Magazine article The Spectator

Voodoo Power

Magazine article The Spectator

Voodoo Power

Article excerpt

Port-au-Prince

Haiti seems almost beautiful from the air. Hillsides eroding into the Caribbean like a rained-on sandcastle. Up close I struggle to find redemption. There are cheap rum tots and poor citizens warming up for carnival, but no hope. I want to find black pride in this, once the richest nation in the Antilles. Here slaves defeated Napoleon's armies and had Wordsworth poems written about them.

But today, with Obamarama on the TV, Haiti is a theme park for the Apocalypse.

The population is lounging about in hot pants and slippers as if they'd just got out of bed. Pigs gorge on mountains of rubbish.

The roads are bone-jarringly awful and the next hurricane is around the corner. United Nations bureaucrats by the pool in Port-auPrince complain about their per diem levels while the crisis dollars flow in. Where once Papa Doc's Tonton Macoutes murdered people in the streets, cocaine traffickers last week made a local police chief drink sulphuric acid because he got in the way. Haiti is so relentlessly depressing that it tires you out.

Haiti makes Burundi resemble a holiday destination. 'I'm cream crackered, mate, ' says my TV producer Alex Nott.

'Never trust a Haitian, ' a UN apparatchik confided. 'They are great poisoners. Wash after you shake a Haitian's hand.' Then he winked and whispered, 'Voodoo.' I tried to detect a note of irony in his voice but he was deadly serious. They say you make a person into a zombie by blowing powder from the liver of the puffer fish into the eyes, followed by doses of the hallucinogenic Datura plant.

But there are all sorts of zombies in the UN Peacekeeping Department who have never ingested puffer fish.

Voodoo -- or Vodou -- is probably less satanic than the IMF or democracy. I met a mulatto houngan, or priest, who said, 'Vodou is not a religion but a way of life. The loas [spirits] are there to help me. I don't see them but they are around me always. Haiti is in a mess because we turned our backs on Vodou in 1806. It liberated us from slavery, but instead we embraced the Vatican.' Makes sense to me. Haitian women have nine kids each and still the Pope disallows birth control.

We found the Duc de Bocozelle down a fetid alleyway in Saint Marc, near a derelict factory that once rendered fat from pig meat. 'I was expecting you, ' said the Duke.

'I saw you in a dream.' He was a Bourbon aristocrat fallen on hard times, with two teeth, long greasy hair and soiled combat trousers. …

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