Snapshots from a nation in crisis: Streets empty of cars, money-changers desperate to unload local currency for dollars, vendors sitting in the hot Caribbean sun all day without a single customer.
After months in which American officials insisted that world economic sanctions on Haiti's military leaders were starting to take hold, they finally are.But here's the twist: The sanctions took so long to work that the military leaders had time to militarize Haitian society, making it even more difficult to unseat the ruling soldiers.
"This is a `no way out' situation," said a businessmen deeply involved in money speculation minutes after the Haitian currency fell to a record low 20-to-1 rate Thursday against the dollar. "I can count the number of people making money in Haiti on my two hands."
Sanctions were first imposed nearly three years ago to try to reverse the 1991 military overthrow of elected President Jean-Bertrand Aristide. Washington is threatening a U.N.-sanctioned invasion to restore Aristide to power.
From the sweltering offices to the even hotter streets, Haitians gave sad testimony on their struggle to survive.
At 5 p.m., the normally crowded Iron Market downtown was nearly empty, and only five vehicles were stopped along Kuwait City, a milelong stretch of the city's main black-market fuel center.
Who, vendors ask, can buy gas if it costs twice the price of a bottle of fine French wine?
After 12 hours of work, a streetside soap vendor, Francoise Elsine, reported no sales. "I didn't even have enough money to buy water to drink," she said, "or enough money for bus fare home."
Home is a two-hour walk.
Under the stall next to Elsine's, Irland Gerard was trying to shade herself from the sun. She said she sold less than a dollar's worth of oranges Thursday. She blamed the extremely slow sales on the just-doubled price of sugar - Haitians don't drink their orange juice without it.
Any profit she makes she has to spend on food; she said she'll have no money left to buy more oranges to keep her small business alive.
"Everyone around here shares the same misery," said Gerard, 29, who leaves her 8- and 9-year-old boys at home.