HAITI: A highly politicised pre-Lenten Carnival

Ives Marie Chanel

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Mar 13 1995 (IPS) - Haitians were recovering this week from a weekend of merry-making at the end of its national pre- Lenten Carnival, which left two people dead.

The crowds numbered several hundred thousand at the closing parade and festivities bringing Haiti’s Carnival (vale a carne = farewell to meat) to an end. Besides the two dead, 337 people were wounded, the majority beaten by clubs, according to hospital sources.

Haitians danced all night to music from a dozen orchestras playing from the backs of trucks, while many traditional bands marched in the endless parades.

To guard against violence from the extreme right, the government reinforced security measures in the Haitian capital, and helicopters patrolled continuously along the parade route.

Some 2,000 predominantly U.S. soldiers from the multinational peace force, together with members of the Interim Haitian Police Force were deployed throughout the streets of Port-au-Prince.

Police arrested more than 10 persons accused of “plotting against the internal security of the state” including Dieumaitre Lucas, a large landowner and former member of Duvalier’s militia.

He was accused of participating in 1988 in the massacre of some 200 peasants in the locality of Jean Rabel in northwestern Haiti. The former mayor of Port-au-Prince, Franck Romain, and ex-general William Regala, both implicated in the plot, fled long ago.

The government of President jean Bertrand Aristide spent more than three million dollars on the celebrations, an expenditure which drew considerable criticism in some quarters.

Some Haitians said, given the present state of the country, the money would have been used better in assisting the poor and on creating jobs for the unemployed.

Information Minister Henri Claude Menard said, however, the government viewed the expenditure as money well spent.

“It created jobs for artisans in building and decorating the Carnival floats, adorning the streets and designing and making the costumes,” he said.

He added that an exciting Carnival was a great tourist draw and earned much-needed hard currency for the Haitian Treasury.

The motto of this year’s festivities was “The Carnival of Hope” and politicians used the occasiob to make propaganda for the government, hoping in this way to draw a political dividend for themselves.

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