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In Haiti, gangs control supply lines — making food, water and fuel scarce

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

Haiti's government is pleading with the international community to send foreign forces as the country faces a deepening humanitarian crisis.

A MARTINEZ, HOST:

That's because food, fuel and water are scarce, and nearly half the population doesn't have enough to eat. Gangs control supply lines, and health care workers are battling an outbreak of cholera with limited medical supplies.

FADEL: Joining us now is Jacqueline Charles with the Miami Herald, who has reported on Haiti and the English-speaking Caribbean for more than a decade. Thanks for being here, Jacqueline.

JACQUELINE CHARLES: Thanks for having me.

FADEL: So tell us what the situation on the ground is in Haiti.

CHARLES: We are currently in Week 6 of this gang blockade. The main fuel terminal roads, as well as the seaports - they remain blocked. Schools are still closed. People just really cannot get around. You have a situation where you mentioned cholera. We also have an outbreak in the prison system. Warehouses owned by World Food Programme charities - they've been looted. We still have sporadic anti-government protests where Haitians are demanding the resignation of the current prime minister. The situation is very volatile, and there is a dire humanitarian crisis.

FADEL: So how did it get to this point? I mean, Haiti once had one of the fastest-growing economies in the Americas and now is one of the region's most volatile.

CHARLES: This is a country that has been struggling with democracy. I mean, 36 years after the fall of the dictatorship, we are seeing a country where all economic activity today has ground to a halt. You have gangs that have basically attacked state institutions - waves of violence, widespread reports of sexual violence by gangs. Every four years or five years, we've had elections, you see - you know, they always become controversial. We are currently in the transition. The president was assassinated last year. We still don't know who did it and the motivation. So this is really a situation where, you know, Haitians will tell you we didn't get here by ourselves.

FADEL: Yeah.

CHARLES: They often talk about, you know, international communities, particularly the United States, and their policies. But it really is a very sad situation today.

FADEL: Now, Haiti has called for international military assistance to combat gangs. The U.N. Security Council is weighing a U.S. and Mexican proposal to send such a force. How likely is that to happen? And what are the concerns, given the history of international interventions in Haiti?

CHARLES: Well, this is a very sensitive issue in Haiti. The United States has said that they do not want to lead on such a force. So far, we don't see anybody in the international community, you know, raising their hands and saying, hey, we're going to go in. At the same time, you have a police force that is barely 12,000 for a population of 12.5 million. Just yesterday, there was a police commissioner who was killed in a red zone that's had issues with gangs and continues to have issues with gangs. I mean, the police force is saying, hey, we need help. We are outmanned, outgunned. There's a U.S. arms embargo, but yet Haiti is flooded with guns and ammunition that are coming from the U.S.

FADEL: In the few seconds we have left, how might this crisis spill over across the region, including here in the U.S.?

CHARLES: It is already spilling over. We're in the largest Haitian boat migration crisis since, you know, 2004. Just yesterday, more than 100 Haitian migrants were found on an uninhabited island in Puerto Rico. And, of course, Haitians continue to cross the southern border of the U.S.

FADEL: Jacqueline Charles of the Miami Herald, thank you so much for your reporting.

CHARLES: Thanks for having me.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.