PORT-AU-PRINCE — Angry Haitian mobs have lynched at least 45 people in recent weeks, accusing them of spreading a cholera outbreak that has killed over 2,500 people across the country, officials said Wednesday.
The number included at least 14 suspected sorcerers previously known to have been lynched in the far southwestern region of Grand’Anse as local people feared they were spreading cholera with a magical substance. The area has been largely spared by the outbreak.
“We have counted 40 people dead in Grand’Anse department alone, where people are attacking natural healers they accuse of cholera-linked witchcraft,” said communications ministry official Moise Fritz Evens.
Five other people were killed in similar circumstances elsewhere in the country.
“The victims — most of them voodoo priests — were stoned or hacked with machetes before being burned in the street,” added the official, who was presenting the results of an investigation conducted in Grand’Anse earlier this month.
Communications minister Marie-Laurence Lassegue said “voodoo practitioners have nothing to do with the cholera epidemic. We must press for an awareness campaign about the disease in the communities.”
Official figures earlier showed the water-borne bacterial infection has claimed 2,591 lives so far in the nation’s first cholera outbreak in more than a century. The disease first appeared in mid-October in the north.
Health ministry figures as of December 17 showed 121,518 people had been treated for the water-borne bacterial infection, including 63,711 who received hospital treatment.
And in a sign there is no end in sight for the disease that has become a thorn in the side of the already deeply troubled nation, about 50 people died on each of the last five days recorded. At the outbreak’s peak in November, there were daily death tolls of 60, 70 and even 80 and above.
The cholera outbreak led to deadly anti-UN riots last month as a desperate populace turned its anger on peacekeepers from Nepal accused of bringing the disease into the country.
The first lynching cases date back to late last month, when mobs hacked or stoned to death their victims.
About half of Haiti’s population is believed to practice the voodoo religion in some form, though many are thought to also follow other religious beliefs at the same time. Sorcery and spiritual magic have been incorporated into some of the beliefs.
Voodoo evolved out of the beliefs that slaves from West Africa brought with them to Haiti. It is now deeply rooted in Haitian culture.
Western evangelical Christian movements however are also making inroads in Haiti, and religious tensions have risen in the wake of January’s catastrophic earthquake that killed 250,000 people and left more than one million homeless.