By Roger Annis
The Winnipeg Haiti Action Group hosted a successful weekend of solidarity events on May 7 and 8.
The highlight was a public forum on Friday, May 7 that featured a very informative panel of speakers. Fifty people attended and took part in a lively and informed question and discussion period following the panelists' presentations.
The first speaker was Stuart Hammond of Haiti Solidarity BC. He described a ten-day visit to Haiti in January by a delegation of the Latin American Solidarity Coalition in the San Francisco area in which he was a participant. The delegation returned just four days before the earthquake. It met a wide range of popular organizations and leaders.
Hammond reported on the views and activities of the activists they met. He spoke of the vital role they were playing in Haiti’s struggle for democracy and sovereignty, now made all the more important by the disaster of January 12. He spoke of the important lessons from the February 2004 coup d’etat against Haiti’s elected government and the relevance of those lessons to the people’s struggle today. He also showed photos and charts describing the Haiti that he visited and making comparisons to the post-earthquake situation.
Scott Weinstein is an acute care nurse based in Montreal who volunteered for five weeks of duty in Port au Prince following the earthquake. He was invited by Winnipeg Haiti Action Group to attend the weekend’s events. He gave a fascinating, insider view of the post-earthquake medical and relief situation. In summary, he explained that charitable donations were and remain vital to saving lives in Haiti and must continue. But charity is not the way in which a poor country like Haiti can be lifted out of its underdevelopment. In that respect, the world’s largest charities are failing Haiti because they perpetuate the patterns of foreign interference and therefore poverty and underdevelopment. He said this explains why the international relief effort has been terribly inadequate, notwithstanding the undoubted good will of many of those engaged in relief.
He also described how the military response to the disaster that came from many countries in the world, above all from the U.S. but with Canada also in tow, ran contrary to the needs of earthquake disaster relief. Militaries in the developed countries are not trained and equipped for civilian disasters nor in medical services; that’s not their raison d’être. Those countries that rushed into Haiti with virtual invasion forces failed the Haitian people; witness the withdrawal of Canada’s military from Haiti after less that two months of questionable presence.
Weinstein spoke strongly in praise of several agencies that he met while in Haiti, including Partners In Health and the students and staff of the SOPUDEP School.
Bruce Guenther of the Mennonite Central Committee spoke and he outlined the work of the MCC in Haiti since the earthquake and before. He had just returned from six weeks of service there. A summary of MCC’s projects in Haiti can be viewed on its website, including its pre-earthquake work in support of agricultural development: http://mcc.org/haitiearthquake. MCC is a Christian relief, development and peace agency of the Mennonite Church in the U.S. and Canada. Its Canadian office is located in Winnipeg.
Bob Henry of Manitoba-Cuba Solidarity Committee rounded out the panel. He gave a summary of the very impressive medical assistance that Cuba has delivered in Haiti, including Cuba’s bold proposal to the March 31 UN donors conference to help create Haiti’s first, comprehensive public health care system.
The following day, May 8, Winnipeg Haiti Action hosted an afternoon conference to discuss future strategy in Canada for Haiti solidarity. Participants included members of the group along with out of town guests Stuart Hammond, Scott Weinstein and this writer. It was deemed by all attending to be an informative and constructive session. The ideas discussed will be shared with the organizers of the Canada Haiti Action Network.
On Saturday, May 15, Winnipeg Haiti Solidarity Group will hold its annual fundraising social. It will begin at 9 pm and take place at the Orioles Community Center, 448 Burnell Ave. in Winnipeg. More info at: 204 996 2611 or on the group’s website at: http://whsg.ca/.