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Worldworx Travel> Safety> Americas> Haiti

SafetyTravel Safety: Americas: Haiti

Haiti: Republic of Haiti
Capital: Port-au-Prince
Population: 7,063,722
Currency: gourde (HTG)
Languages: French (official), Creole (official)
Religions: Roman Catholic 80%, Protestant 16% (Baptist 10%, Pentecostal 4%, Adventist 1%, other 1%), none 1%, other 3% (1982) note: roughly half of the population also practices Voodoo
Borders: Dominican Republic 360 km

COUNTRY DESCRIPTION ^
Haiti is one of the least developed and least stable countries in the Western Hemisphere. The availability of consumer goods and services is barely adequate in the capital, Port-au-Prince, but other parts of the country experience chronic shortages. Most consumer products are imported and expensive. Some tourism facilities in the large cities and resort areas are satisfactory, but many are rudimentary at best, and are difficult to find in most rural areas and small towns.

SAFETY AND SECURITY ^
U.S. citizens should avoid travel to Haiti at this time. Those 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.

Throughout 2003, Haiti experienced continuing civil and political unrest. Protests and demonstrations occurred frequently throughout the country, and were often violent. Private organizations and businesses were the targets of demonstrations or take-over attempts related to business disputes or extortion demands. Rural areas also became more dangerous.

Although there was a change in government in Haiti in late February 2004, many pockets of instability remain throughout the country. Travel in Haiti is dangerous and not recommended. Some cities and towns are controlled by rogue elements and ordinary services such as water, electricity, police protection and government services are either very limited or unavailable. Violent incidents take place without warning including attacks against government facilities and random shootings. While military personnel from several countries have been in Haiti since the change in government, there are relatively few of them and their missions in Haiti do not include guaranteeing the safety of visitors.

During 2003, the Embassy issued approximately nineteen security-related messages warning U.S. citizens in Haiti of violent or unstable conditions. On occasion, the U.S. mission in Haiti was forced to suspend service to the public or closed because of security concerns. These concerns have also prevented Embassy personnel from traveling to or through some areas. Since December 2003 Embassy personnel have, at times, been prohibited from entering central Port-au-Prince after dark due to lawlessness. The Embassy has also imposed a curfew on its officers from time to time. In situations where the Embassy must suspend operations or when officers are unable to circulate freely, 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.

CRIME ^
There are no "safe areas" in Haiti. Crime, already a problem, has mushroomed in recent years. The U.S. estimates that up to 8% of the cocaine entering the United States 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. These crimes are primarily Haitian against Haitian, though some foreigners and U.S. citizens of Haitian origin have been victimized. At the same time, the number of murders of U.S. citizens decreased from eight in 2002 to two in 2003. While there was only one kidnapping of a U.S. citizen in 2003, several kidnappings involving U.S. citizens have already been reported during 2004.

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, and keep doors and windows in homes and vehicles closed and locked. U.S. citizens should avoid all nighttime travel due to poor road conditions and increased criminal activity after dark. 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.

Criminal perpetrators often operate in groups of two to four individuals, and are disposed occasionally to be confrontational and gratuitously violent. Criminals sometimes will seriously injure or kill those who resist their attempts to commit crime. In robberies or home invasions, it is not uncommon for the assailants to beat or shoot the victim in order to limit the victim�s ability to resist. If an armed individual demands the surrender of a vehicle or other valuables, the U.S. Embassy recommends compliance without resistance. 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 arriving from overseas at 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. Visitors to Haiti should 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.

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 Toussaint L�Ouverture) and its adjoining connectors to the New ("American") Road via Route Nationale #1 (which should also be avoided). 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, lending further potential for violence.

The Haitian police are understaffed, poorly equipped and unable to respond to most calls for assistance. Police complicity, if not involvement, in violent crime in Haiti as well as in the illegal drug trade was regularly alleged under the previous government, although the current interim government has acted to eliminate such police behaviors. The unsatisfactory response and enforcement capabilities of the Haitian national police and the weakness of the judiciary frustrate many victims of crime in Haiti. In the past, U.S. citizens involved in business and property disputes in Haiti have been arrested and detained without charge, and have been released only after intervention at high levels of the Haitian Government.

CRIMINAL PENALTIES ^
While in a foreign country, U.S. citizens are subject to that country's laws and regulations, which sometimes differ significantly from those in the United States and may not afford the protections available to the individual under U.S. law. Penalties for breaking the law can be more severe than in the United States for similar offenses. Persons violating Haitian laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned. The judicial process in Haiti can be extremely long; progress is often dependent on considerations not related to the specific case. Detainees may wait months or years for their cases to be heard before a judge or to have legal decisions acted upon by the authorities. Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Haiti are strict. Those accused of drug-related crimes can expect lengthy legal proceedings, irregular application of Haitian law, and delayed due process. If convicted, offenders may face long jail sentences and substantial fines.

Under the PROTECT Act of April 2003, it is a crime, prosecutable in the United States, for U.S. citizens or permanent resident aliens to exploit children sexually via pornography, the Internet or other means or to engage in illicit sexual conduct with a person under the age of 18 in a foreign country, regardless of whether there was intent.

MEDICAL FACILITIES ^
Medical facilities in Haiti are scarce and for the most part sub-standard; outside the capital standards are even lower. Medical care in Port-au-Prince is limited, and the level of community sanitation is extremely low. Life-threatening emergencies may require evacuation by air ambulance at the patient's expense. Doctors and hospitals often expect immediate cash payment for health services.

DISASTER PREPAREDNESS ^
Haiti, like most Caribbean countries, can be affected by hurricanes and other storms. Hurricane season runs from approximately June 1 - November 30 each year. Extensive flooding as a result of heavy rainfall has occurred in the past. Daily weather information in Haiti is available from national and international media. The Haitian meteorological service provides hurricane warnings via national radio. General information about natural disaster preparedness is available via the Internet from the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) at http://www.fema.gov/.

TRAFFIC SAFETY AND ROAD CONDITIONS ^
While in a foreign country, U.S. citizens may encounter road conditions that differ significantly from those in the United States. The information below concerning Haiti is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.

Safety of Public Transportation: None
Urban Road Conditions/Maintenance: Poor
Rural Road Conditions/Maintenance: Poor
Availability of Roadside Assistance: Poor

Driving in Haiti must be undertaken with extreme caution. The situation on the roads can be described as chaotic at best, and it is advisable for those with no knowledge of Haitian roads and traffic customs to hire a driver through a local hotel. Roads are generally unmarked, and detailed and accurate maps are not widely available. Lanes are not marked and signs indicating the direction of traffic flow seldom exist. This lack of organization, along with huge potholes that occur without warning, may cause drivers to execute unpredictable and dangerous maneuvers in heavy traffic. The Haitian government lacks adequate resources to assist drivers in distress or to clear the road of accidents or broken-down vehicles blocking the flow of traffic. Drinking and driving is illegal in Haiti, but people frequently drive after drinking, especially at night.

Public transportation as it is usually defined does not exist in Haiti. While Haitians use buses, "taptaps" and taxis, which may observe regular routes, much like public transportation, none of these should be considered reliable. The Embassy strongly discourages their use.

Those who drive in Haiti should do so defensively and conservatively, avoid confrontations such as jockeying for position, and remain aware of the vehicles around them. Drivers should carry the phone numbers of people to call for assistance in an emergency, as Haitian authorities are unlikely to respond to requests for assistance. When traveling outside of Port-au-Prince, drivers should caravan with other vehicles to avoid being stranded in the event of an accident or breakdown.

As neither written nor driving tests are required to qualify for driver's licenses, road laws are not generally known or applied. Signaling imminent actions is not widely practiced, and not all drivers use turn indicators or international hand signals properly. For instance, many drivers use their left blinker for all actions, including turning right and stopping in the road, and others flap their left arm out the window to indicate that they will be taking an unspecified action. Drivers do not always verify that the road is clear before switching lanes, turning, or merging.

Speed limits are seldom posted and are generally ignored. Speeding is the cause of many of the fatal traffic accidents in Haiti, as are overloaded vehicles on winding, mountainous roads and vehicles without brakes. Poor maintenance and mechanical failures often cause accidents as well. Drivers should be particularly cautious at night, as unlighted vehicles can appear without warning.

Right of way is not widely observed in Haiti, and there are few operational traffic lights or traffic signs. It is advisable at most intersections to stop and verify that there is no oncoming traffic even if it appears that you have the right of way. Drivers can be quite aggressive and will seldom yield. Walls built to the edge of roads frequently make it impossible to see around corners, forcing drivers to edge their cars into the road at intersections to check for oncoming traffic.

Traffic is extremely congested in urban areas, and hours-long traffic jams develop throughout the country. Cars are supposed to be driven on the right side of the road in Haiti, but few roads have lane indicators and drivers use whatever part of the road is open to them, even if it is not the correct side of the road.

In addition to vehicles, a variety of other objects may appear on the road in Haiti, such as wooden carts dragged by people, small ice cream carts, animals, mechanics with vehicles, and even vendors and their wares. Vehicles are often abandoned in the road or by the side of the road. There are few marked crosswalks and sidewalks, and pedestrians often wend their way through traffic in urban areas.

For additional general information about road safety, including links to foreign government sites, see the Department of State, Bureau of Consular Affairs home page at http://travel.state.gov/road_safety.html. For specific information concerning Haitian driving permits, vehicle inspection, road tax and mandatory insurance, contact the Haitian Ministry of Tourism by email at info@haititourisme.org or via the Internet at http://www.haititourisme.org.

AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT ^
The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has assessed the Government of Haiti�s civil aviation authority as Category 2 -- not in compliance with international aviation safety standards for the oversight of Haiti �s air carrier operations. For further information, travelers may contact the Department of Transportation within the U.S. at 1-800-322-7873, or visit the FAA�s Internet website at http://www.faa.gov/avr/iasa/index.cfm.

Because of serious concerns about the operation of the Haitian air carrier Tropical Airways, particularly regarding its maintenance oversight, U.S. Embassy staff and official visitors to Haiti are instructed to avoid flying aboard either the domestic or the international flights of Tropical Airways. Americans considering travel on Tropical Airways may wish to defer their travel or pursue other means of transportation.

The U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) separately assesses some foreign carriers for suitability as official providers of air services. In addition, DOD does not permit its personnel to use air carriers from Category 2 countries for official business except for flights originating from or terminating in the United States. Local exceptions may apply. For information regarding the DOD policy on specific carriers, travelers may contact DOD at (618) 229-4801.

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Please also refer to the separate Travel Warning for Haiti and to the Worldwide Caution Public Announcement.

June 4, 2004 | Travel Warning

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