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Recovering From Disaster, Haiti Faces A New Crisis


In Haiti, political leaders are still trying to hash out an 11th hour agreement before the government will be dissolved tomorrow. The president and the opposition have been at an impasse for nearly three years over the scheduling of elections. And if a compromise isn't reached before midnight tomorrow, then the terms of almost all lawmakers in the country will expire, leaving only the president with any power. Coincidently, tomorrow's political deadline falls on the fifth anniversary of Haiti's devastating earthquake that killed more than 200,000 people and left the country in ruins. From Port-au-Prince, we have NPR's Carrie Kahn online. Carrie, the prospect of an all-powerful president of Haiti is kind of reminiscent of its dictatorial past. That has to weigh heavy on the lawmakers. What are the chances they'll be able to work out something before tomorrow?

CARRIE KAHN, BYLINE: Well, in Haiti, anything can happen. And it could happen fast - that's if there's the will. There have been protests in the streets for a month leading up to this deadline. Yesterday, there were another violent protest. Tires were burning in the streets. Police reacted with water cannons and with tear gas.

These protesters are asking for the president to resign. You know, he has made a lot of compromises up to this point to try and reach an agreement. But as I've heard from other analysts, the opposition sees him sort of as weak right now. And they see this as the opportunity that they want more, and they're asking for it. They're asking for his resignation.

RATH: And if the terms of the lawmakers expire and the president does rule by decree, what does that mean for Haiti? Is there fear there about what he might do?

KAHN: Well, the president has said publicly that he will - if he does rule by decree and have all these powers, he will only pass laws regarding the long-overdue elections. I spoke with the UN special coordinator here and other international groups. And they've said that they've had assurance from President Martelly that he - that will be his only focus. But democracy is very young in Haiti. And it's also very weak. And the opposition wants to make those sure those checks and balances are there so that the power sharing will take place. But the president - what he will get to do is set up the powerful electoral council. And they can make or break an election. And that's what the opposition is most worried about.

RATH: So tomorrow, again, will be the fifth anniversary of that devastating earthquake. You were there within hours of the quake, and you've been back many times since. Carrie, how much have things improved?

KAHN: Well, clearly things look much better than they did five years ago. And I haven't been here in two years, and they look amazingly different. You see new roads. You see new constructions. There's even major hotel chains and a movie theater's actually going to open soon, which is amazing for Haiti. The World Bank did a study recently and shown that poverty rates have dropped and economic growth is up. It was 4.3 percent in 2013. That's amazing.

But saying all that, you know, there is plenty that has not happened. And there's plenty to worry about in the future. Growth is already projected to start falling for 2014. I think the figures are going to be 3.6 percent and falling each year after that. And that's mostly because the boost in the economy here was from direct foreign aid and charities. And that's not really a sustainable economic model.

The housing deficit here is immense. There are so many people that are still homeless. There are still about 80,000 people that are homeless, living in tents still. You know, before the earthquake, Haiti was in a bad situation. It was the poorest in the hemisphere. After the quake, it's still the poorest. And this political crisis is not helping matters at all. Investor and international confidence is shaken because of it and so are the Haitian people.

RATH: NPR's Carrie Kahn in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. Carrie, thanks so much.

KAHN: Thank you very much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.