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World

Haiti Gets A Respite From Months Of Anti-Government Protests

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

The Western Hemisphere's poorest country, Haiti, has experienced months of anti-government protests. These demonstrations have left more than 40 people dead, crippled the economy and left millions in the Caribbean country on the brink of starvation. Opponents of the current president say he is corrupt and has mismanaged millions of dollars and must go. But he is refusing, and it actually appears his grip on power could be tightening.

NPR's Carrie Kahn is in the capital, Port-au-Prince, and joins us this morning. Hi, Carrie.

CARRIE KAHN, BYLINE: Good morning, David.

GREENE: Can you just remind us of the context here? What fueled this protest movement in Haiti?

KAHN: Its corruption. People are very upset about, specifically, this low-interest oil program that was sponsored by Venezuela to its ideological allies and neighbors here in the region. Haiti received billions of dollars, and there is no accounting for that money, and people are extremely upset about that. They want to know, where is the money?

GREENE: And now it sounds like going through a lot of suffering, as well. I mean, but there does seem to be some sort of change. I mean, just weeks ago, there were tens of thousands of protesters on the streets. It sounds like that is no longer the case. I mean, are demonstrators giving up? Or what's happening?

KAHN: No, not at all. But there definitely is a lull. It's sort of a holiday, pre-Christmas lull. There is no resolution to the political crisis here. But we definitely have seen a drop-off in the size and the scope of the protests. Just - Haitians are tired of what they call here peyi lok (ph). It's called the lockdown on the country. But it just seems like a temporary calm. And like you said, they want the president to resign. He says he has done nothing wrong, and he is not budging.

GREENE: So what does life feel like? I mean, is there some semblance of normalcy if the protests are dying down?

KAHN: Well, the traffic is back to its horrific ways here. It takes just - it could take an hour to get just a few miles. So you see activity on the street. You see kids actually going back to school. They're not wearing their colorful, neat, bright uniforms that you usually see because they just don't want to draw attention to themselves because they're afraid of retaliation by opponents who have tried to keep schools closed, businesses closed, everything just shut down.

GREENE: OK, so you have a president who is disliked and is hanging on to power. We have several dozen people dead, an economy in terrible shape, a very poor country. What happens now? I mean, does this political stalemate get broken in some way?

KAHN: It's going to be increasingly more difficult. There are supposed to be parliamentary elections in January - the second Monday of January. But there is no signs that they can hold an election, and that just means that there will be no active parliament in force come the middle of January. I think there's something like only 10 senators' terms have - will not be termed out, so that just will intensify. And many people and analysts believe that the protests will resume once the holidays are over.

GREENE: And what does life just feel like being there? I mean, take us to what you've seen and what people are going through.

KAHN: It's very difficult. The currency here - inflation has spiked. The currency is just worthless. It's hard to get basic goods. What is interesting, though, is that you have seen the president out in the open and trying to rehabilitate himself to sort of take advantage of this lull to get out. He seized the largest private electricity provider in the country. Many say this is an illegal move to silence his opponents, and the head of the company has been a very outspoken critic.

But he just is asking people to be patient, but patience has really run out, especially when it comes to electricity. He campaigned on bringing electricity 24 hours a day to Haiti, and people barely have three to four hours, at that.

GREENE: Wow. NPR's Carrie Kahn in the Haitian capital, Port-au-Prince. Carrie, thanks.

KAHN: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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