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Armed gangs continue to control much of Haiti's capital, Port-au-Prince

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Armed gangs control much of Haiti's capital as part of a revolt.

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

Yeah, many groups in the country have been working to remove the country's prime minister, and they conveniently struck when he was out of the country. He's still not able to return.

INSKEEP: Ariel Henry is so unpopular, he wasn't even allowed into the neighboring Dominican Republic, the other country on that island. And it's in the neighboring Dominican Republic that we find NPR's Eyder Peralta. Good morning.

EYDER PERALTA, BYLINE: Hey. Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: How did the Prime Minister get into such a jam?

PERALTA: This standoff begins about two weeks ago. Prime Minister Ariel Henry announces that he intends to delay elections until next year. And that's when these gangs, who used to fight each other, started working together to overthrow the government. They started attacking government targets, police stations, the port, the airport. And they've been trading heavy fire with police, so much so that the Prime Minister can't even fly into his own country. And last week, as you mentioned, he tried to fly here to Santo Domingo. But the president of the Dominican Republic, Luis Abinader, has made it clear that Ariel Henry is persona non grata here. And that's because he says, Henry is so hated that he would pose a security threat here in the Dominican Republic, where there's a lot of Haitians.

INSKEEP: Wow. So if he can't even get into the neighboring country and can't get home, who replaces him as Haiti's leader?

PERALTA: I mean, that's the question. He is still hanging on, but the jockeying for his spot has already begun. There is one gang leader in particular, Jimmy Cherizier, who is known as Barbecue, and he is clearly gunning for the top job in the country. Last week, he said, if Henry doesn't resign, there will be civil war. But at the same time, he's really trying to exploit the division between classes in Haiti. The last thing the elite in Haiti want is these gangs to take over. But Barbecue says, look, I'm protecting the interests of the poor. I'm making sure that the leader they don't like, who they think is illegitimate, will never return to Haiti. And we've also heard a name from the past, Guy Philippe, a former coup leader who served time at an American prison. And he says he wants to be president. And one of the core - one of his core promises is that he would offer amnesty to gang leaders. But let's not forget that these gangs have sowed chaos across Haiti. They've attacked the civilian population ruthlessly. Hundreds of thousands of Haitians have been displaced by that violence, and nearly half the country is going hungry.

INSKEEP: I guess we should note the United States has an embassy there. It's very influential in the country. So what is the U.S. doing?

PERALTA: Well, over the weekend there was an evacuation, we were told, from the American Embassy. We were told by U.S. Southern Command that they flew aircraft to the U.S. Embassy in Port-au-Prince to evacuate some staff, and also to bring in some more military personnel to beef up security at the embassy. The U.S. Embassy in Port-au-Prince said it asked for more security because of, quote, "heightened gang violence." So U.S. Marines were sent there to essentially beef up security.

INSKEEP: Do people see a path toward calm?

PERALTA: The answer you'll get from the U.S. and from the Prime Minister is that a Kenyan-led international peacekeeping force can do that. But that mission was approved last year by the U.N., and it has faced hurdle after hurdle, and it's unclear when that might actually happen. CARICOM, the bloc of Caribbean countries, is holding an emergency meeting today. They have been trying to solve this, but they've gotten nowhere. Now they're inviting the U.S., France, Canada, the U.N. and Brazil to the talks to try and bring this to some order.

INSKEEP: NPR's Eyder Peralta, thanks so much.

PERALTA: Thank you, Steve. 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.

Steve Inskeep
Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.
Eyder Peralta
Eyder Peralta is NPR's East Africa correspondent based in Nairobi, Kenya.