President Jovenel Moïse has faced opposition protests over government corruption and severe economic conditions since he first came to power in February 2017. The first outbreak of significant and widespread civil unrest occurred in July 2018 after Haitian officials announced fuel price increases of 38-51%, as part of the government's agreement to an International Monetary Fund (IMF) assistance package. The subsequent reversal of these fuel price hikes had little effect, as the opposition protests had evolved into a broader condemnation of the government by then. Protests surged again in response to an August 2018 Senate report that detailed alleged embezzlement of public funds worth approximately HTG 146 billion (USD 2 billion) between 2008 and 2016. Worsening living conditions for ordinary Haitians, coupled with the perceived impunity of corrupt government officials, has led to a climate of heightened government anti-sentiment, which will most likely persist until President Moïse resigns.
Economic Crisis in Haiti
Haiti’s security situation is likely to remain fluid over the coming weeks, amid heightened political tensions. The latest round of violent protests began Feb. 7, in response to the depreciation of the national currency, increases in the prices of necessities, and worsening fuel shortages. The economic crisis has prompted opposition groups such as the Platfòm Pitit Desalin political party, as well as the Secteur Democratique et Populaire and PetroCaribe Challenge activist groups, to demand the immediate resignation of President Moïse.
The government’s attempts to quell the unrest by seeking to address the economic crisis have not had the intended effect of appeasing opposition protesters. On Feb. 5, Haiti's Council of Ministers declared a national state of economic emergency to address the situation, and on Feb. 16, Prime Minister Jean-Henry Céant announced that the government would cut the prime minister's budget by 30% and withdraw all unnecessary privileges for high-level government officials. Opposition groups, however, are adamant that the only solution is the resignation of the president, while Moïse so far remains insistent on staying in power. A protracted protest campaign will place increased pressure on Moïse to step down as president; however, a significant challenge for opposition leaders is maintaining the momentum of anti-government protests amid the widespread shortages of food and water.
Violent Anti-Government Protests
The most disruptive protests are likely to remain focused on Port-au-Prince; however, protests are highly likely in other large cities, such as Cap-Haïtien, Hinche, Jacmel, Les Cayes, Petit-Goâve, and Saint-Marc. There is a heightened threat of violence at all protests in Haiti; at least eight people have been killed in the civil unrest since Feb. 7. The violence could be incidental or targeted – protesters in Haiti have been known to throw rocks at bystanders and passing vehicles. Demonstrators have burned vehicles, vandalized businesses, and attacked government buildings; protesters previously set fire to the city hall in Saint-Marc. Security forces are known to use robust crowd-control tactics and have frequently made use of tear gas to disperse the protests; the use of live ammunition has also become increasingly common during protests, especially in the capital.
Protests and riots have the potential to cripple transport throughout Haiti and force businesses to close at short notice. Public services, including public transport, are highly likely to be disrupted, potentially increasing staff absenteeism. Worsening fuel shortages are also like to negatively impact transportation. Roadblocks, a common tactic used by protesters, have the potential to cripple business operations and transport within and between cities. Recently affected routes include the main route leading to Port-au-Prince's Toussaint Louverture International Airport (PAP), as well as National Route 2 between the capital and the Tiburon Peninsula, and National Route 3 between the capital and Hinche, further north.
Advice for Organizations and Personnel in Haiti
The US State Department issues a Level 4: Do Not Travel Advisory, effective Feb. 14, due to the widespread, violent, and unpredictable demonstrations in Haiti. The US government has limited ability to provide emergency services to US citizens due to reduced staffing and security concerns. The advisory also indicates that travelers are sometimes targeted, followed, and violently attacked and robbed shortly after leaving PAP.
Organizations and persons operating in Haiti should ensure that security reviews of facilities, employee travel, and residential areas are regularly conducted in response to security developments, and that adequate insurance is in place for local personnel. Operating sites should have 24-hour security and access control in place, while employees should receive regular briefings on in-country threats and mitigation measures. Adequate asset-protection measures should also be adopted for the transfer of cargo between cities. In general, operations should be conducted during daylight hours; persons in-country should cease operations and shelter in place if violence erupts nearby.
Keep the following tips in mind if you decide to travel to or remain in Haiti:
- Avoid demonstrations. Do not attempt to drive through roadblocks.
- Arrange airport transfers and hotels in advance, or have your host meet you upon arrival.
- Be careful about providing your destination address in Haiti. Do not provide personal information to unauthorized individuals located in the immigration, customs, or other areas inside or near any airports in Haiti.
- As you leave the airport, make sure you are not being followed. If you notice you are being followed, drive to the nearest police station immediately.
- Do not physically resist any robbery attempt.
- Purchase travel insurance and medical evacuation insurance ahead of time.
- Review information on Travel to High-Risk Areas.
- Enroll in the US State Department’s Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) to receive Alerts and make it easier to locate you in an emergency.
- Follow the Department of State on social media.
- Review the Overseas Security Advisory Council report on Haiti.
- US citizens who travel abroad should always have a contingency plan for emergency situations. Review the Department of State’s Traveler’s Checklist.
Access intelligence alerts about the deteriorating situation in Haiti.
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