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Have Conditions Improved In Haiti Since 2010 Earthquake?


When the Trump administration decided that Haitians must go back to their home country next year, the acting homeland security secretary said those extraordinary but temporary conditions caused by the 2010 earthquake no longer exist. To find out whether that's true - whether conditions in Haiti have improved - Jacqueline Charles joins us now. She's the Caribbean correspondent for the Miami Herald. Welcome.

JACQUELINE CHARLES: Thank you for having me.

SHAPIRO: The earthquake displaced a million people in Haiti. And now, seven years later, how much of the country has been rebuilt.

CHARLES: Not a lot of the country has been rebuilt. I mean, the obvious things is that the rubble is all gone. But when you are downtown Port au Prince, which is the capital, and you're standing opposite the collapsed presidential palace, that has since been razed, you see a lot of half-completed buildings. And the most striking of which, which is not far from there, is the country's largest hospital that the U.S. government agreed to rebuild along with the French government. And years later - almost eight years later - that hospital still is not completed.

SHAPIRO: And yet earlier this year, when now White House chief of staff John Kelly - he was then Homeland Security secretary - when he visited Haiti, he said conditions were improving. U.N. troops were pulling out. Is that incorrect?

CHARLES: U.N. troops did pull out in the sense that the military component of the U.N. But the U.N. is still there, very much present. They have a smaller mission - still focus on police development, justice and human rights reform. So even the U.N. recognize, while we can't continue to support a $346 million peacekeeping mission, Haiti is still not prepared for us to fully leave. And at the same time the U.N. still considers Haiti to be a threat to regional security because it continues to be under Chapter 7.

SHAPIRO: And so if the roughly 60,000 people in the U.S. under temporary protected status were to return to Haiti next year, would the country be ready to take them in?

CHARLES: I don't think the country will be ready to take them in. I mean, the country is not going to reject anyone. I mean, Haitians are very proud of the fact that, you know, you're always Haitian regardless of where you live and whether you change your nationality or not.

But the reality is that these people - once they return to Haiti, what will they find? They will find a country where employment opportunities are very little. We're talking about over 60, 70, maybe 80 percent unemployment. There are no real numbers. It's an informal economy for the most part. But if we take an example of the Caracol Industrial Park, which the United States government built with $300 million dollars after the earthquake, the promises were that that park would employ 60,000 people. I think, today, the number is maybe 13,000.

They will also find, in terms of health care, serious challenges. As I mention, the new hospital - public hospital - that was supposed to be rebuilt still is not up and running, hasn't even done a ribbon cutting. They're still building as we speak. They will find a cholera epidemic. The education system, they will find, is seriously lacking.

Just last week in Cap-Haitien, the second-largest city, you had schoolchildren taking to the streets for days in protest because their teachers had been on strike because they had not been paid for the last two months. So this is what you are sending individuals back to.

SHAPIRO: This goes to the question of Haiti - has been an economically disadvantaged country for years. And so how much of what you're describing is specifically a reflection of the 2010 earthquake, which was the reason for granting temporary protected status to these people, and how much of it is just what you find in an impoverished country?

CHARLES: Haiti has always had economic challenges in recent history. But when I talked to economists and experts on the ground, one of the things that they point out to me is that, prior to the earthquake, Haiti was on an upward trajectory.

Today, post-earthquake, you have a serious deficit in terms of the housing stock. The local domestic currency has been depreciating a lot, especially against the strong dollar - but even without that. I mean, this is a country that used to make baseballs. This is a country where they manufactured cars. This was a country that employed 100,000 people in factories.

Over the years, it had a U.S. economic embargo. This seriously impacted it. Of course, it had its own economic troubles. But if you talk to Haitians, and you talk to the experts in Haiti, they will tell you that, since 2010, there has been a downward spiral. I think what has influenced a lot in terms of not just the U.S. but others is the fact that post-earthquake, the leaders of Haiti were on a mission to change the narrative, you know, to show the positive of the country.

This is a country that operates by robbing Peter to pay Paul. And when the leaders say things are great and wonderful, then you need to compare that with the reality, with the statistics.

SHAPIRO: Jacqueline Charles, Caribbean correspondent for the Miami Herald, thanks very much for joining us.

CHARLES: Thanks for having me.

(SOUNDBITE OF DUSTIN O'HALLORAN'S "RUNNER" Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.