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Political Upheaval Takes Toll On Haiti's Struggling Economy


Haiti's president is scheduled to leave office in nine days, and no one has been elected to replace him. There've been widespread street protests demanding that the president leave immediately. The runoff to pick a new leader was abruptly canceled last Sunday because of fears of escalating violence. NPR's Carrie Kahn reports that the political crisis is taking its toll on the economy and those struggling to get by in Haiti.

CARRIE KAHN, BYLINE: The walls and storeroom of this hardware shop not far from downtown Port-au-Prince are chock-full of tools. There are generators, all types of drills and lots of saws.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: We have a lot of wood machines, table saws, tile saws.

KAHN: You even have a deep fryer.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: If you want to make a restaurant.

KAHN: You've got everything.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: We have a lot of tools that Haiti might need.

KAHN: Haiti does need a lot. After all, it's still recovering from the devastating earthquake six years ago. The store owner and his business survived then, but he's not sure he's going to make it through Haiti's current political crisis. He's asked NPR not to use his name. He's worried about protesters targeting his business and possible political repercussions. He says he just wishes his customers would come back.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Yeah, the customers don't know what's going on with the government right now. They slowed everything down.

KAHN: Things got real bad late last year when two elections were held. Both were condemned for mismanagement and fraud. Since then, the hardware store owner says business has dropped 70 percent. He used to buy one to two shipping containers full of merchandise from the U.S. every month. The last one he bought was three months ago. Before the political trouble, business had been good. He says things were looking up, especially in the years after the 2010 earthquake.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Yeah, I mean, it's sad to say, but it was a blessing.

KAHN: Earthquake recovery fueled by international reconstruction funds and charitable donations gave him and the Haitian economy a big boost. But he says it didn't last. Rising rents due to a flood of foreign workers into the area cut into his bottom line, and the post-earthquake relief money has pretty much dried up. Add to that a devastating drought that sent local food prices soaring and a 20 percent depreciation of the local currency.

PETER MULREAN: Haiti can't afford to remain in the political stalemate that it's been stuck in for the better part of two years now.

KAHN: U.S. ambassador to Haiti, Peter Mulrean, says a clear roadmap must be agreed upon before President Michel Martelly steps down February 7. Mulrean warns against putting a transitional government in power.

MULREAN: That is a dangerous area to go in because it's not clear then who exactly will be governing, how will elections be called, on what authority, et cetera.

KAHN: But reaching such an agreement in just nine days will be difficult. Political protests continue, and yesterday President Martelly hinted he might not step down February 7. Human rights activist Pierre Esperance says Haiti must hold new elections, but they have to be credible not just to the international community but to Haitians.

PIERRE ESPERANCE: We cannot build democracy if we cannot organize a free election in Haiti.

KAHN: The Organization of American States is sending a mission to Haiti to help with the process, but the owner of the hardware store says he doesn't know how much longer he can hold on. He says he'd hate to let go any one of his 23 employees.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Because they was here when it was good, so there's no way for me to let them go because things are bad. We just got to still support each other and wait 'til the good times come back again.

KAHN: Just when those good times will come, he says only God knows. Carrie Kahn, NPR News, Port-au-Prince. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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