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7172: Haiti's Carnival is outlet for turbulent politics (fwd)
Haiti's Carnival is outlet for turbulent politics
By Trenton Daniel
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Feb 27 (Reuters) - After a year of chaotic politics that
brought populist hero Jean-Bertrand Aristide back to the presidency, Haitians
let loose this week as the music, revelry and political satire of the
Caribbean nation's annual Carnival claimed the streets.
"Carnival is what I live for every year," said Jean Paul, 22, a student,
wearing a yellow pro-Aristide shirt and bouncing to the rhythms. "It is now
when I can finally let it all out."
While the pre-Lenten carnival is noted for debauchery, it also is seen as a
way for musical bands to give a satirical twist to the past year's political
"It kind of catalyzes everything that at the present time is in the Haitian
minds -- what they're thinking about -- and you often see a lot of political
satire," Jorgen Leth, Denmark's honorary consul to Haiti and a 20-year
observer of the country, said in the southern city of Jacmel.
"So if the people are frustrated or angry, they get it out in the Carnival,
with the help of the beloved groups," Leth added.
This year, politics in the impoverished nation of 7.8 million people has
provided rich fodder for the satirists. Many have aimed their pent-up
frustration at Haiti's political opposition, which formed a "parallel
government" on Aristide's inauguration day, Feb. 7.
The 15-party opposition coalition Democratic Convergence has charged that
last year's legislative and presidential elections were skewed to favor of
Aristide and his ruling party Lavalas Family. International observers said
that 10 senate seats won by Lavalas in elections last May should have headed
to a runoff because no candidate won an absolute majority.
Despite pressure at home and abroad, authorities refused to recalculate the
disputed vote tallies. Opposition parties and international allies boycotted
the November presidential election that returned Aristide to the presidency.
BANDS RIDE PARADE FLOATS
Synthesizer-heavy bands ride high on parade floats in the streets. While
groups such as Sweet Micky and T-Vice are popular for ridiculing each other
and their mothers, others such as Koudjay, Tokay, and Boukman Eksperyans tout
a political agenda, mocking Convergence with anti-opposition lyrics and a
Lavalas-friendly Koudjay has a catchy song that compares the political arena
to a soccer match: Aristide has three goals, the opposition zero.
Tokay sings about how Haiti's people should not be intimidated by U.S.
President George W. Bush, whose presence in Washington brings painful
memories for Aristide loyalists. The former Roman Catholic priest was ousted
in a 1991 military coup during his first term while Bush's father served as
Carnival also can mean violence in the streets. At least 40 people received
minor injuries and one was seriously wounded the first night of the
celebration, Radio Metropole reported. Knife fights are common. Armed police
in trucks maintain a heavy presence in public.
Official festivities come to an end on Tuesday.
ONE BAND STAGES A BOYCOTT
One band that decided not to perform this year is the voodoo-inspired RAM,
led by Richard Morse, a Haitian-American who runs the Oloffson, a
gingerbread-trimmed Port-au-Prince hotel made famous in Graham Greene's "The
Morse, a Lavalas supporter until 1996, objects to what he calls government
mismanagement and disrespect for musicians during Carnival. He also holds
that the government sought out Aristide-friendly bands to perform.
The bands "are so pro-government, it sounds like a commercial," said Morse,
whose band also boycotted Carnival in 1994 because of the military rulers at
the time. "I wouldn't be surprised if the government didn't write the lyrics
After writing a song to be considered for Carnival, bands pay a fee to the
mayor's office in Port-au-Prince, where a committee decides which bands will
perform that year.
"The country stops for four days to have one big party," said Leth, while
looking over the dancing crowd below his bandstand. "That's beautiful,