Hopeful Aristide starts Carnival
Celebration feels effect of hard times
BY JANE REGAN
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
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
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
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,
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.
POWER OF MUSIC
As revelers danced, they sang songs expressing popular frustrations,
such as the one by Boukman Eksperyans that calls for people to rise up
''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.''