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Haiti gang leader calls a temporary truce to let gasoline trucks service stations

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Fuel is flowing once again in Haiti. For almost a month, a severe shortage nearly brought the country to a standstill. A notorious gang leader is allowing trucks to access a vital refueling port, but just for one week. Crime and kidnappings continue, and U.S. and Canadian officials have urged their citizens to leave Haiti. NPR's Carrie Kahn has this story, with reporting by Harold Isaac in Haiti.

CARRIE KAHN, BYLINE: The fight for gas in Haiti's capital this week is for the young and strong. After weeks of empty pumps, lines are long and nerves are frayed.

(SOUNDBITE OF CAR HORNS HONKING)

KAHN: At this station in Petion-Ville in the hills above Port-au-Prince, men carrying five-gallon plastic yellow jugs jostled between motorcycles, cars and the public transport pickup trucks.

JOSEPH CINEUS: (Speaking Haitian Creole).

KAHN: "Without gas, we can't work," says 46-year-old Joseph Cineus, who had been in line since 5 in the morning and by 8 a.m. was still waiting for his chance at the pump. It's not just motor vehicles shut down when the gas pumps run dry. Almost all of Haiti is dependent on gas and diesel. There is no reliable electricity grid. Everything from stores to cell towers run on fuel-powered generators. Hospitals have been hit hard.

THIERRY GOFFEAU: The fuel crisis is having a deep impact on all sectors of activity and in society and including, of course, our medical facilities.

KAHN: Thierry Goffeau heads Doctors Without Borders clinics in Haiti.

GOFFEAU: We need fuel to run the hospital itself, to send our ambulances around the city to pick up wounded and ill people.

KAHN: And Goffeau says his staff can't get to work without gas. Normally, he says, he has enough on hand to run the group's generators for one month. During the fuel shortage, that dropped to about two weeks. And it's unclear how long the gas will keep flowing. Gang leader Jimmy Cherizier, who goes by the nickname Barbecue, announced last Friday that he would relax his control of the roads leading in and out of a vital refueling port. His G9 gang controls large swaths of the capital, especially the slums near the waterfront.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JIMMY CHERIZIER: (Speaking Haitian Creole).

KAHN: In a video widely shared on social media, Cherizier stands at a lectern dressed in black fatigues and carrying an assault rifle. He says interim Prime Minister Ariel Henry must step down by Thursday or the blockades go back up. Henry says he won't resign. In a series of tweets today while visiting police headquarters, he said the government does not negotiate with criminals.

Haiti's underfunded national police is no match for the gangs that control nearly half of the capital and much of the countryside. Kidnappers are still holding a group of 17 missionaries. A gang abducted the group one month ago today, demanding a $17 million ransom. The 16 Americans and one Canadian are part of Christian Aid Ministries, based in Ohio.

The United Nations' humanitarian coordinator in Haiti, Bruno Lemarquis, says nearly 40% of Haitians need help finding food. The fuel shortages make food prices higher.

BRUNO LEMARQUIS: If this precious resource does not flow, the country is hit, the economy is hit and at the end, it's the people who are hit.

(SOUNDBITE OF CAR HORNS HONKING)

KAHN: At the Petion-Ville gas station, 36-year-old Stanley Baptiste is just glad he got his big yellow jug filled so, he says, he could finally help his sisters.

STANLEY BAPTISTE: (Speaking Creole).

KAHN: "I couldn't get them to the hospital when there was no gas," he says. Both went into labor during the weeks-long fuel shortage and had to give birth at home.

BAPTISTE: (Speaking Haitian Creole).

KAHN: "I have an appointment at the hospital for them to all get checked out on Thursday, and God permitting," he says, "I got five gallons and I'll make it." Carrie Kahn, NPR News, Mexico City.

(SOUNDBITE OF CLAIRO SONG, "ALEWIFE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.