To party or to MOURN?
Carnival season puts Haiti in ethical dilemma
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