The Cholera Witch-Hunt in Haiti

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As the cholera epidemic in Haiti continues to sicken tens of thousands, killing nearly 2000 people so far, the angry and scared populace is starting to lash out at Vodou practitioners.

“Terror over a fast-spreading cholera epidemic has triggered a violent witch hunt in rural Haiti in which locals have murdered at least 12 neighbors on accusations they used “black magic” to infect people, police said Thursday […] Rumors began to spread last week in the remote southwestern Grand Anse region, where the first cases of cholera are only now being seen, that Vodou practitioners had fashioned a magic powder to spread the infection. Machete-wielding mobs have since lynched and killed a dozen people accused of practicing such witchcraft, burning the bodies of their victims, national police spokesman Frantz Lerebours said.”

The Haitian government in Port-au-Prince issued a statement saying that “there is no cholera powder, nor cholera zombie, nor cholera spirit”, trying to quell the violence and rumor-mongering. Relief organizations are also trying to spread awareness, but Hurricane Thomas has worsened the situation, washing polluted matter into the water supply, causing the disease to spread. HaitiLibre, reporting on these lynchings, says that any investigation into the deaths will be extremely difficult.

According to Kesner Numa in charge of the investigation “These people are accused of witchcraft related to cholera. According to the crowd, they have sown a substance that spreads the disease in the region”. According to the representative of justice, the investigation will be difficult “because the population refuses any collaboration with justice, because [they] truly believe that witches are killing by taking advantage of the cholera epidemic”.

I am uncomfortably reminded of the incident in the wake of the Port-au-Prince earthquake where Vodouisants were attacked by a mob of Christians. Did anti-Vodou rhetoric help fuel this current fear and violence? This instability, fear, and rumor can become truly catastrophic for Vodou in Haiti should things deteriorate further. One can only hope sanity and stability will be restored soon.