Although Vancouver resident Roger Annis concedes “there was no way to avoid the earthquake” that struck Haiti January 12, he said exiled Haitian president Jean-Bertrand Aristide would “absolutely” have prepared his country better for the tragedy. However, in February 2004, Canada, along with the U.S. and France, supported a coup that forced Aristide to flee to South Africa.
“I have no doubt whatsoever,” Annis, coordinator of Haiti Solidarity B.C and member of Canada-Haiti Solidarity network, told the Straight by phone. “Aristide opened the country’s first medical school in 2003—the very first medical school. And what happened to that school? It was the barracks that the U.S. Marines used when he was overthrown in 2004, and then it was used by the UN occupation forces.”
Annis was part of a human-rights delegation to Haiti in August 2007, his second trip to the chronically impoverished Caribbean island nation. He admitted he was “overwhelmed” at what has befallen Haiti now—something he called a “monumental human catastrophe” whose death toll could soon exceed 200,000.
“Every country that has been culpable in the last 25 years for the undermining of Haiti’s economic and social infrastructure definitely shares some responsibility,” Annis added. “[Prime Minister Stephen] Harper’s new to the file. It was the Paul Martin [Liberal] government that sent troops into Haiti in 2004.”
Harper has “quite willingly” continued with the policies started by his Liberal predecessor, according to Annis.
The Straight attempted to contact federal foreign affairs minister Lawrence Cannon and long-time Vancouver Centre Liberal MP Hedy Fry—part of Martin’s 2004 federal government. Neither responded by deadline. In a media statement issued on January 18, Cannon stated: “Our number one priority remains to assist those in need.”
Annis said Canada and other countries involved in the 2004 overthrow need to be judged on what they have achieved for Haiti since that time.
“The real thing right now is look back on this first week of aid,” he said. “What kind of infrastructure did Haiti have to respond, and why didn’t it have one?”
On January 22, Annis will speak at a fundraiser forum called Help Hear Haiti, which takes place from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. at Freddy Wood Theatre (6354 Crescent Boulevard). The event has been organized by Triple H, a coalition of UBC student groups. A representative from Médecins Sans Frontií¨res will speak, along with UBC president Stephen Toope, who will make closing remarks. All proceeds from the event will go toward MSF efforts in Haiti.