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Haiti’s three-day Carnival festivities have brought rum-fueled parties, imaginative costumes and high-energy dance music to a southern city that’s still recovering from last year’s punishing Hurricane Matthew.
Revelers have danced and sang their troubles away for three days in Les Cayes, the biggest city in the southwest region slammed by the Category 4 hurricane in October. President Jovenel Moise decided to hold this year’s official events here to bring some revenue to the storm-hit area and show national solidarity.
Tuesday’s celebrations were the last major party day of Haiti’s Carnival, a mixture of Catholic pre-Lenten festivities and African, Spanish and native cultures found throughout the Americas and the Caribbean.
Costumed Haitians marched down the city’s main avenues: drummers who made their skin glisten with oil and crushed charcoal, dancing girls clad in matching outfits and bright head wraps, and shirtless men with intricately painted faces and chests.
The beat of traditional “ra-ra” bands and rollicking Carnival songs known as meringues pulsed through Haiti’s third largest city.
There were also Carnival street parties in other Haitian cities, including Port-au-Prince, Gonaives and Jacmel.
While Carnival is traditionally a time of all-night bashes and escape from the worries of daily life, Matthew’s aftermath has put a damper on the celebrations for some in southwest Haiti.
Widline Jerome, whose shack was toppled by Matthew’s winds and floodwaters, is still living in a camp of dozens of makeshift tents made of thatched palms and plastic tarp, said there was no temporary respite from uncertainty and poverty for her family.
“If I’m living in misery I can’t go and enjoy myself,” the 22-year-old storm victim said by her flimsy tent pitched on a windswept field outside Les Cayes.
Haiti’s government spent some $3 million on this year’s Carnival celebrations, hoping to lure tourists and Haitians living abroad. It’s far from clear how much money the festivities will actually generate in Les Cayes and surrounding areas, where there are few hotels.
In recent days, some Haitians have argued that the impoverished and highly indebted country should be spending its meager financial resources on any number of more pressing needs.
But Les Cayes Mayor Jean Gabriel Fortune said he was grateful for the chance to host Carnival, describing it as a “gesture of solidarity.”