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Haitians' ire over carnival spending amid hurricane's ruins
By Amelie BARON
Les Cayes, Haiti (AFP) Feb 27, 2017

Bloody accident and rain mar joyful Rio carnival
Rio De Janeiro (AFP) Feb 27, 2017 - A huge float carried by an out-of-control truck at the Rio de Janeiro samba parade struck at least six people, seriously injuring two.

The accident late Sunday, which coincided with heavy drizzle, marred the start of the all-night samba dance-off at the Sambodromo stadium.

The truck, topped with one of the extravagant floats that symbolize the world's most famous carnival, was at the tail end of the Paraiso do Tuiuti samba school parade -- the first of six schools competing overnight.

It drove too close to a fence at the entrance to the competition piste, leaving several people unable to escape. One woman, a news photographer, had a leg badly crushed.

"There are six people injured, two in a serious state," a fire department officer told journalists.

Despite the incident and pools of blood on the rain spattered ground, the party soon got back in swing.

Brazilians living through two years of steep recession and nearly 13 percent unemployment have grasped this year's carnival as a chance to let off steam. In Rio especially, the thrill of hosting the Olympics six months ago has given way to the grim reality of rising crime and near bankruptcy of the state government.

So there were intense cheers around the packed stadium of 70,000 people the moment that drumming began to thunder up from the piste.

Samba queens dressed in sequined micro-costumes and vast feathered headdresses danced at dizzying speed. Behind them came armies of drummers and costumed dancers, interspersed by the floats.

Each school picks a theme for its parade and is judged according to strict criteria. Another six schools were to parade on Monday night, with the champion being announced on Wednesday, the start of Lent in mostly Roman Catholic Brazil.

- Save the Amazon -

The most daring parade was from the samba school known as Imperatriz Leopoldinense, which chose the destruction of Brazil's majestic Amazon rainforest as its theme.

Schools typically pick politically safe themes, often paying homage to Brazilian musicians. Paraiso do Tuiuti, for example, honored the 50th anniversary of the "Tropicalia" musical movement.

But Imperatriz Leopoldinense waded into the debate over indigenous rights, agribusiness expansion into once pristine lands, and the future of the ever more under pressure Amazon.

Floats included portrayals of the jungle, indigenous musicians, piles of skulls and a giant head of a crying indigenous man, crushed by a log the size of a bus.

Members of real native tribes were joining the parade to raise awareness about their plight.

"This parade is incredibly important," said Leticia Campos, 35, who was participating in a tight green costume with bright red wings, representing the forest on fire.

"People here never pay attention to the Indians when in fact they are the masters of the rainforest and it was stolen from them."

The parade has infuriated members of the powerful agribusiness sector, which is frequently accused of being a major contributor to global warming through logging and cattle ranching.

The Brazilian Association of Cattle Breeders called the parade "unacceptable." The rice industry lobby warned of "damage to the country."

Rio is Brazil's carnival capital. Tourism officials told Globo newspaper Sunday that as many as 1.5 million tourists have descended on the city, the best result in eight years, injecting some three billion reais ($960 million) into the local economy.

Starjuin Regent is still waiting for Haitian government aid to help him rebuild his fishing business, which was destroyed last year by Hurricane Matthew.

In the nearly five months since the massive category five storm hit, residents are still struggling to rebuild shattered homes and businesses.

All the more reason then, for the ire of Regent and many others here over millions of dollars spent by officials in on upcoming carnival festivities in his hometown of Les Cayes.

"I've lost my boat. My home has been destroyed. I'm struggling all by myself to get back on my feet, but it's hard," said Regent, with a weary look on his face.

- 'A lot of blah, blah, blah' -

He said that until he rebuilds his business, he is eking out a living selling odds-and-ends, amid empty promises of aid from politicians.

"Public action to help citizens -- we never saw it. It's just a lot of blah, blah, blah, on the radio," he said.

All that is left of his small home is the foundation and two pillars. A neighbor who lucked out with a foreign aid group giving him a plastic tarp to replace a shattered roof is hosting Regent and his family.

The city of Les Cayes plays host this year to Haiti's national carnival celebration, anointed the honor by newly sworn President Jovenel Moise.

Even before he was sworn in, Moise announced that instead of taking place in the capital Port-au-Prince, the national carnival fete would be held in Les Cayes, Haiti's third largest city.

"President Jovenel Moise felt that we had a duty of solidarity with the people of Les Cayes" as well as with others in hard-hit southern Haiti, which bore the brunt of the storm, said Lucien Jura, at the time spokesman for the president's transition team.

As the three-day celebration prepares to get underway, there are growing doubts about whether holding carnival here will actually help stimulate the recovering economy.

"Carnival brings nothing directly to the victims, but at the global level, it is obvious that there are many commercial activities -- small traders have more opportunities to make money," said Mayor Gabriel Fortune.

Viewing stands have been coated with still-drying paint and hotels completely covered with posters in this seaport city, where musicians have been parading each night as they rehearse for the grand event.

"One could easily have a million people participate in the carnival, coming mostly from Les Cayes but also from Port-au-Prince and the diaspora," said Carel Pedre, spokesman for the carnival organizing committee, referring to Haitians living outside the country.

Traditional maracas in hand and wearing a straw hat, Mackens Ultima could not be happier.

"This is one of the happiest days of my life. My family was a victim of the hurricane and did everything to ehlp them from abroad," said the Cayes native who has lived in Miami for a decade and is visiting on vacation.

"I saw my city destroyed on television and today this carnival offers a new vision, a new force."

- 'A waste of money' -

Even as the city tingles with excitement ahead of carnival, some say spending so much money on the giant open air party is unseemly at a time of such widespread need.

The bill for three days of revelry surpasses $3.6 million in this impoverished Caribbean nation, whose national debt exceeds $2.2 billion.

UN officials said earlier this month that Haiti needs nearly $300 million to provide urgent assistance for its most vulnerable inhabitants, including those affected by Hurricane Matthew in October.

The massive storm caused $2.8 billion in damage, leaving more than 1.5 million people remain in dire need of humanitarian assistance across the nation.

And the Caribbean nation is still struggling to recover from the world's most significant cholera outbreak, with an estimated 30,000 cases expected this year, as well as the effects of the January 2010 earthquake, with tens of thousands of people still camping in tents without proper sanitation.

Families still struggling here months after being lashed by Matthew say they can't understand the decision to spend public funds on carnival, and many complain that they have seen few of the spillover economic gains from hosting the celebration.

"I did not find any work as a result of carnival," lamented Cadet Preneau, whose home was washed away by the storm.

"The people who are building the stands come from Port-au-Prince, so they don't need us," Preneau said bitterly.

"We should have canceled this carnival. It's a waste of money."

The decision to locate carnival here was among the first taken by Moise.

This year also marks a return to the stage of his predecessor Michel Martelly.

Martelly, who goes by the stage name "Sweet Micky," is one of 20-odd musical acts scheduled to perform here during carnival.

Study shows parks, greenways may help reduce crime in Chicago
Chicago (UPI) Feb 24, 2017
New research suggests urban green space like parks and greenways may play a role in diminishing crime. When scientists analyzed crime statistics from a diverse array of Chicago neighbors both before after the construction of the Bloomington Trail, a 2.7-mile elevated greenway known as the 606, they found a reduction in crime in neighborhoods closest to the trail. Researchers comp ... read more

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