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Haiti has lost its last few democratically elected officials

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

Haiti is a country in crisis, and now it has lost its last few democratically elected government officials. The country's 10 remaining senators left office last week after their terms expired. What remains of the government is struggling to maintain security as gangs overrun the country. Haiti's de facto leader, Prime Minister Ariel Henry, has yet to make good on repeated pledges to hold general elections. Now, to understand how the nation got to this point, we spoke with Cecile Accilien. She's the president of the Haitian Studies Association, a professor of Haitian studies who's based in Atlanta. She says since President Jovenel Moise's assassination in 2021, Haiti has been without legitimate leadership.

CECILE ACCILIEN: The country is being run illegally. You have a de facto prime minister, and you don't have any elected officials - do you? (ph) - in a country that is lawless. Like, the lawlessness, that is happening at all levels, both in terms of the gang and in terms of the government itself. I mean, the gang situation doesn't help, but how can you have elections when after the president was killed, to this day, there's nothing tangible. We don't have any real investigation that say this is how it happened. This is how we are going to move forward.

MARTÍNEZ: Cecile, I know that you were born in Haiti. You came to the United States when you were about 11 years old. I mean, what you described sounds - I mean, it just sounds like there's so much uncertainty that it would just shake me, if I was in your situation knowing that my country, the country I was born in, is in such a unstable spot. I mean, how does that feel to know that Haiti is in this predicament?

ACCILIEN: I mean, the country is essentially in a civil war. And that breaks my heart because this is not the Haiti I grew up in. And make no mistakes, I grew up under dictatorship, so I'm not idealizing the Haiti I grew up under. But this is the first time I think we have seen this level of lawlessness, this level of gang violence where people's lives do not matter. And the outside world is just looking at it as if it's on television, as if it's a bad movie.

MARTÍNEZ: Do you still have family and friends in Haiti? And if so, do you talk to them often? What are they saying to you?

ACCILIEN: Yeah. I mean, I have - I still have family, friends, colleagues. And I have a close family member who was kidnapped about three weeks ago. And luckily, they were let go because it was - my understanding of how the kidnapping happened, it was a group of people who was teaching at a school, at a missionary school in Port au Prince, and they were in a bus. And the gangs took the bus and just kept everyone - there were about 14 of them - and demanded ransom. And they let them go after the school paid the ransom. And this has become an everyday reality.

MARTÍNEZ: I mean, you mentioned how it feels like the world is just watching this like some kind of TV show. Do you feel that the U.S. has not done enough, or, you know, has the U.S. failed Haiti?

ACCILIEN: Yes, the U.S. has continuously failed Haiti, from the time it occupied Haiti in 1915 until today. For me, I get frustrated that there is this idea that Haitians are just sitting in Haiti waiting for du blanc (ph), meaning the white person or the foreigner, to come and save us, that we don't want to do anything. We're just waiting. And things are not that simple.

MARTÍNEZ: Considering this lack of trust that I'm sure exists in Haiti from any outside nation trying to help or offering help, would the country be OK with the United States coming in and offering that assistance? I mean, what kind of conditions would make you feel better about that?

ACCILIEN: I mean, I think for one thing, the Haitian diaspora in the U.S. have to be involved because when you go as the U.S., you go and you not talking to people. You don't know the culture. You don't know the people. You don't know the everyday life. Who is it that the U.S. is sending to be part of this conversation? So to me, you have to start there. I think people in Haiti are open to aid, but they don't want another occupation.

MARTÍNEZ: That is Cecile Accilien, a scholar of Haitian studies and a board member of the Haitian Studies Association. Cecile, thank you very much.

ACCILIEN: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF SAIB'S "AFTERGLOW") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.