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The latest on the violence that has engulfed the capital of Haiti

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

For two weeks now, gang-led violence has engulfed Port-au-Prince, the capital of Haiti. The breakdown of rule of law is almost complete. Ports, ships, food warehouses - they've all been looted, and the country faces its worst humanitarian crisis since the devastating earthquake in 2010. NPR's Eyder Peralta has this report.

(CROSSTALK)

EYDER PERALTA, BYLINE: In the Dominican Republic's northern border with Haiti, most normal things have stopped. The border is closed most days, so few people are moving back and forth. The only thing that keeps going as normal is the Dominican Republic's mass deportation program. So every few hours, trucks pull up at the border, and Haitians jump out and hurry back into their troubled nation. Frismer Fidele leans on a fence watching it all happen.

FRISMER FIDELE: (Speaking Spanish).

PERALTA: "For many years," he says, "we've had a government in Haiti who doesn't know how poor people are living," he says.

FIDELE: (Speaking Spanish).

PERALTA: "All we want is new leadership," he says, "so we can have elections so we can be heard."

Nearly everyone I talked to here expresses the same despair about their country. Luqu Tesiqua sits just before the final checkpoint in the Dominican Republic, hoping that authorities will let him through so he can sell some rusty iron he has found in Haiti. In Haiti, there's no work, he says. That iron sells for pennies. I ask what he thinks about the political situation in the country.

LUQU TESIQUA: (Speaking Spanish).

PERALTA: "Well," he says, "I'm poor. So what do I know about the deals the political elite are making?"

TESIQUA: (Speaking Spanish).

PERALTA: "Only God knows," he says.

Earlier this week, Haiti's de facto prime minister, Ariel Henry, said he would resign as soon as the transitional council appointed a transitional prime minister. Henry was appointed prime minister after the assassination of President Jovenel Moise in 2021. He's always been controversial because he's been implicated by prosecutors in the assassination of Moise and because gangs essentially took full control of Haiti's capital during his term. His resignation was widely praised. But the plan, which was brokered by CARICOM, the Association of Caribbean Nations, the United States and others, has been sharply criticized.

GUY PHILIPPE: Definitely, it's not going to work because CARICOM come with a plan without consulting the Haitian people.

PERALTA: Guy Philippe was a former senator, the former chief of police, and he was one of the leaders of the coup that deposed Jean-Bertrand Aristide. In the U.S., he pled guilty to drug-related money laundering. And when he was deported a few months ago, he started organizing big anti-government protests. He says the problem with this deal is that it allows seven traditional politicians to choose the way forward in Haiti.

PHILIPPE: They are the same guys that were working with Ariel Henry for three years. It's the same name, the same organizations, with no popular support.

PERALTA: Guy Philippe says he wants to be president, and there is something that separates him from most other politicians. He is proposing amnesty for the gangs who have taken over Port-au-Prince.

PHILIPPE: For me, they are victims of the society, victims of the system. And now there are too many with too much power.

PERALTA: When the international community announced this deal, the president of Guyana said no gangs had been consulted. But he was corrected and said, that we know of. To Philippe, it spoke to what he calls an open secret - that traditional politicians in Haiti are the ones who created the gangs to begin with. They funded and they armed them, he claims.

PHILIPPE: The biggest gang in Haiti is the state of Haiti itself. It's the president, the prime minister, the ministers, the elite. They are the worst gangs in Haiti.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOTORBIKE ENGINE RUNNING)

PERALTA: Back at the border, women hoping to sell clothes tell me they don't want to speak on mic because every single politician is the same in Haiti. They promise change, and then they bask in their newfound wealth and forget the poor. They say Barbecue, the notorious gangster, is the same as Philippe, an ex-convict, who is the same as Henry, a neurosurgeon turned embattled prime minister. I find Rafael Maqueson waiting for work in the shade in between two big shipping containers. He's 23, but he looks much younger.

RAFAEL MAQUESON: (Speaking Creole).

PERALTA: Ever since he graduated high school, he says, he's been trying to build a life. But it's hard because the only job he seems to be able to get is to shuttle luggage for travelers from one border to another. It's just enough to eat. I ask him if he sees any hope for change.

MAQUESON: (Speaking Creole).

PERALTA: "Haiti has been the same since I was born," he says. "What makes you think anything will change?"

Eyder Peralta, NPR News, Dajabon in the Dominican Republic. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Eyder Peralta is NPR's East Africa correspondent based in Nairobi, Kenya.