Haiti is experiencing high levels of gang violence, crime, poverty and disease that has intensified since last year’s assassination of the president.
LEILA FADEL, HOST:
Haiti is a country on the verge of collapse. Cholera is spreading. Food and fuel prices are out of control. And the gangs of Port-au-Prince have a stranglehold on much of the capital, including the main oil terminal. Added to this, there’s a political crisis. Prime Minister Ariel Henry is struggling to maintain his grip on power, with protesters regularly taking to the streets to demand his removal. His decision to ask the outside world to send a specialized armed force has only served to inflame people’s anger. Eyder Peralta is in Haiti’s capital, Port-Au-Prince, and joins us now.
Good morning, Eyder.
EYDER PERALTA, BYLINE: Good morning, Leila.
FADEL: So there’s a lot of talk of Haiti on the brink. Is this borne out by what you’ve seen and heard in the past few days?
PERALTA: Yeah. Things are dire. The government seems absent – I mean, from the little things, like trash not getting picked up so it’s piling up on the streets, to serious things. As you mentioned, some parts of Port-au-Prince are under siege. Gangs have erected blockades. And for more than five weeks now, they have not allowed fuel trucks to get gasoline from the fuel depots.
And just across the airport, there are thousands of people who have built a makeshift camp at Hugo Chavez Square. And these are people who have been pushed out of their neighborhood by violence. And it was there that I met Fabiola Julme washing clothes in a bucket. She says as a new gang took over her neighborhood, they burnt down her house. They didn’t care that she had nothing to do with the rival gang, that she was just a mother trying to live.
FABIOLA JULME: (Through interpreter) They don’t need to identify who you are. As long as you live in that area, in that neighborhood, they will just come. They will kill you. They will burn your house. They will burn your body.
PERALTA: Do you have any hope that the government can fix this?
JULME: (Through interpreter) I don’t see hope because there is no police now in Cite Soleil. All police officers left.
PERALTA: Even here at this camp, the government is completely absent. Even though there is a cholera outbreak, there’s no clean drinking water. People are sleeping on wet ground in makeshift tents. One man walks across the camp screaming in disbelief, how can we live like this?
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: (Speaking Creole).
PERALTA: In another corner, Shelan Joseph cradles her baby. He’s 2, but he’s tiny. Malnutrition has lightened his hair. And he’s so skinny you can see his bones through his skin. Joseph says she’s been trying to breastfeed him, but all he does is cry.
UNIDENTIFIED INTERPRETER: She cannot really feed a baby.
PERALTA: So he’s not eating, like, food.
UNIDENTIFIED INTERPRETER: No.
SHELAN JOSEPH: (Through interpreter) When you try to feed him, he vomits the food.
PERALTA: She hasn’t taken him to the doctor.
JOSEPH: (Through interpreter) No money. I don’t have money.
PATRICE DUMONT: It’s a collapse. (Speaking French). It’s a collapse.
PERALTA: That is Senator Patrice Dumont. He says Haiti is at a breaking point.
DUMONT: (Through interpreter) We have no justice. We are supposed to have 30 members for the Senate. We only have 10. Our economy is completely destroyed.
PERALTA: Dumont says for decades, corrupt politicians have armed gangs for personal gains. The assassination of President Jovenel Moise last year created a power vacuum, and now the gangs are out of control. They’ve attacked police stations. For five weeks now, they’ve blocked the country’s main fuel depots. And they are terrorizing the population.
DUMONT: (Speaking French).
PERALTA: The corruption, he says, has now infected every corner of the country, and it’s the Haitian people who are paying the price. We don’t know yet where this outbreak of cholera came from, but recently cases have been rising fast. So the charity Doctors Without Borders has begun reopening treatment centers across Port-au-Prince.
JEAN-BAPTISTE MARION: In the first week, we were in the range of 30 admissions a week. Now in this third week we had about 150 admissions a day.
PERALTA: Jean-Baptiste Marion, the MSF project coordinator, walks through a treatment center. They have a generator because there is no reliable electricity, and some of their medical supplies have gotten stuck in the blockade.
MARION: The issue is how long is this going to last, and how long are we be able to sustain that situation?
PERALTA: He says they also suspect people suffering from cholera are stuck in their homes because of the insecurity. Gilen Bazile says she was sick for a week before she could finally make it here.
GILEN BAZILE: (Through interpreter) So I could not make it before because I had no money for transportation.
PERALTA: The blockade means that the price of everything has ballooned. She survived cholera, she says, but she spends her days thinking about how she will feed her kids. She spends nights thinking about the gunfire she hears outside.
BAZILE: (Through interpreter) We don’t live anymore. Everything is difficult, and Haiti died. Do you understand that?
UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: (Singing in non-English language).
PERALTA: The streets of Port-au-Prince are mostly empty these days, but the pews at St. Pierre Catholic Church are full on Sunday. Johnny Jean Baptiste, who’s 29, says he used to come to church to pray for his family, to pray for his health, or sometimes his material needs.
JOHNNY JEAN BAPTISTE: (Through interpreter) And nowadays, one thing I’m asking God is to give us peace.
PERALTA: Does it feel like things can change?
BAPTISTE: (Through interpreter) As a young man, I believe that things can change because if things remain the same, that would be the end of my life.
PERALTA: I ask him if he means that literally, and he says, absolutely.
UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: (Singing in non-English language).
FADEL: Wow, Eyder. I mean, it’s hard to hear the desperation in people’s voices – trying to survive violence, the mother who can’t afford to help her malnourished baby. And then there’s no one to turn to – the government absent, as they told you. So what’s the solution? Is it international intervention?
PERALTA: I mean, that’s complicated because pretty much everyone I’ve spoken to here think that an intervention is a bad idea. Haiti has a long history of international interventions, including a U.S. occupation, and none of it has led to any long-term solution. So people here have been protesting against the new intervention. And demonstrators plan to march to the U.N. compound today. But, you know, that desperation – because of that desperation, nearly everyone agrees that it’s also hard to think of any other way to bring Haiti back from the brink.
FADEL: NPR’s Eyder Peralta reporting from Port-Au-Prince.
Thank you so much, Eyder.
PERALTA: Thank you, Leila.
(SOUNDBITE OF ISATO NAKAGAWA’S “KAZE NO HAKUSHAKU FUJIN”)
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