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|Posted December 13, 2002|
|No safe areas in Haiti, says U.S.A.|
U.S. Department of State Bureau of Consular Affairs Washington, DC 20520 Haiti December 3, 2002 SAFETY AND SECURITY: U.S. citizens who feel they must visit Haiti should exercise extreme caution and are strongly encouraged to register at the Consular Annex of the U.S. Embassy immediately upon their arrival.
In recent years, Haiti has experienced an alarming rise in civil and political unrest. Protests and demonstrations occur frequently throughout the country, and can become violent with little or no warning. Private organizations and businesses may be targets of demonstrations or take-over attempts related to business disputes or extortion demands. Rural areas have also become more dangerous.
Local and national elections held in May 2000 remain publicly disputed, and tension between the government and the opposition colored the political climate in 2002 as it did in 2001. An attack on the National Palace on December 17, 2001 further stirred Haiti's volatile mix of political and social unrest. Frequently during 2002, activists established unofficial, temporary roadblocks throughout the country, cutting off major thoroughfares and the airport. U.S. Government buildings have sometimes been the focal points of these actions. During 2002, protesters periodically succeeded in paralyzing Port-au-Prince and other major cities including Gona´ves, Miragoane, Petit Goave, Cap Haitien and Leogane using flaming barricades, bonfires and firearms. Recent incidents have included politically motivated violence perpetrated against political leaders as well as the press. The rhetoric of some activists and popular organizations has been anti-foreign, and the Haitian government has neither contained nor condemned certain violent and dangerous situations.
During 2002, the Embassy issued approximately one security-related message per month warning U.S. citizens in Haiti of violent or unstable conditions. On occasion, the U.S. mission in Haiti may have to suspend service to the public or close because of security concerns. These concerns may also temporarily prevent Embassy personnel from traveling to or through some areas. In those situations, the Embassy will continue to be available by telephone to offer emergency services to U.S. citizens.
U.S. citizens in Haiti should avoid all large gatherings, as crowd behavior can be unpredictable. Visitors encountering roadblocks, demonstrations, or large crowds should remain calm and depart the area quickly and without confrontation. Assistance from Haitian officials, such as the police, is often unavailable. Overseas visitors must be particularly cautious on the days of planned political activities. U.S. citizens are urged to take common-sense precautions and avoid any event where crowds may congregate. Current information on safety and security is always available from the U.S. Embassy at the telephone numbers listed below.
There are no "safe areas" in Haiti. Crime, already a problem, has mushroomed in recent years. Up to 15% of the cocaine entering the United States now passes through Haiti. The state of law and order has steadily deteriorated as a result. Reports of death threats, murders, drug-related shootouts, kidnappings, armed robberies, break-ins or carjackings occur almost daily. U.S. citizens and other foreigners have likewise reported the theft of yachts and sailboats along the Haitian coast. Of particular concern is the doubling of the number of U.S. citizens murdered in Haiti during 2002 - up from four reported murders in 2001 to eight by November 2002. Kidnappings, including kidnappings of resident
U.S. citizens, have also increased; ransoms of up to hundreds of thousands of dollars have been demanded. U.S. citizens who must travel to Haiti should exercise extreme caution throughout the country. Travelers should keep valuables well hidden, ensure possessions are not left in parked vehicles, use private transportation, alternate travel routes, avoid nighttime travel, and keep doors and windows in homes and vehicles closed and locked. They should be alert for suspicious onlookers when entering and exiting banks, as criminals often watch and subsequently attack bank customers. Withdrawals of large amounts of cash should be avoided. If an armed individual demands the surrender of a vehicle or other valuables, the U.S. Embassy recommends compliance without resistance. Criminals have shot individuals who resisted. Visitors to Haiti should exercise caution at all times and review basic personal security procedures frequently.
U.S. citizens in Haiti must be particularly alert when leaving the Port-au-Prince airport, as criminals have often targeted arriving passengers for later assaults and robberies. Some recent incidents have resulted in death. The use of public transportation, including "tap-taps" (private transportation used for commercial purposes), is not recommended; it is suggested that visitors to Haiti arrange for someone known to them to meet them at the airport.
U.S. citizens should decline all requests to carry items for others to or from Haiti. Traffickers of illegal drugs have duped unsuspecting travelers into helping transport narcotics aboard commercial airlines. As of November 2002, there were nine U.S. citizens in Haitian prisons awaiting trial on drug smuggling charges.
Certain high-crime zones in the Port-au-Prince area should be avoided, including Carrefour, the port road (Boulevard La Saline), urban route Nationale #1, the airport road (Boulevard Haile Selassie) and its adjoining connectors to the New ("American") Road via Route Nationale #1. This latter area in particular has been the scene of numerous robberies, carjackings, and murders. Embassy employees are prohibited from entering Cite Soleil and La Saline and their surrounding environs due to significant criminal activity, and are strongly urged to avoid Delmas 105 between Delmas 95 and Rue Jacob. Neighborhoods in Port-au-Prince once considered relatively safe, such as the Delmas road area and Petionville, have been the scenes of an increasing number of violent crimes.
Cameras and video cameras should only be used with the permission of the subjects; violent incidents have followed unwelcome photography. Their use should be avoided altogether in high-crime areas.
Holiday periods, especially Christmas and Carnival, often bring a significant increase in violent crime. Haiti's Carnival season is marked by street celebrations in the days leading up to Ash Wednesday. In recent years, Carnival has been accompanied by civil disturbances, altercations and severe traffic disruptions. People attending Carnival events, or simply caught in the resulting celebrations, have been injured and killed. Random stabbings during Carnival season are frequent. Roving musical bands called "raras" operate during the period from New Year's Day through Carnival. Being caught in a rara event may begin as an enjoyable experience, but the potential for injury and the destruction of property is high. A "mob mentality" can develop unexpectedly, leaving people and cars engulfed and at risk. During Carnival, raras continuously form without warning; some raras have identified themselves with political entities, creating further potential for violence.
The Haitian police are poorly equipped and unable to respond to most calls for assistance. Police acquiescence, if not complicity, in violent crime in Haiti as well as in the illegal drug trade is regularly alleged. During 2002, some U.S. citizens residing in Haiti lost their homes and other property to gangs of armed thugs, with no response from the Haitian police. The unsatisfactory response and enforcement capabilities of the Haitian national police and the weakness of the judiciary frustrate many victims of crime in Haiti. U.S. citizens involved in business and property disputes in Haiti have occasionally been arrested and detained without charge, and have been released only after intervention at high levels of the Haitian Government.
The loss or theft abroad of a U.S. passport should be reported immediately to the local police and the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate. If you are the victim of a crime while overseas, in addition to reporting to local police, please contact the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate for assistance. The Embassy/Consulate staff can, for example, assist you to find appropriate medical care, to contact family members or friends and explain how funds could be transferred. Although the investigation and prosecution of the crime is solely the responsibility of local authorities, consular officers can help you to understand the local criminal justice process and to find an attorney if needed.
U.S. citizens may refer to the Department of State's pamphlet, "A Safe Trip Abroad," for ways to promote a trouble-free journey. The pamphlet is available by mail from the Superintendent of Documents, U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, D.C. 20402, via the Internet at ttp://www.access.gpo.gov/su_docs, or via the Bureau of Consular Affairs home page at http://travel.state.gov/.
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