- Associated Press - Wednesday, November 17, 2010

CROIX-DES-BOUQUETS, HAITI (AP) - The campaign rally is charging down the street, drums beating, hot-pink signs waving. People mob the candidate, trying to grab a piece of his hand or touch his bald head, his smile a half-moon shining in the dusty afternoon light.

Suddenly the mass turns toward a park where thousands more supporters are waiting for the evening’s big speech. The chants get louder, but they aren’t singing about the election anymore.

“Cholera! Cholera!” they sing in time with the music, throwing in a few mocking words to express their displeasure.

The candidate, popular singer Michel “Sweet Micky” Martely, throws back his head in defiance and joins in the song.

With less than two weeks left before the country’s elections, the rapidly spreading disease is even infecting the presidential campaign, with candidates trying both to protect themselves and prevent fear of cholera from distancing them from voters.

“We campaign just like there is no cholera because we need to reach out to the people and make them feel confident,” Martely told The Associated Press. “So we embrace everybody, we stick together with them, we walk with them … hoping with them that we don’t catch it.”

He squinted a bit. “Just hoping.”

Holding an election on Nov. 28 was always going to be rough.

Ten months have passed since an earthquake killed as many as 300,000 people, destroyed voter rolls, polling places and most of the election headquarters. Rubble is still on the streets. Bodies are still in the rubble. A hurricane this month killed dozens and destroyed roads.

All this in a country that arguably has held just three or four fair, democratic presidential contests in its two centuries as a republic.

Then came cholera.

Until mid-October, there had never been a case of the disease in Haiti _ miraculously, some aid workers say. Then it broke out along the rural Artibonite River, and spread rapidly.

Officials say the bacteria and its attendant fever and severe diarrhea have killed more than 1,000 people and sent more than 16,000 to hospitals. Independent aid workers say the those figures may understate the scope of the disease.

The bodies of two people who died at Port-au-Prince’s central Champs de Mars camp, astride the collapsed presidential palace, were found this week in pools of their own waste. They lay for hours as authorities debated what to do with them.

The outbreak has highlighted the dangers from the country’s lack of sanitation or clean drinking water, and the difficulties of getting medical care in rural areas, urban zones and slums.

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