To party or to MOURN?

Car­ni­val sea­son puts Haiti in eth­i­cal dilemma

Winnipeg Free Press - Section H - - PUZZLES -

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — Across the grand cen­tral plaza down­town, a sound truck with an ex­pan­sive dance floor pulls up in front of the bro­ken pres­i­den­tial palace. The DJ revs up the crowd as two dozen girls in eye-catch­ing redand-white mini-skirts take their po­si­tions. Backs to the crowd, they hold on tight to the rail­ing and shake their rumps to thun­der­ous ap­plause.

A year af­ter an earth­quake-rav­aged Haiti was forced to not hold its big­gest and most bois­ter­ous block party, the show is back on. But the re­turn of car­ni­val — or kanaval — is trig­ger­ing de­bate about whether a nation still reel­ing from its worst nat­u­ral disas­ter and in the midst of an in­tense pres­i­den­tial elec­tion can af­ford the de­bauch­ery.

“I don’t see car­ni­val,” said Se­dio Lavi­o­lette, 53, who has lived for more than a year in a tent on the Champ de Mars, the down­town pub­lic plaza that once hosted car­ni­val’s many grand­stands but to­day hosts an es­ti­mated 16,000 home­less quake vic­tims.

“I don’t see how we can be think­ing about en­joy­ing our­selves when we, the poor peo­ple, are still liv­ing in mis­ery. Any se­ri­ous gov­ern­ment wouldn’t even be think­ing about car­ni­val.”

But neigh­bour and mother of four MarieLour­des Regis dis­agrees, ar­gu­ing in favour of the three-day cel­e­bra­tion that be­gins Sun­day in Por­tau-Prince and other ma­jor Haitian cities.

“We are mis­er­able. But we need to en­joy our­selves, as well,” she said.

The na­tional de­bate over car­ni­val is a lively one, and — some say — a wel­comed one from the on­go­ing elec­tion de­ba­cle that has con­sumed the coun­try since its con­tro­ver­sial and flawed Nov. 28 pres­i­den­tial and leg­isla­tive vote. It is tak­ing place in gro­cery store lines and in tent cities, among friends at tony restau­rants and over ra­dio air­waves where the car­ni­val meringues have been re­placed with vo­cif­er­ous ban­ter over money and moral­ity.

Car­ni­val al­ways has been a barom­e­ter of Haiti’s so­cio-po­lit­i­cal land­scape and this year is no dif­fer­ent. Last year, Haitians, still mourn­ing from the cat­a­strophic Jan. 12 earth­quake, col­lec­tively turned away from car­ni­val.

Al­though car­ni­val is tak­ing place, not all the mu­sic bands are on board: Most have not cre­ated any new tunes this year.

“I don’t even feel like singing a car­ni­val song,” said Joseph “Ti-Joe” Zenny of the band Krey­olla.”Morally, I don’t feel in­spired. The peo­ple are tired; they are tired of the tire burn­ings, the cri­sis. Look at the coun­try. It’s bet­ter they take the money, re­move the peo­ple from un­der­neath the tents.”

Zenny said fans should not ex­pect to see him and his band trav­el­ling from the water­front up to the Champ de Mars. For one thing, it costs about $200,000 just for a float — money Haiti’s busi­ness com­mu­nity has told him it doesn’t have.

Mean­while, fans have been hard-pressed to hear even old meringues — satir­i­cal tunes of­ten lam­poon­ing politi­cians — on the ra­dio. Many ra­dio sta­tions are re­fus­ing to play them. Ra­dio per­son­al­i­ties push­ing for low-key cel­e­bra­tions have been ac­cused by some may­ors of “as­sas­si­nat­ing cul­ture.”

Other may­ors ac­cuse them of want­ing to de­prive ar­ti­sans who rely heav­ily on car­ni­val rev­el­ers, of the year’s big­gest pay day.

— The Mi­ami Her­ald

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