Haiti 2011 OSAC Crime and Safety Report
Overall Crime and Safety Situation
The U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Diplomatic Security rates Port-au-Prince as a critical threat crime post. Haiti is unique in the Caribbean for its relative lack of tourism, foreign investment, and infrastructure. Thus, 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. Another anomaly is that despite grinding poverty, inadequate policing, and lax gun laws, some studies have shown Haiti to have a lower homicide rate than many of its neighbors in the Caribbean and Latin America. The most frequently reported crimes against Americans in Port-au-Prince are carjackings, kidnappings, and robberies. Home invasions also remain a problem. It should be noted though, that serious crime in Haiti’s provincial towns and in rural areas remains relatively rare.
To give a brief history of recent criminal trends, in 2007 there was a three-month long offensive by the UN peacekeeping force (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 2007, 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 kidnapping incidents throughout Port-au-Prince; however Cite Soleil continues to be an area of concern for security forces in Haiti despite the successful efforts of the Haitian National Police (HNP) and MINUSTAH. Incidents of crime continue to occur in the La Saline area and on Route National 1, with gang members using Cite Soleil as their base of operations.
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 offensive. 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.
In 2008, it became apparent that some gangs had effectively regrouped. One of the more notable groups appeared to be using safe houses in the middle and upper Delmas area of Port-au-Prince. However, this group, nicknamed "The Untouchables" by the media, suffered the arrest of two members and the loss of a safe house in the Delmas area in late 2008, in what is seen as a significant victory by local law enforcement authorities.
In 2009, MINUSTAH continued 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. Kidnapping and crime were decreasing until the advent of the Christmas holiday season, when crime again spiked, including armed robberies and murder targeting financial institutions, vendors, and couriers.
On January 12, 2010, a 7.0 magnitude earthquake devastated Port-au-Prince and the surrounding areas. Nearly 5,000 prisoners escaped from the national penitentiary during the earthquake. It is estimated that only 25 percent of these fugitives have been rearrested which explains in part the increase in crime. Kidnappings rose in the latter half of the 2010 after the prison escapees had ample time to regroup. The kidnappers resorted to home-invasion kidnappings in the middle and upper-class neighborhoods of Pelerin, Laboule, Thomassin, and Kenscoff, situated on the mountainside south of Petionville.
A comparative analysis of figures from various police/security entities operating throughout Haiti reflects a continuation of the trend in which reported incidents of crimes are inaccurate and under-reported.
The under reporting is due to a lack of sufficient police presence and response capability. By way of example, as a country of approximately 10-million people, the HNP currently has only about 8,500 officers total, approximately two-thirds of whom are deployed in the greater Port-au-Prince metropolitan area (Port-au-Prince has approximately two million residents). Due to this deficiency, many communities throughout Haiti simply do not have means to report crimes, though most experts agree that there is not much crime to report in provincial towns and rural areas. In addition, when crimes are reported, they are not adequately documented in any sort of standardized reporting format. It should be noted, however, that the HNP reported 21,484 arrests in 2010, indicating a trend to report more crimes.
U.S. citizens traveling to and residing in Haiti are reminded that greater Port-au-Prince remains a leading venue for criminal kidnappings of Americans.
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 persons who are perceived to have wealth or some family connections with assets, either in Haiti or abroad, are vulnerable. The breakdown in reported kidnapping victims from the last few years is spread fairly evenly among men, women, and children. While most cases were resolved through the payment of ransom, many kidnappings have been marked by physical or sexual assaults, and/or death.
Kidnapping trends in Haiti during 2010 showed increases in the latter half of the calendar year. As previously stated, one theory is that criminal escapees from the January 12, 2010 prison break needed a few months to reorganize themselves before conducting hits. The recent decentralization of the kidnapping gangs had both positive and complicating effects. While total instances of kidnappings dropped substantially since their highs in 2005 and 2006, the patterns became less predictable and areas of victimization became more widespread, creating a new set of challenges for police and security elements. A short term decrease in reported incidents, falling from 266 in 2008 to 73 in 2009 was offset by a rise again in 2010, with a total of 121 kidnappings, or approximately one every three days. The U.S. Embassy’s Consular Section reports that twelve Americans were kidnapped in Haiti in 2010.
The prevalence of guns in Haiti remains a key security concern, as disarmament efforts, such as the UN's Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration (DDR) program and the Government of Haiti’s Commission for National Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration (CNDDR) program, have yielded only modest results over the past few years.
Random gunfire, while down from previous years, is still reported around Port-au-Prince, with sporadic reports of injury or death resulting from stray bullets.
Robbery related shootings continued during 2010, including a noticeable pattern of shootings outside banks and money-transfer offices, targeting clients exiting the facilities after withdrawals.
Murders and Lynching
There were 795 murders and 83 lynchings reported in 2010, however, only eight of the murder victims were American. These totals show a rise from the 459 murders and 86 lynchings reported in 2009. It should be noted that the lynching in Haiti is defined as any form of extra-judicial execution - not solely hangings - carried out by vigilantes. Vigilante justice has long been practiced in Haiti, particularly in those areas lacking police presence.
Armed and/or strong-arm robberies against motorists and pedestrians remain a concern, however, reports of simple non-violent robberies against foreigners over the past year remain relatively low.
Residential theft (burglaries/ home invasions) trends over the past couple of years have suggested a decline in 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 in the past, prior to 2004, the focus was principally on robbery.
Throughout 2010, as with other crimes, there was a continuation of home invasions in the more affluent areas of upper Port-au-Prince. There were several reported incidents involving armed men forcing entry into homes in the middle of the night. Criminals have placed heavy emphasis on performing home-invasion kidnappings in the middle-class neighborhoods of Pelerin, Laboule, Thomassin, and Kenscoff, situated on the mountainside south of Petionville.
Vehicle thefts in Haiti remain a serious problem in many areas, however they continue to be more commonly committed in conjunction with kidnappings/carjackings. The trend over the course of the past couple of years has been the theft by force of a vehicle or motorcycle, which is then used in a kidnapping, and later abandoned on the side of the road.
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, and though conditions have improved over the last few years, roadways remain hazardous. 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 less common than in the recent past, they persist and continue to add to the threats to traffic that include gaping ditches and pot holes, pedestrians, and small animals. In additional, residential rubble remaining from the earthquake is commonly removed from yards and thrown directly into the street where it can block whole lanes and spend days awaiting pickup.
Driving in 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. This congestion that was previously found in the downtown area is now more prevalent in the rest of the city, as displaced persons from the earthquake have relocated throughout the eastern suburbs, including Petionville.
During 2007, several solar-powered stoplights were installed throughout Port-au-Prince to aid in traffic control, with some positive results, and they have largely remained operational into 2011. 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 vehicle or road lighting. Several bridges and portions of roadway were completely washed away during the hurricane season in 2008, and many have not yet been totally repaired. Drivers should use caution when driving around bends, as it is common for vehicles coming from 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 carjackings 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. It is recommended that anyone involved in an accident resulting in the formation of a mob, proceed directly to a safe place (e.g., a police station) to resolve the situation. Remaining at the scene of an accident can be a risk to one’s safety.
Drivers should also take note of added safety risks during the rainy season (April through November), when roadways can become impassable quickly, that create hazardous conditions 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.
Roads around Cite Soleil, primarily Route National #1 and #9, are safer than in years past 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.
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.
The local transport, known as "tap taps", are the primary form of public transportation for most Haitians. The use of these public tap taps by westerners is dangerous however, as robberies and accidents are common.
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.
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 areas deemed unsafe, especially within Port-au-Prince.
Regional Terrorism and Organized Crime
The U.S. Bureau of Diplomatic Security rates Port-au-Prince as a low threat post for indigenous terrorism. Organized crime appears more frequently in the form of small, organized, criminal gang activity, such as that of the kidnapping gangs mentioned previously, than in the form of large-scale racketeering with which it is more frequently associated.
International Terrorism or Transnational Terrorism
The U.S. Bureau of Diplomatic Security rates Port-au-Prince as a medium threat post for transnational terrorism primarily due to its proximity to the United States and potential for terrorist activity. However, this does not imply any serious threat known at this time.
Violent political protests occur regularly 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. These protests have been frequent, averaging multiple incidents per week since mid-2009. The demonstrations have been motivated by a wide-variety of political and social movements including minimum wage, school curriculum, the presence of UN forces in the country, cholera response, and Haitian presidential elections. However, they share a common trend in the fact that the protestors are quick to barricade streets and regularly stone the windows of passing motorists’ vehicles.
Noteworthy protests that have occurred recently include the cholera protests in Cap Haitian, which crippled Haiti’s second-largest city for multiple days in November 2010, and the early-December 2010 riots associated with presidential elections, which crippled movement in Port-au-Prince and Les Cayes (Haiti’s third-largest city) for three days.
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 has additional risks. Due to severe deforestation of the mountains, even modest rains can cause flash flooding and other life threatening hazards.
During 2008, Haiti was adversely affected by four severe tropical storms and hurricanes that resulted in severe flooding and washed out roads in many areas. Approximately 800 deaths were reported in conjunction with these storms, primarily in Gonaives in the Artibonite Department and along the southern shores. The storms were estimated by the World Bank to have caused over a billion dollars in infrastructural damage.
A 7.0 magnitude earthquake struck Haiti near Port-au-Prince on January 12, 2010. Much of the physical infrastructure of Port-au-Prince was destroyed. It will take years for Haiti to recover from the catastrophic damage, and it is important to note that services such as lodging, health care, and other basic services, have been greatly reduced.
Industrial and Transportation Accidents
The Economic section of the U.S. Embassy may be contacted concerning issues regarding industrial and transportation safety (509-2229-8000).
Kidnapping of American Citizens should be reported to the Haitian National Police (see below) and the American Citizens Services (ACS) section of the U.S. Embassy (509-2229-8000). For further information regarding the current kidnapping threat, please reference the Crime Threats section of this report.
Drug and Narcoterrorism
Though Haiti is considered a major transshipment point for South American narcotics en route to the United Sates, the threat of narcoterrorism is not a major issue in Haiti at the current time.
The police force was greatly affected by the earthquake in January 2010, as many of their police stations were destroyed. In a country of approximately 10-million people, the HNP currently has only about 8,500 officers, approximately two-thirds of whom are deployed in the greater Port-au-Prince metropolitan area (Port-au-Prince has approximately two million residents). Due to this deficiency, many communities throughout Haiti simply do not have adequate police response. That being said, the HNP reported 21,484 arrests in 2010, showing a growing trend in reporting of crimes.
Haitian National Police Information and Operations Center: 509-3835-1111, 509-3835-1111,
How to Handle Incidents of Police Detention or Harassment
Incidents of police corruption, bribery, or harassment may be reported to the American Citizens Services (ACS) section of the U.S. Embassy (509-2229-8000).
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 U.S Department of State’s Bureau of Consular Affairs brochure, "Medical Information for Americans Traveling Abroad," available via the Bureau of Consular Affairs home page.
CDC International Traveler's hotline: (404) 332-4559, http://www.cdc.gov.
For international treatment and medical insurance: AEA International, (206) 340-6000.
Hospitals and Clinics
Medical services in Haiti are below U.S. standards. Emergency medical care, while available in Port-au-Prince, is virtually non-existent outside the city. Of the two major hospitals in Port-au-Prince, CDTI Hospital has closed since the earthquake and the Hospital du Canape Vert is damaged, with limited ability for emergency care. It is recommended that those visiting Port-au-Prince carry medical evacuation insurance.
Air Ambulance Services
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, and Air Ambulance Professionals 1-800-752-4195.
Tips on How to Avoid Becoming a Victim
For background information on Haiti, or for information on how to avoid becoming a victim of crime please refer to the State Department’s "Country Background Notes," "Consular Information Sheet," and "Travel Warning Information" located on the State Department website (www.state.gov).
Regional Security Office: 509-2229-8061
Consular Section: 509-2229-8000
Marine Security Guard: 509-2229-8122
American citizens are strongly encouraged to register at the American Citizens Services section at the Consulate, located at Tabarre #41, Tabarre, Haiti, or online at http://travel.state.gov.
OSAC 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://www.osac.gov.