What’s The Security Situation in Haiti?

 In Partners Program

January 6, 2013
John Engle

I want to share thoughts on security situation in Haiti and also give a family update.

I arrived back in Haiti yesterday with my wife and two children. We spent more than two weeks in US celebrating holidays with family and friends and getting work done. Some people in Haiti think it’s a vacation when we return to US. While we always get some time off and love reconnecting with family and loved ones, being in the US is a great opportunity to get Haiti Partners work done that I can’t do when I’m in Haiti.  Gras a dye (by God’s grace) it was a very fun and productive trip.

Returning to Haiti this time was different from my family’s returns during the last couple of years. Why? My kids were excited about getting back. Sure, they LOVE their time in the US with family and friends and all the luxuries. When we’re in Haiti, they long for trips back to US. But this time, more than ever before, they missed our home in Haiti. They missed family and loved ones here. Last year when we returned to Haiti after spending holidays in US, they cried. What a joy to see the difference!

Today, Sunday they’re laughing and playing with cousins and friends. Click here to see a bunch of photos on Facebook.

During our time in US numerous people contacted us upon learning that US raised the travel advisory in Haiti. When we left Haiti December 18th, things seemed pretty normal. I circulate in Petion-Ville and Port-au-Prince regularly and make frequent trips outside of the capital as well. I talk with dozens of people each day. Between informal conversations with a cross section of people, twitter, email, etc. my wife, who is Haitian and was born and raised in Haiti, and I are very informed. Even when we’re not in Haiti we talk daily with people who are.

Over Christmas, when it’s normal for crime to be up, everyone we spoke with in Haiti reported that there was by no means a spirit of fear and concerns on the streets. On the contrary Haiti was festive, buzzing with traffic and people celebrating in the streets late into the night.

Yesterday, on the way back from the airport we visited a longtime friend at his office on airport road. He’s a prominent Haitian business man and while he shared some frustrations with political scene he indicated that from his perspective, the security situation has continued to be stable.

Today, a friend who is a police and part of a special team that deals with kidnappings and dangerous crimes telephoned to wish us a happy new year. I asked him about security situation. He shared that while there are always going to be crimes and thefts especially in the more dangerous neighborhoods, he sees things as stable and even continuing to improve.  He was surprised to learn that the US heightened the travel advisory warning.

This policeman along with a couple other friends who are police are among the first to let us know when we need to be very cautious because lari cho ! which literally translates the street is hot and means there is danger in one form or another.

This was my second time I came into the recently renovated portion of the airport. It really looks great. We were also pleased to see continued road improvement all over. In the nearly 22 years that I’ve been here, I don’t ever remember seeing as many road improvements in Port-au-Prince and Petion-Ville as I’ve seen in the last year. Not only that, yesterday at 5 pm there were dozens of people on street cleaning duty with brooms and shovels and wheel barrels. We were quite impressed.

This morning our friend Steven Werlin visited as he does almost every Sunday morning. He is an American and didn’t leave over the holidays. He travels through Port-au-Prince each week to and from the Central Plateau where he works. He also visits Cite Soleil frequently and recently walked from Delmas to Cite Soleil and didn’t feel threatened or in danger in any way.

Living here with my wife and two small children means that we take security seriously.

I’m not sure why the travel advisory has been heightened and am wondering if there are political reasons for doing so. Haiti’s growth and improvement is contingent upon Americans, Canadians and other foreigners coming as consumers, investors and aid workers. Heightening the travel advisory will impact the number of people planning to come to Haiti. If I were a government investing in Haiti and encouraging others to do so and I witnessed Haiti’s government make bad decisions that could have impact on future security, I’d likely use measures within my power to make sure my advice was taken ; ). I have no evidence whatsoever that this is what’s really happening. We know that US government is indeed investing a lot in Haiti and encouraging others to do so.

Based on my experience since 1991 when I first moved to Haiti, the security situation at present is very stable. While there have been a number of times over the years that I’ve advised people to not come because of risks of crime and violence, this is not one of those times. I encourage people to come and to be a part of this vibrant culture and country and to engage with us during this exciting time of rebuilding.

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