The United States Department of State has issued a new travel warning for American citizens traveling to or living in Haiti over the current security situation.
The State Department said the new warning replaces the previous one, dated June 18, 2012.
It updates information regarding the level of crime, the presence of cholera, lack of adequate infrastructure – particularly in medical facilities – seasonal severe inclement weather, and limited police protection.
The State Department urges U.S. citizens to exercise caution when visiting Haiti.
“Thousands of U.S. citizens safely visit Haiti each year, but the poor state of Haiti’s emergency response network should be carefully considered when planning travel,” the statement said.
“Travelers to Haiti are encouraged to use organizations that have solid infrastructure, evacuation, and medical support options in place,” it added.
“U.S. citizens have been victims of violent crime, including murder and kidnapping, predominantly in the Port-au-Prince area,” the statement continued. “No one is safe from kidnapping, regardless of occupation, nationality, race, gender, or age.”
The State Department said that in recent months, travelers arriving in Port-au-Prince on flights from the United States were attacked and robbed shortly after departing the airport.
It said at least two U.S. citizens were shot and killed in robbery and kidnapping incidents in 2012, stating that Haitian authorities have “limited capacity to deter or investigate such violent acts, or prosecute perpetrators.”
The State Department said the ability of local authorities to respond to emergencies is also limited and, in some areas, “nonexistent.”
It said local health, police, judicial, and physical infrastructure limitations mean there are few local resources available to help resolve the problem in an emergency.
For this reason, the State Department said the U.S. Embassy limits staff travel in areas outside of Port-au-Prince, which, in turn, constrains its ability to provide emergency services to U.S. citizens outside of Port-au-Prince.
The State Department stated that U.S. Embassy personnel are under an Embassy-imposed curfew of 1:00 am to 5:00 am, warning that they “must remain at home or at another safe facility during curfew hours.”
Additionally, the department said there are restrictions on travel by Embassy staff in other areas or times.
“This, too, may constrain the Embassy’s ability to provide emergency services to U.S. citizens outside Port-au-Prince,” it said.
The State Department said the Haitian National Police (HNP), with assistance from the United Nations’ Stabilization Force for Haiti (MINUSTAH), are responsible for keeping the peace and rendering assistance.
However, given the possibility and unpredictability of protests, including the potential (as with any protest) to become violent, it said HNP’s ability to assist U.S. citizens during disturbances is very limited.
The State Department said Haiti’s infrastructure remains in poor condition and unable to fully support even normal activity, much less crisis situations.
It said U.S. government-facilitated evacuations, such as the evacuation that took place after the earthquake in Haiti in 2010, occur only when no safe commercial alternatives exist.
The State Department said medical facilities, including ambulance services, are particularly weak, stating that some U.S. citizens injured in accidents and others with serious health concerns have been unable to find necessary medical care in Haiti and have had to arrange and pay for medical evacuation to the United States.
“Given these conditions and the cost of private evacuations, visitors to Haiti are strongly encouraged to obtain evacuation insurance, including for medical issues that may arise,” it said.
The department said while incidents of cholera have declined significantly, cholera persists in many areas of Haiti.
Prior to travel, it warned U.S. citizens to obtain information about cholera and other health-related issues by visiting the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website at www.cdc.gov