Activist returns from Haiti, alone

By Raksha Vasudevan

Canada’s role in the political and economic dealings of Haiti–the poorest country in the western hemisphere–is often not called into question, despite knowledge that Canada helped fund a coup against it’s democratically elected government in 2004.

Canada Haiti Action Network activist Roger Annis is hoping to change this by touring around Canada to present reports of his two-week “fact-finding” mission this August.

The investigative human rights delegation was sponsored by Fondasyon Mapou, a not-for-profit group in Washington lobbying for Haiti’s solidarity. With Annis was prominent Haitian human rights advocate Lovinsky Pierre Antoine. During their stay Antoine was kidnapped. More shocking than his actual disappearance, though, is the Canadian government’s failure to acknowledge the incident, explained Annis.

“It’s an absolute disgrace that Canada has failed to speak out about the situation,” said Annis. “Haitian elite and foreign backers don’t want voices like Lovinsky’s to be present on the political scene.”

The foreign backers in this case are the United States, France, and Canada–the three nations that helped overthrow Haiti’s democratically elected government of Jean-Bertrand Aristide in 2004. All three countries have claimed that president Aristide’s removal from power was necessary because he was ordering the deaths of his political opponents and destroying Haiti’s already fragile economy.

However, many critics believe there was another, unspoken reason for the coup: the foreign powers were feeling threatened the long-impoverished country was on the path to political and economic empowerment explained Annis.

“The Aristide government had a pre-disposition of favouring the poor population,” he said. “This angered countries like Canada and the U.S. who wanted cheap, uneducated labour.”

During his time in power Aristide created new health care programs, doubled the minimum wage, and built more schools than were built in the entire preceding century.

For the first time since the 2004 coup against Aristide, a democratically elected government was elected Feb. 2006, with Rene Preval as president. Despite this, the foreign powers that supported the coup, have continued to maintain a strong presence there in the form of the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti. The 8,000-strong peacekeeping force is mandated to rid the country of the armed gangs that dominate its streets.

Dr. Tim Donais, an Assistant Professor of Political Science at the University of Windsor stated he thought this was being accomplished. Donais specializes in international security and post-conflict peace-building and has made two trips to Haiti, the first in 2004 and the most recent in June of this year.

“MINUSTAH has essentially decapitated the gangs,” he said. “The biggest difference between 2007 and 2004 is that the security situation has improved noticeably. Haiti is a country that needs massive help and Canada is making a real contribution to that effort.”

Prime minister Stephen Harper echoed this sentiment during a visit to Haiti in July.

“It is apparent that the people who live there feel increasingly secure, and it is gratifying to see Canadian aid achieving real results,” he said during his Jul. 20 visit to Haiti.

Canada has committed to contributing $540 million to the re-construction of Haiti over the 2006-2011 period.

Roger Annis disagreed and has labeled the past three and a half years of foreign attempts to restore security and stability in Haiti a “complete failure.” He pointed out the current broken judicial system, virtually non-existent health care, and tragically lacking infrastructure–all problems that the foreign governments are trying to solve but also ones which, he claims, they created themselves by helping to overthrow Aristide.

“It’s a bit like someone burning down your house, and then showing up in a fire truck,” said Annis. “The only solution is a gradual, orderly withdrawal of foreign powers and an infusion of unconditional aid money to a sovereign Haitian government.”

Annis added that the silence surrounding Lovinsky’s disappearance must end and more critical examination of Canada’s presence in Haiti must take place.

“People here have to be engaged in what their government is doing to their country’s name abroad,” he said.

Annis will be presenting the findings of his trip to Haiti at Carpenter’s Hall on October 2.


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