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Amid multiple crises, people in Haiti receive very little assistance

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

The Haitian government's requests for an international armed force to help restore security has gone unanswered. Violent gangs are kidnapping, raping and killing people. And cholera is spreading as many Haitians are facing starvation. In January, there will be more political uncertainty, as there will be no elected lawmakers sitting in the country's Senate. The Miami Herald's Jacqueline Charles spoke to our co-host Leila Fadel about the situation in Haiti.

JACQUELINE CHARLES: It's very difficult. Close to half the population right now does not have enough to eat. And there are about 20,000 people facing famine-like conditions. You know, you're talking about 34% of schools that are still closed, over 100,000 people that have been displaced out of their home over the past year. And, of course, with cholera, they suspect that they've reached 15,000 cases throughout the country's, you know, 10 regional departments.

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

What you're describing is so devastating. And then because of the gang violence, a lot of international aid organizations have also left the country. So what support do people in Haiti who need help have?

CHARLES: They have very little help. And you're right. A number of international aid organizations - they have left. They've been leaving quietly for some time now. Groups, you know, from South Florida, for instance, that used to travel down there, elsewhere around the country to help children with heart problems or other ailments - they haven't been able to take any of these medical groups there. So, really, you know, you're talking about a population that really has been left to fend for itself. And - you know, and let's be clear, this whole issue of foreign assistance - it triggers, you know, a lot of emotion for some people.

FADEL: Yeah.

CHARLES: There are some individuals who say, no way. You know, we don't want it. You know, you ask the Haitian, do you want a foreign occupation.

FADEL: Because of the history of foreign intervention.

CHARLES: Exactly. You know, but at the same time, when you talk to that mother who is worried about her child - and does she sent her child out into the streets? And - because she's not sure if that child is going to come back. Or does she herself take the risk? But you don't know, you know, are you going to make it back home alive?

FADEL: If you could just lay out the history that feeds into the skepticism around international intervention.

CHARLES: Well, first, you have to talk about, you know, I think the Haitian Constitution. That's - you know, I mean, this is a country that was founded by former slaves, you know, when they revolted against France. So there's this whole issue of sovereignty. But in more recent times, you look at the United Nations that have had to step into Haiti, you know, with their peacekeeping operations over the years. And people have been critical about that. But, you know, as a reporter on the ground, I've always said that when you have, you know, U.N. peacekeepers that have come into your country, their job and role is not to make everything right again. It's to create the political space and the stability and the security. It's called a stabilization force for a reason - in order to allow the Haitian actors to step into that space and to provide some guidance, governance, you know, some laws, you know, that will ensure that stability.

FADEL: There's been political chaos since the assassination of Haitian President Jovenel Moise in July 2021. In your reporting, how do Haitians feel about Prime Minister Ariel Henry's ability to handle this moment and the necessary political changes?

CHARLES: Prime Minister Ariel Henry has faced an uphill battle from the start in terms of leading this country. I mean, one, we have to remember that he was named by Jovenel Moise, who at the time of his death was an increasingly unpopular president. And so Ariel Henry has always been viewed as aligned with Jovenel Moise. He's never been able to be independent, and that has not helped him at all. At the same time, he has instituted some very unpopular measures, starting, of course, with this decision to raise the price of fuel. And when you talk to people, you know, they're looking at the situation in this country where the economy is in shambles. The political paralysis is increasing. You know, hunger is growing.

And you've got this person there, and they're not elected. But at the same time, when you talk to folks in the international community, what they're saying - OK, but you guys need to come up with a solution. You need to come up with a plan. And so what you find today is Ariel Henry is trying to bring together various groups around the table to see if they can come up with some sort of a plan to lead this country into a transition that will get it to elections. Can he do it? I don't know. Everybody is sort of watching it.

FADEL: What is a Haitian-led solution in the midst of all of this, all of these crises - economic, humanitarian, violence?

CHARLES: That's a very good question - right? - because what we have not been able to see since the assassination of Haitian president Jovenel Moise - and this is something that even existed before that - is Haitians coming around the table and agreeing on, you know, some solutions. I mean, one of the solution or part of the solution that's been presented is this idea of getting foreign assistance on the ground to help strengthen your police so that they can provide some sort of a, quote-unquote, "humanitarian corridor." But even in that, you see Haitians divided about that.

And I think that that is the key - is, like, trying to get Haitians to come around a set of goals or, you know, a set of decisions or some sort of direction to say, OK, here are the necessary steps that we're going to take in order to move this country along. You have an international community which recently has turned to sanctions. But what they're really saying is, we want reforms, you know? So I think that's the real challenge for Haitians today - those who really do recognize what's happening and recognize that it can't continue to go on sort of being able to compromise. And that's what the international community is asking.

Is that going to happen in the new year? I don't know because what's going to happen as of the second Monday in January is you're going to be looking at a country where there's absolutely not one elected official. Today, there are 10 elected members of the Senate, which is usually 30 people. Well, their mandates run out as of the second Monday. So you're looking at a country that is going to be faced with two choices - that it's either going to fall deeper and deeper into crisis and chaos, or it's going to elevate itself to say, OK, enough already. Let's figure out how to pull ourselves out of this, and let's start to take the steps to do that.

FADEL: Miami Herald reporter Jacqueline Charles on the very dire situation in Haiti. Thank you so much for your reporting.

CHARLES: Thank you for having me.

(SOUNDBITE OF TOR'S "CITY 66") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.