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In Haiti, Local Artists Spread The Christmas Spirit During Lull In Protests

Dec 23, 2019
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ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

After weeks of unrest, the streets of Haiti are back to their usual busy, traffic-clogged state just in time for Christmas. Anti-government protesters who had put up barricades and burned tires are taking a holiday break. It's allowed businesses to reopen and local artists to spread the Haitian Christmas spirit. NPR's Carrie Kahn reports from Port-au-Prince.

CARRIE KAHN, BYLINE: Francisco Silva (ph) shakes a can of bright red spray paint before he adds the final touches to the large red face that is the centerpiece of his latest mural. It's covering the wall in front of the National Bureau of Ethnology that showcases Haiti's Vodou culture.

FRANCISCO SILVA: (Speaking Creole).

KAHN: This is Makaya, a Vodou spirit which we celebrate the same time of year as Christmas, he says. Makaya embodies the winter season.

SILVA: (Speaking Creole).

KAHN: "And the colors are the same as Christmas, red and green," says Silva. Green is for the Earth and red is for life. Artist Gary Francois (ph) is adding dozens of green leaves to the mural all around Makaya's red face. The eyes remain white, he says, to emphasize the spirit inside. Francois is studying at the ethnology school. It's located just across the street from the site of the former National Palace, which still hasn't been rebuilt since Haiti's devastating earthquake nearly 10 years ago.

GARY FRANCOIS: (Speaking Creole).

KAHN: He says most of his work reflects the political crisis engulfing Haiti right now. Until just a few weeks ago, he and his partner Silva couldn't have been out here so close to the scene of many street battles between police and demonstrators. Opponents of current President Jovenel Moise want him to resign. They accuse the president of massive corruption and theft - a claim Moise denies. Artist Gary Francois shows me a picture of a political mural just blocks from here, one he and Silva painted at the height of the opposition marches and riots this fall.

FRANCOIS: (Speaking Creole).

KAHN: In it, he depicts lawmakers as pigs, the president as a cat, the prime minister as a goat and the Haitian elites as sharks.

So it seems like there's a zoo in charge.

UNIDENTIFIED INTERPRETER: (Speaking Creole).

FRANCOIS: (Speaking Creole).

UNIDENTIFIED INTERPRETER: So, yes, many animals manage the country.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

KAHN: On the other side of the mural, the national Vodou dance company called 21 Nations is practicing for an upcoming New Year's Day performance. Erol Josue, director of the company and the National Bureau of Ethnology, says, sadly, this Christmas in Haiti is not joyous for many. The months of relentless protests, which claimed more than 40 lives, have taken a toll on everyone.

EROL JOSUE: It's hard. It's hard. But we working on it. We have hope.

KAHN: New Year's Day is also Haitian Independence Day, a sense of pride, he says, for everyone. It's also the day the opposition has called for protesters to return to the streets. Carrie Kahn, NPR News, Port-au-Prince.

(SOUNDBITE OF TRACEY CHATTAWAY'S "STARLIGHTS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.