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Haiti's prime minister steps down, leaving a power vacuum amid mounting violence


Haiti is wracked by violence and uncertainty. Police are outnumbered by armed gangs in Port-au-Prince. A peacekeeping force from Kenya still hasn't arrived. It is the latest chapter in Haiti's long history of instability, kindled by invasions and occupations by the Spanish, British, French and Americans and the presence of a long-term U.N. mission. NPR's Eyder Peralta is in Haiti's second largest city, Cap-Haitien. Eyder, thanks so much for being with us.

EYDER PERALTA, BYLINE: Good morning, Scott.

SIMON: Tell us about the people with whom you have spoken. They must be getting very weary.

PERALTA: You know, I think weary is not strong enough a word and I'll give you one example. I was talking to Jasmin Fafa (ph), an employee of a bus company here. And the routes to Port-au-Prince have been suspended because gangs have taken over the highway, but they're about to try to send their first bus out tomorrow. And the price has gone from about 300 Haitian gourdes to 800. And that's not because of inflation, but because of the many bribes that gangs are now demanding along the route. Let's listen.


JASMIN FAFA: (Through interpreter) We are now traveling is because we are paying them, and so we are paying them in order for us to go through.


PERALTA: Does this feel like the new reality for Haiti?

FAFA: (Through interpreter) It's not the new reality. The fact that it's like that, we somewhat accept it. But we don't like it because we're not really living.

PERALTA: And I heard that - I've heard that so much here, Scott. Like, we're not really living. Fafa said they don't know when a gang can open fire on a bus, but it's so much more, he said. There's no water, no electricity. Everything is more expensive. This is not a life, he says.

SIMON: Country's prime minister says he was going to resign. Who or what kind of leadership might then try to preside over Haiti?

PERALTA: I mean, the jostling for the - for power has begun. The international community presented a plan that forms a nine-person transitional council, which would ultimately elect a transitional prime minister. The political parties in the country have started naming members to that commission. CARICOM, which is the organization of Caribbean States, said a majority of the nine parties had presented nominations.

But at the same time, after what seemed like a lull in violence, the gangs have responded by launching renewed attacks in Port-au-Prince. Earlier this week, they attacked the airport again. They burnt down the house of the police chief. And last night, local news in Haiti were reporting heavy fighting in Base Delmas. And this is an area completely controlled by a federation of gangs, including the gang of Jimmy Cherizier, who is known as Barbecue. And he is one of the Haiti's most notorious gangsters. Local news reports that they were trading fire with police throughout the night.

SIMON: Eyder, how does Haiti expect to restore any kind of security in the country?

PERALTA: You know, this is one of the biggest challenges. With no government in place, the U.N. approved a Kenyan peacekeeping force, but that has been delayed over and over. In fact, Kenya said they cannot send a force in right now, and that they won't do it until the country has a new prime minister. And yesterday, the president of Kenya, William Ruto, added yet one more hurdle to the deployment. He said that the Kenyan peacekeepers will not deploy until the country has led a, quote, "reconnaissance mission" so that his police would be adequately informed and prepared for deployment. So we don't know when that will happen.

SIMON: NPR's Eyder Peralta in Haiti. Thank you so much for being with us, Eyder.

PERALTA: Thank you, Scott. 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.

Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.
Eyder Peralta is NPR's East Africa correspondent based in Nairobi, Kenya.