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Overseas Security Advisory Council
Bureau of Diplomatic Security
U.S. Department of State

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Haiti 2019 Crime & Safety Report

The current U.S. Department of State Travel Advisory at the date of this report’s publication assesses Haiti at Level 4, indicating travelers should not travel to the country.

Overall Crime and Safety Situation

The U.S. Embassy in Port-au-Prince does not assume responsibility for the professional ability or integrity of the persons or firms appearing in this report. The American Citizen Services Unit cannot recommend a particular individual or location and assumes no responsibility for the quality of service provided.

Review OSAC’s Haiti-specific webpage for original OSAC reporting, consular messages, and contact information, some of which may be available only to private-sector representatives with an OSAC password.

Crime Threats

There is serious risk from crime in Port-au-Prince. Crime statistics in Haiti are hard to verify. The lack of reliable data makes it difficult to compare the crime threat in Haiti with other countries in the region. Avoid comparisons of reported statistics.   

Traditional tourist-oriented crimes (e.g. pickpocketing, purse snatching) are reported less frequently in Haiti than elsewhere in the region. This results from both a relative lack of tourism and underreporting.

The most frequently reported crimes against U.S. citizens in Port-au-Prince are aggravated assaults and robberies that result in lost/stolen travel documents. A typical mugging in Port-au-Prince involves a group of young males riding motorcycles surrounding and overwhelming victims in a public area. Reports of U.S. travelers being robbed increase around holiday seasons, a time that correlates with an overall increase in visitor traffic.

Armed robberies against motorists and pedestrians continue to increase. This year marked a sharp increase in robberies of travelers arriving at Toussaint L’Ouverture airport (PAP). More than 70 U.S. travelers reported being the victims of robbery shortly after departing from the airport in 2018. Banks are also a frequent location for armed robbery. Motorcycle-mounted assailants frequently follow their victims a short distance in order to rob them in a less public area. Shootings during these incidents are common. There has also been an increase of perpetrators following victims to their homes and rushing into their property as they open the gates to let in their vehicles. This method has become more frequent in both airport robberies and thefts after visiting banks.

Vehicle break-ins and thefts from vehicles, occupied or empty, occur frequently. Unattended vehicles with visible valuables are subject to break-ins. There are also reports of pedestrians opening unlocked doors of idling vehicles and snatching valuables. When driving through market areas, traffic congestion provides multiple opportunities for criminals to approach vehicles on foot.

Violent crime appears to remain predominantly gang and/or robbery-related. Gang-related violent crime had been centralized in specific areas of Port-au-Prince (e.g. Cité Soleil, Carrefour, Martissant), none of which are traditional tourist/business areas; however, criminal gangs have expanded or shifted their operations to more affluent areas visitors frequent (e.g. Petionville). Into the 2018 holiday period, there was a sharp increase in violent robberies where a small gang shot into vehicles stuck in traffic, in an attempt to disable the driver and then rob anyone in the vehicle.

There are reports of gangs expanding operations outside of Port-au-Prince leading to increased crime on major routes of travel. Smaller groups of criminals take advantage of social unrest and create barricades across roadways to extort anyone trying to pass. The Haitian National Police (HNP) has a limited ability to respond to this widespread phenomenon, but will eventually arrive and clear the road.

Homicides continue to be a major concern. In 2018, there were 757 reported homicides, with 73% occurring in the West Department, which includes Port-au-Prince. There were nine known U.S. citizen victims of murder. While reported homicides are down from 2017 levels, the statistics show a sharp increase in the second half of the year, to levels higher than 2017. Gang-on-gang violence continues to increase. 

Residential theft (e.g. burglary, home invasion) trends over the past few years suggest a decline in traditional criminal burglary and a rise in home invasion, especially in the more affluent areas of upper Port-au-Prince. The majority of incidents occurred in middle-class neighborhoods (e.g. Delmas 75, Delmas 83, Laboul, and Pelerin) outside the traditional expatriate residential areas, but there are now more reports coming from higher-end neighborhoods outside of Petionville. Assailants have little fear of resistance from residents, and do not appear to consider whether a resident is home. Criminals are not reluctant to use violence; however, the vast majority will brandish a firearm/weapon, fire it randomly in the air, tie up their victim(s), and abscond with currency or a vehicle. Criminals do not seem overly concerned with police response, as they know none will be dispatched quickly.

Other Areas of Concern

Cité Soleil remains a dangerous area for HNP forces. Other areas of concern include Belair, Carrefour, Fort National, Simon-Pelé, Martissant, and Grand Ravine. Outside of Port-au-Prince, demonstrations and crime occur frequently due to increased discontent over the lack of basic services and road repair. The end of 2018 brought with it a sharp increase in demonstrations in Les Cayes, Jacmel, Leogane, Miragoane, Montruis, Saint Mark, Gonaïves, Hinche, Mirebalais, Limbe, and Cap-Haïtien. 

Experts tend to agree that there is much less crime in the provinces than in the capital. Armed robberies are less common but do occur in the countryside, especially in conjunction with roadblocks and/or barricades.

Transportation-Safety Situation

For more information, review OSAC’s Report, Security in Transit: Airplanes, Public Transport, and Overnights.

Road Safety and Road Conditions

Road conditions, particularly in Port-au-Prince, have deteriorated due to funding issues. Road conditions are frequently the cause of protests, which in turn damage the roadways even more. Depending on the location and severity of protests, authorities may prioritize road repairs and provide limited relief in the affected area. Driving conditions are chaotic. Many roads outside of the main cities either are gravel or poorly maintained dirt roads.

Driving requires extreme caution, particularly in the evening. Road safety remains a significant threat to the average visitor. Travel at night outside of main cities is ill advised due to poor lighting and unpredictable road conditions that may result in an increased risk of not seeing pedestrians, broken-down vehicles, and oncoming traffic. Vehicles, including large buses and trucks, travel at high rates of speed, especially on provincial roads, and often do not use lights for visibility at night. For more information on self-driving, review OSAC’s Report Driving Overseas: Best Practices.

In rural/mountainous areas, expect no guardrails, few traffic signs/road markings, and little/no vehicle or road lighting. Use caution when driving around bends, as it is common for vehicles coming from the other direction to pass slower vehicles, or for vehicles to drive in the middle of the road. People traveling outside of Port-au-Prince should do so during daylight hours and in tandem, due the security situation and road conditions.

Accidents can draw angry, potentially violent crowds very quickly. If a mob forms, proceed directly to a safe place (e.g. police station) to resolve the situation. Remaining at the scene could be a safety risk.

Take special care to avoid becoming stranded in remote regions or enter certain areas deemed unsafe, especially in Port-au-Prince. Avoid driving at night outside low-density, suburban areas.

In the case of vehicular robbery (smash-and-grab) and carjacking, a group of street criminals (hiding in the grass or in ditches) often waits for vehicles to stop in traffic or at traffic lights. They rush the vehicle and attempt to open the vehicle doors. If all doors are locked and the driver fails to take immediate action, the group will attempt to break a window to access the vehicle and gain control violently. Newer tactics often involve shooting at the driver to disable him/her during the robbery attempt. Occurrences increase at night and in heavy rush hour traffic. A particularly targeted location is the area between Delmas 33 and the airport.

Public Transportation Conditions

Avoid using local or public transportation. Embassy policy prohibits the use of any public transportation for U.S. government employees. Many vehicles are in poor condition and often lack working equipment (e.g. headlights, reliable brakes). Tap-taps (small trucks converted into buses) are the primary form of public transportation for most Haitians. Tap-taps can be dangerous based on poor condition and likelihood of accidents and robberies. Moto taxis are unregulated; the driver might be the one to rob you.

Aviation/Airport Conditions

Travelers arriving at the airport should refrain from taking public transportation, safeguard their belongings, and remain alert between the airport and their accommodations.

Before using smaller airlines or charter services, research recent history. Carriers with a shoddy appearance are very likely to be remiss on safety standards.

Terrorism Threat

There is minimal risk from terrorism in Port-au-Prince.

Anti-U.S./Anti-Western Sentiment

In 2018, the U.S. Embassy experienced a handful of demonstrations targeting the Embassy, the majority of which involved demonstrators marking the 1915-1934 presence of U.S. Marines in Haiti. These small protests typically did not exceed fifty protesters. 

Political, Economic, Religious, and Ethnic Violence

There is serious risk from civil unrest in Port-au-Prince. Although Haiti elected a new president in 2016, political opposition demonstrations continue to pose a security threat. Last year was an active period of violent political protests. Unrest was due to a variety of political and social movements, including the domestic political situation, minimum wage concerns, fuel prices, fuel shortages, food prices, inflation, and the PetroCaribe corruption scandal. Protestors are quick to barricade streets with burning tires, and regularly stone the windows of passing vehicles. Additional tactics involve the looting and destruction of businesses.

Civil Unrest

Civil unrest, either motivated by political or socio-economic issues, occurs frequently in downtown Port-au-Prince around the National Palace, the Champ de Mars, and the State University campuses, along with sporadic incidents scattered throughout the city. More protest activity occurred in other cities across Haiti, as well as along primary roads.

Travelers are reminded of the potential for spontaneous protests and public demonstrations. Any demonstration is capable of turning violent, and bystanders/travelers can easily find themselves in a clash between demonstrators and the HNP, rock throwing, tire burning, or roadblocks. During widespread protests in October 2018, a U.S. citizen was received gunshot wounds while traveling in a privately chartered bus as part of an all-inclusive trip. The driver of the bus attempted to drive through a barricade, and protestors shot at the bus. The bus was able to escape, but had to continue to the safety of the resort before the injured party could receive care.

Avoid all demonstrations and be prepared to seek alternate routes should you encounter one. Prepare to shelter in place for up to a week, as the duration of nationwide protests can last between three and seven days.

Approximately 745 protests occurred in 2018, with 532 concluding peacefully and 213 violently. July 2018 saw extremely violent and disruptive nationwide protests to the point that the U.S. Embassy authorized the departure of its staff, The State Department increased the Travel Advisory for Haiti to a Level 4. Large-scale protests in November again triggered an Authorized Departure for staff. In between the nationwide protests, numerous localized protests shut down major highways and cut access to other cities for extended periods. Protests should continue into 2019, with a continued trend towards violence and disruption.  

Post-specific Concerns

Environmental Hazards

The island of Hispaniola lies directly in the path of Atlantic tropical storms and hurricanes during hurricane season (May-November).

Due to severe deforestation of the mountains, even modest rains can cause flash flooding and other life threatening hazards.

Haiti is also in a seismically active region. A 7.0 earthquake struck near Port-au-Prince in 2010, destroying much of the infrastructure of Port-au-Prince. It has taken years for Haiti to recover from the catastrophic damage. Services like health care are much less available now, but certain sectors are making small comebacks.

In 2018, there were seven reported earthquakes in Haiti ranging from 2.5 to 5.9, and an additional 959 earthquakes in the region ranging from 2.5 to 5.9. In October, Port-de-Paix in the north of Haiti experienced two earthquakes measuring 5.9 and 5.4-magnitude.

Personal Identity Concerns

Gender-based violence remains a serious problem. Same-sex sexual activity is legal, although the law does not provide relief for discrimination based on sexual orientation. However, the Haitian Constitution guarantees all citizens a right to healthcare, housing, education, food, and social security.

Drug-related Crimes

Haiti is a major transshipment point for South American narcotics en route to the U.S. However, the threat of narco-terrorism has not been a major issue. Statistics from 2018 show 40 drug cases, with seizures of 285 kg of marijuana and 19 kg of cocaine, 25 drug trafficking arrests, and 47 arrests for possession of drugs.  

Kidnapping Threat

The HNP reported 53 kidnappings in 2018 compared to 63 in 2017. While the overall number is lower than 2017, it could be more due to underreporting than a true decrease in crime. 

Most kidnappings are criminal. All who are perceived to have wealth or family with assets (in Haiti or abroad) are vulnerable. Kidnapped U.S. citizens are usually of Haitian descent. The breakdown in reported kidnapping victims from the last few years is spread fairly evenly among men, women, and children. While most cases are resolved through the payment of ransom, some kidnappings do include physical/sexual assault. While less frequent, depending on the motive, gang, and/or knowledge of the kidnappers by the victim, a few incidents resulted in the death of the victim.

Report the kidnapping of U.S. citizens to the HNP and the ACS section of the U.S. Embassy at +509-222-8000. As the lead U.S. law enforcement agency in Haiti, Diplomatic Security plays an active role in all kidnappings of U.S. citizens, and coordinates closely with Federal Bureau of Investigation entities. For more information, review OSAC’s Report, Kidnapping: The Basics.

Police Response

The Haitian National Police (HNP) has about 15,000 officers, approximately two-thirds of whom serve in the greater Port-au-Prince metropolitan area (home to approximately three million residents). As a result, some communities do not have reliable means to report crimes. The HNP has a limited response capability, which hinders the deterrent effect on criminals, who operate without fear of the uniformed or traffic police. Investigations are frequently limited by a lack of resources. In 2018, 18 HNP officers were murdered and 54 injured in the line of duty.

Haitians, particularly outside of Port-au-Prince, lack basic policing services. Many residents do not report crime. Underreporting or inaccurate reporting of crime appears to be an issue, partly due to the decentralized nature of the HNP commissariats, and to the perception that judicial or investigative follow-up is ineffective. The HNP enjoys a higher level of trust from the general population than other government agencies. Recent HNP progress in skill building is noteworthy. However, investigative capacities are overtaxed and remain mostly centralized in Port-au-Prince. The judiciary system has struggled for decades to demonstrate strength and reliability.

Be respectful and comply with local police authority.

How to Handle Incidents of Police Detention or Harassment

U.S. citizens who feel they are harassed should call ACS. Arrested or detained U.S. citizens should request to speak with the U.S. Embassy immediately. If you cannot reach the Embassy, try to contact someone locally who can contact the Embassy on your behalf.

Crime Victim Assistance

If you are the victim of a crime, first get to a safe location and seek medical attention, if needed. Immediately report the incident to the nearest police station. Contact police at 114. Then, notify local authorities and the U.S. Embassy.

Contact the HNP Information and Operations Center at +509-3835-1111. Calling from a cell phone to a landline can be problematic.

Information about services available to victims of crime, including sexual assault crisis hotlines and counseling services is available on the State Department website. Victims of crime may be eligible for assistance or compensation from state crime victims assistance programs.

Medical Emergencies

The lack of quality, reliable, health care is a serious concern. Medical services are far below U.S. standards and can be difficult to obtain. Emergency medical care is not always readily available, as most hospitals do not have an emergency department staffed 24 hours/day. 

Prescription pharmaceutical drugs are in short supply, and specialty care is extremely limited. For more information, refer to OSAC’s Report, Traveling with Medications.

Contact Information for Available Medical Services

For medical assistance, refer to the Embassy’s Medical Assistance page.

Available Air Ambulance Services

There is one air ambulance service in Haiti: Ayiti Air Anbilans: +509-3166-8197.

Air ambulance companies based in the U.S. that service Haiti:

  • National Air Ambulance: 1-800-327-3710
  • Air Ambulance Networks: 1-800-327-1966
  • Air Ambulance Professionals: 1-800-752-4195

 

Insurance Guidance

Health care providers do not accept U.S. medical insurance. Medical professionals require a cash payment up front, and will provide a receipt you can give to a U.S. insurance company.

Most major medical care requires medical evacuation (medevac). Strongly consider purchasing medevac insurance. Consult with your insurance company prior to travel abroad to confirm whether their policy applies overseas, and whether it will cover emergency expenses. U.S. Medicare and Medicaid programs do not provide payment for medical services outside the U.S. Useful information on medical emergencies abroad, including overseas insurance programs, is available on the Department of State’s Bureau of Consular Affairs home page.

For international treatment and medical insurance, AEA International: 206-340-6000.

Country-specific Vaccination and Health Guidance

The CDC offers additional information on vaccines and health guidance for Haiti.

OSAC Country Council Information

The Country Council in Port-au-Prince Country Council is active, meeting every other month. Interested private-sector security managers should contact OSAC’s Western Hemisphere team with any questions.

U.S. Embassy Location and Contact Information

Embassy Address: Tabarre #41, Route de Tabarre, Port-au-Prince

Hours of Operation: Monday-Friday, 0700-1530

Embassy Contact Number: +509-222-8000

After-hours Emergencies: +509-2229-8122

Website: https://ht.usembassy.gov/

Embassy Guidance

U.S. citizen visitors should register with the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP).

Additional Resources

Haiti Country Information Sheet

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