For the first time since January 12, 2010, Haitians are taking to the streets to celebrate carnival. The week-long celebration is a signature of Caribbean and Latin American culture, and for many Haitians, one of few moments of celebration since the devastating quake that killed more than a quarter of a million people first struck.
With over 1.3 million people still homeless in Haiti, the decision to celebrate carnival has become the subject of much debate on the island. Many have criticized the government saying that the cost of putting on a carnival was outrageous given that there are still so many Haitians squatting in tent cities. Without solid plans for structural rehabilitation for the displaced or a resolved Presidential election, many of those who have survived the quake have been unable to build any sense of permanence back in their lives, let alone see the leadership that will guide them into the future.
Though coordinators say that their budget for the carnival was only about 20 percent of what they spent in recent years, the mere fact that the event is underway has many upset with the leadership for allowing it to happen.
Speaking to the Associated Foreign Press, Popular radio D.J. Carel Pedre said he had advocated against holding carnival in Haiti, this year after all the country had been through.
“You can see what happens. It’s a bunch of people listening to music and fighting and that’s it,” he told AFP. “I don’t think that’s the carnival that Haiti should present to the world after the disaster last year.”
Though it is meant to be a peaceful celebration, carnival, in Haiti and elsewhere, often comes with a stigma for violence, specifically sexual assault. With an estimated 30,000 to 40,000 people visiting Port-au-Prince to join in the festivities, many in the city are worried that carnival could lead to a spike in the violence that has already come to be a pervasive force within the tent cities around the island.
Women in Haiti, have received the brunt of the sexual violence through the years. The tragedy is that the quake exacerbated an already rampid social ail.
Try to wrap your head around this: even before the earthquake- there were a reported 50 rapes in Port-au-Prince alone every single day.
The number of reported rapes skyrocketing since the quake, with aid workers saying they can get as many as three to four calls a week from one camp reporting rape. Putting that in perspective- there are more than 1,300 camps around the island in all.
Still, some argue that after a year of death, loss, hell and despair, there is more need than ever for joy and dancing. Today, amongst the rubble that still covers their capital, many Haitians are choosing to give thanks for what is left, being grateful at least for the life and breath they have left- because at the very least, that was not taken away.
As part of the reconstruction, the carnival has recognized the enormous role of women play in what former United Nations Under-Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs John Holmes termed, “building back better.”
Post-quake, nearly 42 percent of all Haitian households are headed by women. While today’s theme for the carnival is the nation’s resilience, Tuesday’s festivities in Haiti will be dedicated to the nation’s women, coinciding with the 100th anniversary of International Women’s Day.