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Feb. 25, 2004

Haitian revolt blocks medical supplies for hospital

Local volunteers fear situation will only worsen

The Patriot Ledger

n armed uprising in Haiti is preventing medicine and other supplies from reaching a hospital run by a South Shore organization, and volunteers fear the situation will grow bleaker in coming days if rebels take more of the country.

The St. Boniface Haiti Foundation has canceled three trips to the Caribbean country since the beginning of the month. Volunteers who travel with the organization usually carry duffel bags stuffed with medicine and other crucial supplies.
Nannette Canniff
Nannette Canniff
“All of those medicines aren’t getting into Haiti.”

“All of the goods they would carry aren’t going into Haiti,” said Nannette Canniff, who runs the organization out of her Randolph home. “All of those medicines aren’t getting into Haiti.”

The foundation, started 20 years ago by a group of parishioners at St. Boniface Catholic Church in Quincy, operates a hospital and provides other humanitarian aid in Fond des Blancs, a remote region in the country’s southwest corridor.

If rebels who now hold key northern cities move into the capital of Port-au-Prince, the flow of food and other supplies to Fond des Blancs could essentially grind to a halt, Canniff said.

“The opposition and the rebels are saying they’re going to take Port-au-Prince,” said Canniff, who spent all of January in Haiti. “I think if something isn’t done internationally, all hell is going to break loose.”

Hope for a peaceful resolution dimmed yesterday as opposition leaders rejected a plan that would have kept Jean-Bertrand Aristide as president but with diminished powers and with the proviso that he share government with his rivals. Meanwhile, Aristide urgently appealed for the world’s help, saying intervention was needed to avert a bloodbath and a new exodus of boat people.

At least 70 people have been killed in the three-week uprising.

Violence has eluded Fond des Blancs, a region where most people live in mud huts, and where running water and electricity are rare. The 20-bed St. Boniface Hospital is the only medical facility in the region of 45,000 people, and residents walk for hours and even days to receive basic care - often while carrying ailing loved ones.

The hospital’s staff treats more than 30,000 patients a year, and nutrition clinics for children, the elderly and tuberculosis patients provide food for several hundred residents each week.

The hospital’s administrator stocked up on enough food and medicine to last a few weeks, Canniff said, but staff members could be in a bind if that supply runs out.
The hospital’s administrator stocked up on enough food and medicine to last a few weeks, Canniff said, but staff members could be in a bind if that supply runs out.

The bulk of supplies come from Port-au-Prince or are brought by visiting volunteers from the South Shore and elsewhere.

Though Fond des Blancs is just 70 miles from Port-au-Prince, it can take more than five hours to drive there over roads riddled with potholes several feet wide and a half-foot deep. National Route 2, which connects the locations, had already been shut down temporarily when rebels set up a roadblock.

Catholic Relief Services, an international aid organization that regularly delivers food to St. Boniface Hospital, said its work in Haiti could be suspended if opposition forces move into Port-au-Prince.

“If things do get bad in Port-au-Prince, we would take the rest of our staff out,” said Dorrett Byrd, deputy executive director in charge of overseas operations. “In some of the warehouses they may have some food resources. When those are finished, or if those have already finished, it would be difficult for us to resupply if there are blockades and the trucks cannot travel on these roads.”

The St. Boniface foundation also runs a house in Port-au-Prince where older Fond des Blancs children live while attending school in the capital city. As a precaution, all 10 students are being sent home, Canniff said.

Meanwhile, Canniff and others are watching closely and waiting until they can return to Haiti.

One group of St. Boniface volunteers that canceled its trip this month included a team of surgeons from Florida who probably would have performed 30 to 35 operations, said Jack Logue, a longtime volunteer with the group.

Logue, a former president of Carney Hospital in Dorchester who now lives in Florida, was supposed to travel with the surgeons, and decided to go with a smaller group for one day to at least get some supplies through. He did not see any violence.

As volunteers like Logue and Canniff monitor the news and keep in touch with staff in Haiti by E-mail, all they can do is hope the country and people they have come to love find peace.

Karen Eschbacher may be reached at

Stories by
Karen Eschbacher
Photos by
Gary Higgins

The Patriot Ledger

Associated Press images:
A Haitian girl walks through a road block in Port-au-Prince. Aristide supporters have built barricades to protect the city after two police stations outside Port-au-Prince were attacked Sunday, Feb. 22.


People carry their belongings as they evacute their rural homes and walk to St. Marc, Haiti on Tuesday, Feb. 24, 2004. Insisting that President Jean-Bertrand Aristide resign, an opposition coalition rejected a U.S.-backed peace plan to avert all-out civil war as Haiti's leader urgently appealed to the world for help.



A man carries his belongings as he walks around a freight container and vehicles that form a barricade across the main road that connects northern Haiti and Port-au-Prince Tuesday, Feb. 24, 2004, in St. Marc, Haiti. The barricade was moved into place after rumors spread that the rebels might attack the city soon on their march to Port-au-Prince.


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