By Gessika Thomas
PORT-AU-PRINCE (Reuters) – Haitians honored their ancestors to mark the Day of the Dead on Tuesday in colorful voodoo rituals that offered a respite from the tough day-to-day reality of fuel shortages, gang violence and rising malnutrition.
Voodoo followers in the Caribbean nation gathered in cemeteries, many dressed in white and some with their faces covered in white powder, to sing and dance as part of rituals that involve communing with ancestral spirits.
"Voodoo, if you want to define it, is the means at your disposal to establish harmony between you and everything that surrounds you, both visible and invisible," said Carl-Henry Desmornes, the religion's "ATI" or supreme leader, in an interview.
More than half of Haiti's 11 million people are believed to practice voodoo, a religion brought from West Africa by enslaved men and women and practiced clandestinely under French colonial rule.
It is closely identified with the struggle against slavery in Haiti, which declared independence from France in 1804 following what is widely considered the world's only successful slave revolt.
"Despite the difficulties caused by the lack of gasoline, people have made the trip to the cemetery. As I speak, my car is out of gas," said Valcin Antoine, a voodoo priest or "ougan" known as "Toutou," who led a ceremony on Monday at a cemetery in the Port-au-Prince suburb of Petion-ville.
"We are not afraid when we do the work of the spirits, they protect us."
For decades voodoo has been portrayed in Western films as a black magic cult, but it was officially recognized as a religion by Haiti's government in 2003 under President Jean-Bertrand Aristide.
Haiti has for nearly two weeks suffered severe fuel shortages. Gang blockades have prevented trucks from reaching fuel terminals, forcing some businesses to shut their doors and hospitals to limit services.
A wave of gang kidnappings, including the abduction last month of a group of American and Canadian missionaries, has spurred local outrage and led several transport industry groups to call general strikes.
(Reporting by Gessika Thomas in Port-au-Prince; Writing by Brian Ellsworth; Editing by Richard Chang)
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AP) — UNICEF warned Tuesday that schools in Haiti are increasingly at the mercy of gangs, with children becoming targets of robbery or ransom. The agency said that at least seven schools in the capital of Port-au-Prince have been forced to pay unidentified gangs in exchange for security in the past two months and that additional institutions have been threatened. “More and more fear at school means less and less learning,” UNICEF said.
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AP) — Hundreds of revelers clad in white and clutching candles crowded into the main cemetery at Haiti’s capital on Monday to pay their respects to the dead during an annual Vodou festival. Many in the crowd surrounded the tomb of the first person buried in the Port-au-Prince cemetery, believing it contains the guardian of the dead, known in Haitian Vodou as Baron Samedi. The celebration comes at a time of deepening misery and violence for Haiti, which is struggling to recover from the July 7 assassination of President Jovenel Moïse and a 7.2 magnitude earthquake that struck southwest Haiti in mid-August and killed more than 2,200 people.
Shortly after being named the head of Haiti’s national police late last month amid a surge in gang violence, rampant kidnappings and a life-threatening fuel shortage, Frantz Elbé promised to tackle the Caribbean nation’s crime problems while motivating cops inside his department’s beleaguered force.
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A clearly frustrated Sen. Joe Manchin, dealing a new and heavy blow to President Joe Biden's hopes for getting his agenda passed, said Monday that House Democrats should "stop playing games" with the $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill and told progressive lawmakers in the lower chamber that "holding the bill hostage" won't earn his support for the $1.75 trillion social spending package. Stressing his objections by calling an unusual news conference, the West Virginia Democrat suggested it will take much longer to reach a deal — if even possible — on Biden's "Build Back Better" package, even as Biden and the White House were hoping for passage this week to back Biden while on his overseas trip. On Monday, at an international conference on dealing with climate change, he touted the measure's provisions on fighting the problem.
By Gessika Thomas