The Miami Herald
Mar. 03, 2003

Hopeful Aristide starts Carnival

Celebration feels effect of hard times

Special to The Herald

  PORT-AU-PRINCE -- Flanked by more than a dozen Carnival kings and queens lavishly dressed as heroes from Haiti's independence struggle two centuries
  ago, President Jean-Bertrand Aristide opened Haiti's three-day Carnival celebrations on Sunday calling for peace and an ``economic rebirth.''

  Saying he hoped that one day all Haitians would have double their current salaries, he talked about the British Industrial Revolution, the economic ''rebirth''
  of Japan, Korea and China, and said ``our economic renaissance is possible.''

  ''Renaissance'' is this year's theme for Carnival, which is part of the government's run-up to celebrations of Haiti's bicentennial next year. Shaken by a
  spate of antigovernment demonstrations, a deteriorating economy and nearly empty state coffers, Aristide has been emphasizing the 200th anniversary of
  Haiti's victorious slave revolution.

  The National Palace is encouraging revelers to wear the colorful costumes of the past. It also encouraged musicians to write songs focusing on the past,
  but some stuck to the tradition of criticizing the present.


  ''We want Carnival to be a money-maker, like it was a long time ago,'' said Mathilde Flambert, a member of the Carnival Committee and former minister of
  social affairs. She accused foreign governments and the press of scaring tourists away from Haiti.

  Some of the country's major businesses and media did not pay for stands or sponsor bands this year, and those that did provided less money than in the

  ''We have a truck but not the sound system,'' said Frederique ''Fredo'' Pierre-Louis of Kanpch on Friday. A ''float'' -- usually a flatbed truck loaded with giant
  speakers -- costs up to $150,000 for the three days of processions, he said.

  The popular Radio Kiskeya said it won't be providing live coverage, because with tripled fuel prices and little state electricity, all its revenue now goes to
  power two generators.

  Radio Metropole won't provide live coverage either, but that is more because of threats against its journalists, reporters said.

  Economic difficulties, such as those faced by most Haitians who survive on less than $1 a day, will keep many away.

  ''I used to go, but now things are so bad, I figure that in the time I spend dancing, I could make an extra gourde [about two cents],'' said Pierre Philippe
  Jean on Saturday as he stirred a popular beef stew -- a supposed aphrodisiac -- which he sells in plastic cups for about 10 cents.

  But even in desperate times, many revelers turn out, happy for three days when they can forget their worries. On Sunday, when the snaking, throbbing
  procession reached the avenue of wooden spectator stands, thousands were waiting.

  Vendors hawking beers and cane liquor, professionals rarely seen outside of their air-conditioned SUVs, street boys, traditional carnival street bands and
  flatbeds blasting music at bone-rattling decibels competed for space.


  As revelers danced, they sang songs expressing popular frustrations, such as the one by Boukman Eksperyans that calls for people to rise up like
  ``freedom fighters.''

  ''Carnival is when people can criticize society,'' Boukman's leader, Theodore ''Lolo'' Beaubrun Jr., said last week. ``Our message is that we need a different
  kind of leader, not thieves. Leaders who serve the country. Music has a lot of power, and in Haiti, music has the strength to pull down governments.''