Port-Au-Prince (AFP) March 6, 2011
Some danced in memory of quake victims and others dressed as "Mrs Cholera" as Haitians marked the return of carnival hoping to exorcise some of the tragedies that have plagued the nation.
Last year's celebrations were canceled after the massive January 12 earthquake that killed more than 220,000 people, left 1.2 million homeless and ravaged the Port-au-Prince capital region.
Since then a killer cholera epidemic has swept the country, and Haiti was plunged into political instability following a tainted election.
"We will dance so everyone can have a chance to forget," said 13-year-old Jocelyne, her face covered with multicolored glitter.
The mountains of rubble and remains of toppled buildings that continue to litter the streets forced carnival organizers to modify its route. This year the parade will snake through the Port-au-Prince city center before ending in the Champ de Mars plaza, across from the destroyed presidential palace.
Ever since the quake, the large square has been transformed into a makeshift camp for refugees living in often squalid conditions.
"We are very happy to be participating in this big folk fest. We will bring a smile to the people living under the tents," said Sarafina, 15, whose brother lost a leg after spending days trapped under the rubble of the family home.
Despite the scarce means available, many musical groups have gathered all their strength to get the crowd on its feet and dancing.
"We will dance for all the victims and hope the country will never again live such a disaster," said a carnival participant named Wilnerson, hoping to emulate the theme for this year's event: "Celebrate Life."
The cholera epidemic is high on the people's minds, since the disease has killed more than 5,000 people since it struck in mid-October.
In one sketch, an actor dressed in black named Gary and friend Jean-Jude, dressed in white, played the parts of "Mrs Cholera" and "Mr Clean" to remind Haitians of the rules of hygiene that must be respected to avoid the spread of the disease.
"I represent the cholera that continues to devastate the country. He's life," Gary explained under the mask. "We are going to mime a struggle between the epidemic and the rules of hygiene."
A group dressed like lawyers will act out parodies denouncing a Haitian court system that "sells itself to the highest bidder," said computer science student Reynald Merzier.
"Justice does not exist for the poor. Those responsible for protecting the helpless are those who exploit them," said a young student whose costumes bore similar names to Haitian officials.
A participant in a group of "police superintendents" said the carnival and the sketches were "a way for us to say that justice is not working."
With an oft-delayed second round of presidential elections now due to take place March 20, the air was also rife with politics.
Between two music pieces, groups belted out the campaign slogans of Jude Celestin and Mirlande Manigat, the two candidates in the run-off vote.
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