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Overseas Security Advisory Council
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Haiti 2020 Crime & Safety Report

This is an annual report produced in conjunction with the Regional Security Office at the U.S. Embassy in Port-au-Prince. OSAC encourages travelers to use this report to gain baseline knowledge of security conditions in Haiti. For more in-depth information, review OSAC’s Haiti country page for original OSAC reporting, consular messages, and contact information, some of which may be available only to private-sector representatives with an OSAC password.

Travel Advisory

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 due to crime, civil unrest, and kidnapping. Review OSAC’s report, Understanding the Consular Travel Advisory System.

Overall Crime and Safety Situation

Crime Threats

The U.S. Department of State has assessed Port-au-Prince as being a CRITICAL-threat location for crime directed at or affecting official U.S. government interests. 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 robberies involving U.S. victims increase around holiday seasons, a time that correlates with an overall increase in visitor traffic.

Armed robberies against motorists and pedestrians continue to increase. The Department of State’s travel advisory also warns of robberies of travelers arriving from the airport. American Citizens Services (ACS) received 105 reports of armed robberies, with 13 robberies occurring shortly after departing from the airport, in 2019. Banks are also a frequent location for armed robbery. Motorcycle-mounted assailants frequently follow their victims a short distance 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 airport robberies and thefts after visiting banks.

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. Most incidents occurred in middle-class neighborhoods (e.g. Delmas 75, Delmas 83, Laboul, 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 dispatch quickly. Review OSAC’s reports, Hotels: The Inns and Outs and Considerations for Hotel Security.

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 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 2019 holiday period, there was a sharp increase in violent robberies where a small gang targeted vehicles stuck in traffic, especially those with lone female drivers. Review OSAC’s report, All That You Should Leave Behind.

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.

Homicides continue to be a major concern. In 2019, there were 787 reported homicides, with 636 (81%) occurring in West Department, which includes Port-au-Prince. There were eight known U.S. citizen victims of murder. Gang-on-gang violence continues to increase.

Cité Soleil remains a dangerous area for HNP forces. Other areas of concern include Belair, Carrefour, Fort National, Simon-Pelé, Martissant, Croix des Bouquets, Village de Dieu, 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 2019 brought with it a sharp increase in demonstrations in Les Cayes, Jacmel, Leogane, Miragoane, Montruis, Saint Mark, Gonaïves, Hinche, Mirebalais, Limbe, and Cap-Haïtien.

Labadee, a port near Cap Haïtien in the north only accessible by cruise ship passengers, has private security and low rates of reported crime.

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.

U.S. embassy employees may not visiting banks or use ATMs. Criminals often follow, attack, and rob ATM patrons soon after they withdraw money. If you must use an ATM, select one that is out of sight from the public (such as inside your hotel), and be cautious always. Review OSAC’s reports, The Overseas Traveler’s Guide to ATM Skimmers & Fraud and Taking Credit.

Cybersecurity Issues

Review OSAC’s reports, Cybersecurity Basics, Best Practices for Maximizing Security on Public Wi-Fi, Traveling with Mobile Devices: Trends & Best Practices, and Satellite Phones: Critical or Contraband?

Transportation-Safety Situation

Road Safety and Road Conditions

Road conditions, particularly in Port-au-Prince, have deteriorated due to funding issues. Road conditions are occasionally 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. Those lacking knowledge of Haitian roads and traffic customs should hire a driver through a tour company or hotel. Road safety remains a significant threat to the average visitor. Avoid travel at night outside of main cities 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. Driving under the influence of drugs and alcohol is common at night.  If you are involved in an accident, do not expect medical or law enforcement assistance. There were 157 reported traffic fatalities for 2019.

Detailed, accurate maps are not widely available. GPS-based systems do usually work accurately, but the lack of road signage makes it hard to determine the indicated route. 

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.

Review OSAC’s reports, Road Safety Abroad, Driving Overseas: Best Practices, and Evasive Driving Techniques; and read the State Department’s webpage on driving and road safety abroad.

Public Transportation Conditions

Avoid using local or public transportation. U.S. 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. Review OSAC’s report, Security In Transit: Airplanes, Public Transport, and Overnights.

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. As you leave the airport, make sure no one is following you. If you notice someone following you, drive to the nearest police station immediately.

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

The U.S. Department of State has assessed Port-au-Prince as being a LOW-threat location for terrorism directed at or affecting official U.S. government interests.

Political, Economic, Religious, and Ethnic Violence

The U.S. Department of State has assessed Port-au-Prince as being a CRITICAL-threat location for political violence directed at or affecting official U.S. government interests. Political demonstrations continue to pose a security threat. In 2019, violent political protests in February and again from mid-September to November shut down the country. 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, regularly stone the windows of passing vehicles, and shoot at police trying to dismantle barricades. Additional tactics involve the looting and destruction of businesses, as well as hiring gang members in moto taxis to enforce protest goals. ACS reported three U.S. citizens injured during the periods of civil unrest.

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.

There is a potential for spontaneous protests and public demonstrations. Any demonstration can turn violent, and bystanders/travelers can easily find themselves in a clash between demonstrators and the HNP, rock throwing, tire burning, or roadblocks.

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. Review OSAC’s report, Surviving a Protest.

Approximately 757 protests occurred in 2019. February 2019 saw extremely violent and disruptive nationwide protests, to the point that the State Department ordered the departure of non-emergency staff embassy staff, and increased the Travel Advisory for Haiti to a Level 4.  The Embassy issued 295 demonstration or security alerts in 2019. Large-scale violent and disruptive protests also took place in mid-September to November 2019. In between the nationwide protests, localized protests shut down major highways and cut access to other cities for extended periods. HNP reported dismantling 4,500 barricades during the September-November 2019 protest period. Protests will likely continue into 2020.

Anti-U.S./Anti-Western Sentiment

Overall, there is little anti-U.S./Western sentiment. In 2019, the U.S. Embassy experienced 13 demonstrations targeting the Embassy, the majority of which involved demonstrators protesting Haitian President Moise and perceived U.S. support for his administration. Crowds ranged between 25 to 300, and a few protests resulted in HNP dispersing the crowds with tear gas and rubber bullets.

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-magnitude earthquake struck near Port-au-Prince in 2010, destroying much of the capital’s infrastructure. It has taken years for Haiti to recover from the catastrophic damage. Services like health care are less available now, but certain sectors are making small comebacks.

In 2019, there were two reported earthquakes in Haiti ranging from 3.7 to 4.4, and an additional 4,736 earthquakes in the region ranging from 1.5 to 6.0.

Economic Concerns

Be highly cautious when considering real estate investments. Property rights are irregularly enforced. Clear title to land is difficult or impossible to obtain. Consult an attorney before signing documents or closing on any real estate transactions. Undeveloped land is vulnerable to legal and physical takeover. Squatters may assault absentee owners trying to reclaim their property. Litigation and eviction proceedings can take years. Authorities sometimes arrest U.S. citizens involved in business/property disputes without charge, holding them for months or years in pre-trial detention, waiting for courts to hear their cases. The Embassy does not attend property dispute hearings but can assist U.S. citizens who have been arrested.

Personal Identity Concerns

Gender-based violence remains a serious problem. Domestic violence and sexual assault are unfortunately common and not always the subject of consistent or vigorous investigations or prosecutions. Review the State Department’s webpage on security for female travelers.

Anti-LGBTI+ sentiment exists. Persons identified as LGBTI+ may be targets of harassment, discrimination, or physical attack. The current 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. Review the State Department’s webpage on security for LGBTI+ travelers.

Review OSAC’s report, Freedom to Practice, and the State Department’s webpage on security for faith-based travelers.

Businesses rarely accommodate persons with disabilities. Haitian authorities do not enforce laws mandating public access for the disabled. Sidewalks, when present, are frequently congested by sidewalk commerce and parked cars, and often end abruptly. Review the State Department’s webpage on security for travelers with disabilities.

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 2019 show 43 drug arrest cases, with seizures of 974 kg of marijuana and 10 kg of cocaine. Drug traffickers have duped travelers into transporting narcotics aboard on commercial flights.

Kidnapping Threat

The HNP reported 35 kidnappings in 2019 compared to 53 in 2018. There was one kidnapping of a U.S. Citizen reported to the Embassy on December 31, 2019; the victim was subsequently able to safely escape. While the overall number is lower than 2018, it could be more due to underreporting than a true decrease in crime.

Most kidnappings are criminal. Anyone 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 evenly among men, women, and children. While most cases resolve 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. Review OSAC’s report, Kidnapping: The Basics.

Other Issues

Review OSAC’s report, Picture This: Dos and Don’ts for Photography.

Read the State Department’s webpage on customs and import restrictions for information on what you cannot take into or out of other countries.

Police Response

The emergency line in Haiti is 114. The Haitian National Police (HNP) has more than 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. Lack of resources frequently limits investigations. In 2019, 44 HNP officers died in the line of duty, compared to 17 in 2018. Contact the HNP Information and Operations Center at +509-3835-1111. Calling from a cell phone to a landline can be problematic.

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. Download the State Department’s Crime Victims Assistance brochure.

Medical Emergencies

The lack of reliable quality 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. For medical assistance, refer to the Embassy’s Medical Assistance page.

Prescription pharmaceutical drugs are in short supply, and specialty care is extremely limited.

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.

Malaria, Dengue, Chikungunya, Cholera, and Zika are all common in Haiti. The CDC offers additional information on vaccines and health guidance for Haiti.

Review OSAC’s reports, The Healthy Way, Traveling with Medication, I’m Drinking What in My Water?, Shaken: The Don’ts of Alcohol Abroad, Health 101: How to Prepare for Travel, and Fire Safety Abroad

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 Contact Information

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/

Helpful Information

Before you travel, consider the following resources:

 

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