence in Latin America, I sort of laugh. We've been hearing that for so long that the US must have gone negative years ago. Anyway, if you really want to know who has lost influence in the region, you need to look to our northern neighbors as they celebrate Canada Day.

Here is Reverend Emilie Smith, a Canadian living in Guatemala, writing about how the people of that country view Canada.
Happy (ahem) Canada Day. I wish we could return to the days when that would have made me proud. Canada's name is mud in Guatemala, where mining companies with the maple leaf have been ravaging community after community.
Every one of us, as we quietly remove the Canadian flags sewn onto our backpacks, and pocket those little pins they give us on Canada Day, should know by now: around the world, in our name, and to our financial benefit, Canadian mining companies are destroying the earth. Chasing after the love of gold and money, they care not for communities, the land, the water, or due process of consultation, or the fair sharing of profits. They come, blow the earth up, suck up the water, leaving cesspools of poison behind. And promising trinkets, 'development' and jobs to the desperately poor and starving, they divide households and communities, leaving bloodshed and fear in their wake.
On June 13, my friend, community leader Yolanda Oqueli, was ambushed and shot as she was leaving the peaceful blockade to the entrance of the proposed site of the Canadian-owned Tambor gold mine, near Guatemala City.
My how the time have changed.

I wonder if this will end up like other opinions of the US. When I was staying with a family in Kingston, Jamaica in 1995, the family said that they loved the American people. It was our government that they hated. I used to hear the same thing in El Salvador in 1997. I'm sure that many of you have heard similar stories.

However, when I returned to El Salvador in 2006 the relationship changed. Salvadorans were rightfully angry about the US war in Iraq and their military's participation, our illegal treatment of detainees, and our meddling in their 2004 elections. They were no longer as ready to accept the distinction between the American people and the US government. Some would say that if the American people differed from President Bush on those issues, they wouldn't have re-elected him.

They were not quite swayed by the argument that most Americans vote for president based upon the country's economic performance. We don't pay much attention to international affairs.That argument didn't sway them.


  1. Sadly, the reality is that most US citizens (can't speak to Canadians) not only aren't aware of general US policies towards CA but probably couldn't even find Guatemala or El Salvador on a map. So, it's hard to blame CA if there dislike of of US policies is bleeding into their views of US citizens.

  2. I'm a Canadian and I spent last summer backpacking through Central America. I'm back in Guatemala this summer to begin my graduate thesis research and I am also taking the opportunity to travel across the country and into El Salvador and Nicaragua. Like just about every Canadian who travels, I have the flag stitched onto my bag. I continue to be greeted positively by the people I meet, though I find this surprising. Although I am proud to wear the flag, I am extremely embarrassed by the behaviour of my government. I continue to advertise my nationality not out of blind patriotism, but because I hope to show the people that I meet that the exploitation that is taking place in countries like Guatemala and El Salvador on behalf of Canadian firms backed by the Harper government is not acceptable and is in direct contrast to my identity as a Canadian.

    There is a very strong consensus among many Canadians that the Harper government does not represent the social values that Canadians identify with. The government's sole focus in Latin America is trade and this approach will do (has done) nothing but tarnish my country's image in the region.