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|Posted October 22, 2003|
|Country Report and Analysis Haiti|
Corporate Risk International Worldwide Advisory Intelligence Service Country Report and Analysis Haiti
Threat Assessment : 4 Strong Threat
Political Overview :
· Haiti has a democratic form of government led by a prime minister who serves as the head of government and a president who serves as the chief of state. Legislative authority rests in the bicameral National Assembly, which consists of the Senate (27 seats ; members serve six-year terms ; one-third elected every two years) and the Chamber of Deputies (83 seats ; members are elected by popular vote to serve four-year terms).
· In November 2000, Haiti held presidential elections, which were surrounded by weeks of politically-related violence. Schools and stores closed for much of the election due to the series of bombings that swept through the capital. Former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide won the election with an overwhelming 92 percent majority, due mainly to the fact that the countrys main opposition parties boycotted the election. The opposition claimed that the previous local and legislative elections were rigged in favor of Aristides Lavalas Family party, and that they would not participate in another bias poll. Although international observers said the previous elections were fair, many believe at least 10 of the seats should have gone to a runoff vote. The countrys opposition fears that Aristide will use his new term to establish a one-man, one-party rule.
· Political violence in Haiti saw a dramatic increase in the months following the 2000 presidential election, as the countrys opposition party challenged the fairness of the polls. Violent protests erupted repeatedly in Port-au-Prince, causing dozens of deaths and hundreds of injuries. Politically-motivated attacks plagued the country through much of 2000 and 2001, with bomb attacks and killings by both opposition supporters and supporters of former President Prevals party. During the countrys past elections, violence claimed the lives of hundreds of people. Violence typically surrounds national polls in Haiti.
· In December 2001, a small group of armed men broke into the National Palace in Port-au-Prince and opened fire. The attack was dubbed an attempted coup by the ruling party, who claimed the opposition was attempting to overthrow the government. Following the attack, rival political supporters clashed with one another in the capital city for several days, leaving dozens injured and several homes and buildings destroyed. Although the situation has since calmed, instability is inherent in the Haitian political system. Travelers to the country should be prepared for unexpected changes in the security climate due to sporadic outbreaks of political and civil unrest. Should the situation deteriorate, emergency evacuation plans should be in order.
· Haiti has numerous political parties all of which have very strained relationships with one another. Clashes between supporters of these rival parties occur regularly, particularly in Port-au-Prince, and often lead to full-scale riots.
· After years of sanctions, economic links with the outside world, particularly the U.S., have been restored. However, illegal immigration to the U.S. as well as relations with neighboring Dominican Republic are still major issues for Haiti.
Civil Overview :
· There are no insurgent groups operating in Haiti. In addition, there are no ethnic conflicts in the country, as the majority of the population is of African descent and are practicing Roman Catholic (80%).
· There is not a high terrorist threat in Haiti. The country is not known to be home to any terrorist cells, nor is it likely to be a target for terrorist attacks at any point in time.
· There is little anti-American sentiment within the Haitian population, but there is a small grass root movement within Haiti advocating the withdrawal of the U.S. troops stationed there. In addition, anti-foreign sentiment, in general, is on the rise.
· Haiti is prone to violent demonstrations and protests, often fueled by the political turmoil, corruption, and the countrys economic situation. Flaming barricades and roadblocks are common across the country, as are petty street crimes and random acts of violence.
· The majority of protests in Haiti are related to the poor economic conditions or current political instability. Demonstrations are usually held when the government proposes a price hike of any kind. Recent protests erupted in Port-au-Prince over the high cost of gasoline. Elections are also a major cause of rallies in the capital city. Haitian elections are typically surrounded by violent protests and attacks. The November 2000 presidential election brought a series of bombings in Port-au-Prince, which left two people dead and at least 17 others wounded. Violent protests by the countrys opposition continue to plague the city, months after the end of the presidential election.
Economic Overview :
· Haiti is the poorest country in the Western hemisphere with some 75 percent of the population living in abject poverty, and 80 percent unable to read. Nearly 70 percent of all Haitians depend on the agricultural sector, which consists mainly of small-scale subsistence farming and employs about two-thirds of the economically active work force. The country has experienced little or no job creation by the government for the past 5 years, although the informal economy is growing. Failure to reach agreements with international sponsors have denied Haiti badly-needed development assistance.
· The consequences of the 1991 coup detat and irresponsible economic and financial policies of the de facto authorities greatly accelerated Haitis economic decline. Following the coup, the United States adopted mandatory sanctions, and the Organization of American States (OAS) instituted voluntary sanctions aimed at restoring constitutional government. International sanctions culminated in May 1994, with the U.N. embargo of all goods entering Haiti except humanitarian supplies, such as food and medicine. Although the country has recovered considerably since the coup, unemployment continues to be a major problem for this struggling nation.
· Haitis flawed elections have and will continue to strain the countrys economy. Consumers are preparing for poor times ahead, saving U.S. dollars and not spending any of what they make, which, in turn, is disabling goods-producing companies. Inflation continues to increase with residents purchasing power decreasing. As residents continue to save for the worst, Haitis impoverished population will only experience worsening economic times, especially with the imposition of economic and political sanctions.
· Haitis economy fluctuates between average growth one year to virtually no growth the next. The economy expanded by two percent in 2000 ; however, 2001 estimates show the economy posting 0.9 percent growth. Minimal growth is also expected in 2002.
· Haiti suffers from widespread unemployment and underemployment. More than half of the population is out of work, and more than 80 percent live below the poverty line. The exceedingly high unemployment rate is a major cause for the increasing levels of crime throughout the country, but especially in Port-au-Prince.
· Haiti suffers from so many problems that significant change is not expected in the foreseeable future. The high crime rate stems from the massive amounts of unemployed workers who turn to crime to survive. Crime, however, along with political and civil unrest, deter international investment. Without a stable environment, companies are not willing to invest in Haiti ; meaning work is not available for the eight million people that live on the island. The vicious cycle cannot be reversed unless the government takes steps to do so. Unfortunately, the Haitian government is bogged down by corrupt politicians who do nothing more than talk, and is plagued by political disputes between rival parties that lead to widespread civil unrest and rioting.
Criminal Overview :
· According to reports from the U.S. State Department, crime continues to be a serious problem in Haiti. Statistics indicate a continuous rise in certain types of crimes, such as theft and vandalism, especially around certain areas of Port-au-Prince. Petty thieves continually harass the drivers and occupants in vehicles and attempt to gain access to their vehicles to steal whatever they can. Pickpocketing is common in tourist areas and markets, and travelers should be especially alert while shopping in Port-au-Princes Marché de Fer (Iron Market).
· Residential crimes within the American expatriate community, in comparison with the other residences located in the same neighborhoods remain low, but are on the rise. The American diplomatic community is subject to physical security standards strictly enforced by the U.S. Embassy. The Embassy reports that these measures, which include twenty-four hour guard coverage, substantial perimeter walls, grillwork on all ground floor windows and doors, alarm systems, security lights, and mandatory safe havens, have played a critical role in deterring and preventing any would-be thief from successfully burglarizing mission residences.
· There have been several incidents of violent crimes, including murder, committed against Haitian-American citizens in Port-au-Prince. Armed robberies involving Americans have occurred even during daylight hours. Incidents of violent crimes, such as carjacking, armed robberies, and murders, are regular occurrences in the shantytowns surrounding Port-au-Prince and Cap-Haïtien. Travelers are also urged to avoid Nord-Ouest Province. The State Department reports that it is possible that Haitian police could be involved in crimes against foreigners.
· The State Department warns that the following areas and streets of Port-au-Prince should be avoided at all times due to high crime : Carrefour, Croix de Bossales, Port Road (Boulevard la Saline and Boulevard Harry Truman), urban Route Nationale #1, Delmas 105 between Delmas 95 and Rue Jacob, Boulevard Haile Selassie and its adjoinging connectors to the new (American) road via Route Nationale #1. Additionally, Rue de Canape Vert, and National Route 200 should be avoided after sunset. Travelers should also avoid Cite Militaire, Cite Simone, Cite Numero Deux, Cite Soleil, and La Saline and their surrounding areas.
· There have been episodes in recent months of Haitian-Americans being targeted as they traveled in their car from the airport to Port-au-Prince. Some of these incidents have resulted in the deaths of the passengers. This suggests that at times criminals scout for vehicles that indicate their occupants are wealthy. Travelers should remain vigilant at all times while in Haiti, and register with the U.S. Embassy upon arrival.
· U.S. citizens are increasingly becoming targets of crimes ranging from carjackings to robberies. An atmosphere of perceived impunity has encouraged criminals to move from troubled neighborhoods to those once considered safe. Several brazen carjackings have occurred in broad daylight and many robberies have been committed in recent months. In October 2000, the U.S. Embassy in Port-au-Prince reported the attempted carjacking of one of their vehicles. The driver of the Embassy van radioed for assistance and was able to escape unharmed. Carjackings are becoming increasingly frequent in the capital city of Port-au-Prince, with vans and 4-wheel drive vehicles being the most common targets.
· Kidnappings are becoming more common in Haiti. A report released in January 2002 showed that ten abductions were reported in Port-au-Prince in one seven-day period that month. During the few months prior to that, seven U.S. citizens were also kidnapped. The number of actual cases is expected to be considerably higher, as most of the victims families opt not to contact the police. Some estimates indicate that there has been an average of one abduction per day since November 2001. The Haitian National Police have arrested 15 suspects in connection to the various kidnappings. In April 2001, a U.S. businessman was kidnapped from his home in Port-au-Prince. The victim, who was the owner of a Toyota dealership and the son of a former U.S. diplomat, escaped just hours after his capture, unharmed.
· Travelers should be particularly alert while in the Port-au-Prince airport. Criminals tend to scope out arriving passengers for later assaults, robberies, and kidnappings. They also survey bank customers and subsequently attack them. Police are of little help to victims, as they are poorly equipped and are not able to respond in a timely manner.
· Organized criminal activity and gangs in the Port-au-Prince area are also on the rise. The high unemployment rate, declining economic conditions, growing popular dissatisfaction in poor neighborhoods, such as Cite Soleil, and increased international narcotics trafficking have led to an increase in organized criminal activity. In the past gangs have been reluctant to engage the Haitian National Police in gun battles ; however, this seems to be changing.
· The transshipment of cocaine from Columbia poses a major problem in Haiti, and is partially responsible for the rise in crime. A lack of stable government coupled with poorly paid civil servants make manipulation by drug traffickers a course of business at sea and airports. Other social problems and poverty concerns take priority over combating the drug trafficking problem. The U.S. Coast Guard has assisted the government of Haiti in decreasing the flow of drugs by cooperation and training of police and customs officials. Conflict resolution is slow and may go against foreign firms if business dealings should cross organized crime of any form. Foreign firms looking to do business in Haiti should consider conducting a due diligence investigation on any potential business partners.
· Corruption is deeply embedded in South American, Central American, and Caribbean culture, and Haiti is no exception. Although Transparency International does not rate the country on its Corruption Perceptions Index, Haiti would likely have a very low rating on a scale of 1 to 10 (1 being the most corrupt). Despite the fact that corruption can be found in all levels of government, from the federal system to the local police force, it is generally not a problem that affects travelers to the country.
· The Haitian police department and emergency services are considered unreliable and sometimes even unresponsive. Haitian citizens have little faith in what they believe to be a corrupt police force, which is the reason for many recent demonstrations. Policemen are frequently accused of killing innocent citizens. Police, fire, and medical assistance in Port-au-Prince can be telephoned using the emergency number 114, which is similar to the U.S. 911 emergency system.
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