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The view from inside Haiti


The simplest definition of a failed state is one that cannot fulfill its most basic responsibility to provide security. And this is effectively where Haiti is right now. Gangs control the capital, Port-au-Prince. The humanitarian situation is precarious. There's a power vacuum at the top. In the north, Haiti's second biggest city, Cap-Haitien, is more stable. But even there, the cracks are showing. And that is where NPR's Eyder Peralta arrived last night. Hi there, Eyder. And I'm so happy to be able to say those words. I know you've been trying to get in all week.


KELLY: Yeah.

PERALTA: Thank you, Mary Louise.

KELLY: So you...

PERALTA: Great to be here.

KELLY: I'm so glad you're there. I know you've been out, trying to talk to people all day today. What have you heard? What are you seeing?

PERALTA: You know, almost everyone I've talked to says they feel like they're watching a movie, like their country is in chaos, near the brink of total collapse and that they can do nothing about it, that all the decisions are being made without their consent and that no one is even listening.

KELLY: Well, I would love to hear some of those voices that you were able to collect. Let's listen.

PERALTA: Here in Cap-Haitien, the situation has been calm for a few days, so college students are back at school.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: (Non-English language spoken).

PERALTA: Professors are teaching classes. Students are trying to understand what's been happening. Isidore Nickely says all they want is to be able to vote for a person who they believe in and not the politicians being proposed by the international community.

ISIDORE NICKELY: (Through interpreter) Because what we need is one person or one group of people who understand the suffering of the people.

PERALTA: You don't think anybody understands the suffering here.

NICKELY: (Through interpreter) There's a lot of people who understand that right now, but they can't really do anything about it. When they get in power, they don't do anything. They just suck up the blood of the people while they're in power.

PERALTA: We hear a version of this across the streets of Cap-Haitien. Some see my microphone, and they want to speak their mind. There's no future in Haiti, says Jean Baptise Pierre. Haitians don't have food. They don't have fuel. And the transitional plan proposed by CARICOM, the Organization of Caribbean States, along with the United States, won't work.

JEAN-BAPTISE PIERRE: (Through interpreter) CARICOM cannot decide for us. CARICOM is not Haitians. CARICOM should decide for the whites (ph). We don't need CARICOM to decide for us.

PERALTA: Across the street, Eddy Antoine has just picked up his young daughter from school.

How's life in Haiti?

EDDY ANTOINE: (Through interpreter) There's no life. The country is upside down.

PERALTA: I ask him if he has hope that things will change, and he shakes his head. It's impossible to see a future, he says. And the only solution, he says, is to behead the whole government, throw all of them out and burn their houses. But that would cause incredible chaos, I tell him. How would that affect his daughter?

ANTOINE: (Through interpreter) Even if I, as the father of this child, would die, it would suffice that they take them in front of the government (ph) - all of them. They prevent us from living.

PERALTA: They prevent us from living. They're the reason there is no life in Haiti. But as I continue to walk across the street, I do see life - kids walking to school, mothers trying to make a living selling street food and one man trying to learn the piano even as an adult.


KELLY: Wow. That one line, the country's upside down - that captures so much. Eyder Peralta, I know you're still with us. That is a snapshot we just heard there of life in the north, in Cap-Haitien. What do we know of the capital of Port-au-Prince?

PERALTA: Well, the situation there is much worse. It's under the tight control of the gangs. The airport is still closed. The port is still closed. Nothing can get in or out without the knowledge of the gangs. And the threat of violence constantly hangs over the capital. And the intensity of the violence is coming in waves. After the prime minister offered his resignation earlier this week, there was a brief lull. But then yesterday the violence flared up again. The gangs looted and burnt down the house of the Minister of Police. They shot at the airport again. And at the same time, the humanitarian situation is worsening. Food supplies are dwindling. The country relies a lot on imports. About 50% of its food is imported, and so very little of it is getting through the port. Medical facilities are overwhelmed with gunshot victims. Medical supplies are also running low. And don't forget there's still a state of emergency and a curfew in place. So with roadblocks and gang violence, most people are basically trapped inside their homes.

KELLY: Eyder, you mentioned the prime minister. This is Prime Minister Ariel Henry and his offer this week to step down. What's been the impact of that offer?

PERALTA: Well, you know, it brought down the violence for a little bit. But there's already been disagreements about how the transition of power will work and who will make up a part of this transitional council of nine members. According to this plan, it is the transitional council that would then be responsible for selecting an interim prime minister. The U.S. had hoped that it would be up and running by the end of the week. But right now the political wrangling continues. And while it does, this power vacuum just increases. The most prominent gang leader in Haiti, Jimmy Cherizier, who is known as Barbecue, spoke for many this week when he talked about the, quote, "apartheid system," a wicked system of governance in the country. And he has been giving voice to a lot of Haitians here even though they view him as a killer.

KELLY: That is NPR's Eyder Peralta reporting today from Cap-Haitien in Haiti. Eyder, thanks so much for sharing some of that, reporting those voices with us.

PERALTA: Thank you, Mary Louise. 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.