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Overall Crime and Safety Situation

 

 

The Bureau of Diplomatic Security rates Port-au-Prince as ‘critical’ for crime. Haiti is unique in the Caribbean for its lack of tourism and development. Due to this anomaly, traditional tourist-oriented crimes such as pick pocketing and purse snatching remain less common than in neighboring Dominican Republic, Jamaica and other countries in the region. There are an estimated 35,000 American citizens in Haiti, mostly of Haitian descent. The most frequently reported crimes against Americans in Port-au-Prince are carjacking, kidnappings, and robberies. Home invasions also remain a problem. While the overall number of incidents declined in 2007, kidnappings, car-jackings and home invasions remain the key criminal activities and concerns for Haitians and Americans alike. Most of these criminal acts continue to be perpetrated by organized (or quasi-organized) armed criminal gangs.

 

Political Violence

 

2007 began with a three-month long offensive by the UN peacekeeping forces (MINUSTAH) to take back control of Cite Soleil, the lawless, gang-controlled slum area that had in recent years become the base of operations for many of the most notorious and active criminal gangs in Haiti. By March, MINUSTAH forces had successfully reclaimed most of Cite Soleil -- and had arrested or killed several of the key gang leaders. Those that were not caught fled to other parts of Port-au-Prince or out into rural parts of Haiti, where some were able to partially re-group and continue their criminal enterprises. The overall result of the Cite Soleil offensive was an almost immediate drop in the number of kidnappings incidents throughout Port-au-Prince. However, while the number of overall incidents dropped, the scattering of the once centralized criminal gangs resulted in a much less predictable pattern of activity. The number of home invasion related kidnappings in the more affluent areas of upper Port-au-Prince increased, as did the number of kidnappings and robberies along major streets in other, previously safer areas of Port-au-Prince. Also, at least in some cases, the victims of these gang activities were treated more violently, being beaten, raped and even killed at a rate higher than had been experienced before the U.N. offensive. This increased violence was a result of several factors, including 1) the vacuum left after the key gang "overlords," who regulated the kidnapping industry were removed by MINUSTAH, and 2) the reduction in safe house areas for gangsters to operate unfettered. The result was the emergence of a less professional, more decentralized gang structure, whose modus operandi was cavalier, reckless and less threatened by security personnel, and whose members were more likely to become panicked and respond violently than they would have as part of a more organized gang structure.

 

Violence around the Martissant community, an area in southern Port-au-Prince, continued to be a major problem in 2007. Several of the gang members who fled Cite Soleil during the MINUSTAH offensive were reported to have settled in Martissant, an area already considered to be a gang stronghold. With Cite Soleil considered "secure" by MINUSTAH, UN peacekeeping forces refocused their efforts in Martissant in the second half of 2007, where they have continued to conduct joint operations with the Haitian National Police (HNP) to apprehend gang members. Unlike Cite Soleil, which is isolated geographically, Martissant is in the center of a sprawling area of Port-au-Prince, which, with its numerous side streets and narrow alleyways, has created problems for police and security forces to contain gang movements.

 

It is also notable that while most of the major gang leaders have been captured or killed, one primary and influential gangster, Amaral Duclona, remains at large and is believed to be possibly reconstituting his gang for continued criminal ventures. In any case, the vacuum left from the removal of the other main gang leaders has given rise to competing up-and-comers who aspire to recapture the power once held by the previous main players. For the most part, while several of the up-and-comers' identities are known to police and security elements, they so far have been kept in check by the MINUSTAH forces. Many of these gangsters are believed to be leaders by self-proclamation only, and have been cautious about actively engaging in overt criminal enterprises while UN forces remain in their respective areas.

 

A related issue is the number of gangsters who have been let out of jail over the second half of 2007. While at least some are believed to have been released due to arrangements with corrupt judges, many were released simply because of inadequate evidence (many cases were dependent on testimony of witnesses who are too afraid to step forward) and/or due to poorly assembled criminal cases. Many of the cases involving arrests of gangsters by UN forces ran into legal questions, since the UN is not a police entity with jurisdiction in criminal cases. As a solution to this issue, MINUSTAH forces in known gang areas began patrolling with a small number of HNP officers whose job it is to make a formal, legal arrest of gangsters and other criminals encountered during UN patrols.

 

As a result of the scattering of gang enterprises around Port-au-Prince and greater Haiti, there was a sharp increase in the number of vigilante lynchings of those suspected by community members of gang activity. In one volatile instance in the spring, hundreds of angry residents surrounded a major police commissariat in Port-au-Prince, demanding the release of one of the most notorious gang leaders into their charge for retributive justice. The police were forced to move the gang member for fear of the commissariat being overrun by an angry mob. Several incidents of vigilante justice in the Port-au-Prince area and in the provinces were reported during the last several months of 2007.

 

During 2007, MINUSTAH also stepped up joint operations with HNP around other key areas of instability in Port-au-Prince, with the intention of restricting gang movements and increasing public confidence.

 

As a country of approximately 8.5 million people, the Haitian National Police (HNP) currently has only about 9,000 officers total, approximately two-thirds of whom are deployed in the capital (Port au Prince has approximately 3.5 million residents). Due to this deficiency, many communities throughout Haiti simply do not have means to report crimes, and those crimes that are not adequately documented in any sort of standardized reporting format.

 

Post Specific Concerns

 

While most people in Haiti are friendly and peaceful, travelers to Haiti are reminded of the potential for spontaneous protests and public demonstrations, especially in Port-au-Prince, which can occur at any time, day or night, and may result in violence. American citizens are advised to take common sense precautions and avoid any event where crowds may congregate.  Visitors and residents must remain vigilant due to the absence of an effective police force in much of Haiti; the potential for looting; the presence of intermittent roadblocks set by armed gangs or by the police; and the possibility of random violent crime, including carjacking and assault.  Kidnapping for ransom also remains a serious threat.

 

Americans traveling in Haiti should also take special care and attention to ensure they do not become stranded in remote regions or accidentally enter certain area deemed unsafe, especially within Port-au-Prince.

 

Kidnappings

 

U.S. citizens traveling to and residing in Haiti are reminded that Haiti remains a leading source of criminal kidnappings of Americans, and is still rated among the kidnapping capitals of the world.

 

Most kidnappings since 2004 continue to be criminal in nature (as opposed to political), and the kidnappers make no distinctions of nationality, race, gender or age; all who are perceived to have wealth or some family connections abroad are vulnerable. While most cases were resolved through the payment of ransom, some kidnappings in 2007 were marked by deaths, sexual assault, shooting and physical assault.

 

Kidnapping trends in Haiti during 2007 varied greatly during what was a greatly effective campaign by UN forces and HNP to crack down on the kidnapping gangs. As previously noted, the retaking of Cite Soleil by UN forces and the subsequent decentralization of the kidnapping gangs had both a positive and some complicating effects. While total instances of kidnappings dropped substantially, the patterns became less predictable and areas of victimization became more widely spread out, creating a new set of challenges for police and security elements. The sharp increase that occurred towards the end of 2007, while anticipated, demonstrated that the capabilities and persistent intent of the criminal gangs that are still operating throughout Haiti, and in particular around Port-au-Prince, are still a real security concern going into 2008.

 

The U.S. Consulate reports that 28 Americans were reported kidnapped in 2007 (as opposed to over 60 Americans in 2006) with a total number of reported kidnappings in Haiti to be approximately 300 (as opposed to approximately 540 in 2006). As stated above, due to substantial under-reporting, the actual number of kidnappings can not reasonably be projected, but could be substantially higher than these totals reported.

 

Shootings

 

The prevalence of guns in Haiti remains a key security concern, as disarmament efforts, such as the UN's DDR program and the GOH's CNDDR program, have yielded only modest results over the past few years.

 

Random gunfire, while down from 2006, is reported on an almost daily basis around Port-au-Prince, with sporadic reports of injury or death resulting from stray bullets.

 

Robbery related shootings have increased during 2007, including a sharp increase in incidents in the more affluent Port-au-Prince neighborhood of Petion-ville. This increase, as with other types of crime, is likely due to the scattering of gangsters displaced by the UN takeover over Cite Soleil. Robberies resulting in shootings have almost all occurred when the victim resisted the robber(s).

 

Personal Robberies

 

Armed and/or strong-arm robberies against motorists and pedestrians remains a concern throughout Haiti, however reports of simple robberies against foreigners over the past year remain relatively low.

 

During the spring of 2007 there was a marked increase in armed robbery of pedestrians, "tap-tap" (unofficial public transportation) passengers, and motorists in many parts of the city, including more affluent Petion-ville. As a result of the increase of incidents in Petion-ville, HNP further increased police presence in the area and reports of armed robberies in the area again declined. HNP has indicated that a large portion of the next HNP Academy class, set for graduation in mid 2008, will be earmarked for duty in Petion-ville.

 

Residential Theft

 

Residential theft (burglaries/ home invasions) trends over the past year have suggested a departure from traditional criminal burglary and a rise in robbery/kidnapping. In Port-au-Prince particularly, almost all home invasions were conducted for the dual purpose of kidnapping and robbery, where previously the focus was principally on robbery. In other regions of Haiti, simple home burglaries and thefts remain a regular occurrence.

 

Throughout the latter half of 2007, as with other crimes, there was a marked increase in the number of home invasions in the more affluent areas of upper Port-au-Prince. There were several reported incidents involving a large number of masked, heavily armed men forcing entry into homes in the middle of the night. In many cases, evidence suggested that the houses targeted were selected for lacking security, and that the targets were observed in advance of the invasion. In some instances, it is believed the domestic staff was paid to aid in the facilitation of the invasions. In almost all cases, the kidnap victims were taken away in the family car.

 

Vehicle Theft

 

Vehicle thefts in Haiti remain a serious problem in many areas, however they continue to be more commonly committed in conjunction with kidnappings/ car-jackings.  With a substantially greater police presence in 2007 it is possible that the overall figures for vehicle thefts were much lower than might have otherwise been expected in previous years.

 

Driving and Travel

 

Roads around Cite Soleil, primarily Route National #1 and #9 are safer, but should still be considered dangerous areas and travel should be avoided. Care should also be used when traveling around Carrefour, particularly along Route National #2 through Martissant, as well as travel in the vicinity of Cite Militaire, and along La Saline Boulevard (Port Road) due to continuing concerns of criminal activity and proximity to known gang areas. Towards the last quarter of 2007, incidents of armed car-jackings and kidnappings along Route de Frere increased dramatically and drivers are cautioned to avoid stopping along any portion of the road, especially during night time hours. In addition to the above recommendations, it is important to note that general vigilance should be used at all times on all roads in Haiti, as there is no area that should be considered immune to crime.

 

Safety Threats

 

Road Conditions in Haiti

 

Driving in Haiti requires extreme caution, particularly in the evening hours.  Road conditions inside and outside the major cities are extremely poor. Very few roads in Haiti are paved and the ones that are paved, generally are in a state of disrepair.  A majority of the roads outside of the main cities are either topped with gravel or are poorly maintained dirt roads. Currently, there are a few road improvement projects underway, but the projects are moving at such a slow pace no recognizable difference should be expected in the short term.  Traffic rules and courtesies are not observed or enforced in Haiti, and traffic within Port-au-Prince is often gridlocked.

 

While piles of trash in the streets and missing manhole covers are increasingly less common than in recent years, they do persist along with gaping ditches and pot holes, pedestrians and small animals to further adversely impact traffic.

 

Driving in downtown Port-au-Prince requires particular caution and fulltime attention.  Vendors have taken over the sidewalks and in some cases much of the roadway, so the only way for a pedestrian to pass down any given street is by walking in the street. During 2007 several solar-powered stop lights were installed throughout Port-au-Prince to aid in traffic control, with some positive results. Still, the ever-increasing volume of vehicles within Port-au-Prince makes such additions limited in their positive effect.

 

In rural or mountainous areas, drivers should expect a lack of adequate guard rails, few traffic signs or road markings and little to no road lighting. Drivers should use caution when driving around bends, as it is common for locals coming the other direction to pass slower vehicles or otherwise drive in the middle of the road, even around blind turns.

 

People traveling outside of Port-au-Prince should do so during daylight hours if possible, and in tandem with one or more other vehicles due to both the security situation and road conditions. While car-jackings, assaults and armed robberies are not uncommon in many urban areas, they are less common in the countryside.

 

Drivers should be conscious that accidents in general can draw angry and potentially violent crowds in a very short period of time and it is recommended that anyone involved in an accident proceed directly to a safe place (e.g. police station) to resolve the situation.  Remaining at the scene of an accident is considered to be a hazard to one's health and well-being.

 

Drivers should also take note of added safety risks during the rainy season (December through March), when roadways can become impassable quickly, thus creating a hazardous condition for the traveler.  The mountainous areas pose even greater challenges to road travel due to weather conditions frequently involving rain and foggy conditions.  The narrow, unpaved roads are also blocked by muddy surface conditions, causing unsafe driving conditions.

 

Public Transportation

 

The local transport known as "tap taps" are the primary form of public transportation for most Haitian. The use of these public tap taps by westerners should be considered dangerous, however, as robberies and accidents are common.

 

Natural Disasters

 

Haiti, like most Caribbean countries, can be affected by hurricanes and other storms.  Hurricane season runs from approximately June 1 - November 30 each year. Driving during these times should be considered extremely risky.

 

Twice during 2007 Haiti was adversely affected by severe tropical storms that resulted in severe flooding and washed out roads in many areas. Several deaths were reported in conjunction with these storms, primarily in the poorer areas along southern shores.

 

Earthquakes, while much less common in occurrences than hurricanes, have affected Haiti intermittently over the years. Because Haiti is located directly over two separate fault lines, a significant seismic event, such as the one that occurred last in 1842 (approximately 5,000 killed) would likely cause moderate to catastrophic damage in some areas of Haiti, predominantly the built up urban areas. Due the length of time that has passed since the last major earthquake, some experts feel that Haiti might be due for a major one soon.

 

 

Medical Emergencies

 

Medical services in Haiti are below US standards. Emergency medical care, while available in Port-au-Prince, is virtually non-existent outside the city. The Embassy uses the Hospital du Canapé Vert (tel 244-1052 or 244-1053) for emergency care. However, due to limited availability of many types of specialists, it is recommended that those visiting Port-au-Prince carry medical evacuation insurance.

 

There are several air ambulance companies based in the United States that service Haiti - National Air Ambulance (Ft. Lauderdale, FL) 1-800-327-3710, Air Ambulance Networks

1-800-327-1966, Air Ambulance Professionals 1-800-752-4195.

 

The Department of State strongly urges Americans to consult with their medical insurance company prior to traveling abroad to confirm whether their policy applies overseas and whether it will cover emergency expenses such as medical evacuation. U.S. medical insurance plans seldom cover health costs incurred outside the United States unless supplemental coverage is purchased. Further, U.S. Medicare and Medicaid programs do not provide payment for medical services outside the United States. However, many travel agents and private companies offer insurance plans that will cover health care expenses incurred overseas, including emergency services such as medical evacuations.

 

Useful information on medical emergencies abroad, including overseas insurance programs, is provided in the Department of State's Bureau of Consular Affairs brochure, "Medical Information for Americans Traveling Abroad," available via the Bureau of Consular Affairs home page or fax: (202) 647-300

 

Additional Health Information

 

CDC International Traveler's hotline - (404) 332-4559, http://www.cdc.gov.

 

For international treatment and medical insurance

 

AEA International, (206) 340-6000.

 

Air ambulance service (recommended for severe injuries or illnesses best treated in the U.S): AEA International, (800) 752-4195.

 

Contact Information for U.S. Embassy

 

Regional Security Office: 222-0200 ext 8345

Consular Section: 223-7011

 

American citizens are strongly encouraged to register at the American Citizens Services section at the Consulate, located at 104 Rue Oswald Durand, Port-au-Prince.

 

OSAC Haiti Country Council

 

There is an active OSAC Country Council in Haiti.  All U.S. private sector organizations active in Haiti are encouraged to attend meetings.  For more information, please contact the Regional Security Office at U.S. Embassy Port-au-Prince, or visit http://portauprince.osac.gov.

 

 

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