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Political Turmoil Threatens To Derail Haiti's Delicate Recovery


Haiti's President Michel Martelly swore in a new government yesterday amid growing street protests calling for his ouster. President Martelly now rules the Caribbean nation by decree after a U.S.-backed political compromise that was scheduling new parliamentary elections collapsed.

The political crisis is jeopardizing Haiti's fragile recovery from the devastating earthquake that struck five years ago this month. And that's especially evident in Haiti's impoverished rural areas, as NPR's Carrie Kahn reports.

CARRIE KAHN, BYLINE: Delva Devalas doesn't participate in the near daily antigovernment protests taking place in the streets of the capital. He farms about an acre of land in the parched valley below the denuded rock hills of Gonaive, some 100 miles north of Port-au-Prince. He's more worried about his bean crop that should be ready to harvest next month.

DELVA DEVALAS: (Foreign language spoken).

KAHN: He says the last few weeks have been very windy. Many of his plants' flowers blew away, and he doesn't know how many beans will actually sprout. Farming in Haiti is one of the mainstays of the country's economy, but it's tough business. Most farmers like Devalas work small plots under tough conditions.

DEVALAS: (Foreign language spoken).

KAHN: In the 1980s, Devalas, who is 60 years old, says he could stick anything in the ground and it would grow. But now it just seems like the land is finished.

TIMOTE GEORGES: We do need the government to intervene.

KAHN: Timote Georges helps small farmers in Gonaive. He teaches the benefits of natural fertilization, crop rotation and seed production. His small farmers' lands get support from the U.S.-based outdoor clothing company Timberland, which also plants trees on the rocky deforested hills surrounding Gonaive. Georges says politicians need to come to the countryside and learn more about farmers' reality.

GEORGES: And not staying at the office to talk, but to come with right policies in order to help these people.

KAHN: Haiti's politicians haven't made it out of the capital too much lately. They've been locked in a prolonged political fight that took a new turn last week when the Parliament essentially dissolved. The terms of the majority of legislators expired, leaving President Martelly ruling by decree, a move that has angered the opposition and led to a new round of street protests. Martelly is yet to schedule the long-overdue elections.

The political standoff is threatening to derail many of the gains made during the past five years as Haiti has struggled to recover from the devastating earthquake, says World Bank envoy to the country Mary Barton Dock.

MARY BARTON DOCK: This could all start to go the wrong direction. And if Haiti can get through its elections and get to the other side and keep growing, things could really start to turn around.

KAHN: A study by the World Bank shows that poverty rates in Haiti have declined recently, but a quarter of the population still lives in extreme poverty, earning about a dollar a day. And Barton Dock says rural Haitians are still the poorest of the poor.

Consultant Jean Maurice Buteau wants the government to do more for agriculture. For years he exported mangoes to the U.S., a particularly challenging enterprise given Haiti's poor infrastructure.

JEAN MAURICE BUTEAU: Haiti has more entrepreneurs per kilometer square than you would ever think. We are ready for business. It's just that we need the political situation to calm down so we can make business.

KAHN: Carrie Kahn, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Carrie Kahn is NPR's International Correspondent based in Mexico City, Mexico. She covers Mexico, the Caribbean, and Central America. Kahn's reports can be heard on NPR's award-winning news programs including All Things Considered, Morning Edition and Weekend Edition, and on
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