Miami Herald : U.S. Warns Americans to Leave Haiti as Security Crisis Deepens, Hostages Remain Captive

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Haitians say the current crisis is the worst to hit the country since the the 1990s, when the international community and Clinton administration maintained economic sanctions after a Sept. 29, 1991, military coup toppled Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide.

Jacqueline Charles and Michael Wilner / Miami Herald (TNS)

Mercredi 10 novembre 2021–

The Biden administration is urging U.S. citizens in Haiti “to strongly consider returning to the United States” amid a gang-aggravated fuel shortage and a deteriorating security climate in which 17 Christian missionaries, including 16 Americans, have been held hostage for more than three weeks.

The message in a Friday security alert from the U.S. Embassy in Port-au-Prince came as Haiti’s commercial banks and other businesses announced reduced hours starting this week, grocery store owners warned of coming food shortages and the United Nations encouraged employees to stock up on emergency supplies of water, food and other essential items.

“The U.N. can confirm that a message was sent to all U.N. staff on 28 October strongly advising them, due to the prevailing security and fuel situation, to stock at least 14 days of emergency supplies of water, food and necessities,” Daniel Dickinson, a spokesperson for the U.N.’s political office in Port-au-Prince, said. “This advice is in line with the U.N.’s security and contingency planning.”

Americans in the country are being encouraged to depart while commercial flights are still available, noting that while the security situation has been unpredictable for months, the environment has deteriorated rapidly in recent days.

“It sounds like an abdication of any kind of responsibility,” Robert Maguire, a longtime Haiti expert who once prepared U.S. diplomats being sent to Port-au-Prince, said of the responses of the U.S and the U.N. to the unfolding crisis, which is expected to get worse this week if authorities don’t manage to supply fuel. “I think this administration would prefer for Haiti to go away. But it’s not going to go away. It seems that there is no real unanimity of what to do in this administration.”

A U.S. State Department spokesperson said that the welfare and safety of U.S. citizens abroad is the highest priority. The U.S. has been encouraging U.S. citizens for some time to avoid non-essential travel to Haiti and those deciding to travel to Haiti should carefully consider the information available on travel.state.gov regarding the extremely high risk of kidnapping.

“Our Travel Advisory for Haiti is a Level 4: Do Not Travel due to kidnapping, crime, civil unrest, and COVID-19,” the spokesperson said. “Kidnapping is widespread and victims regularly include U.S. citizens.”

Over the weekend, ramped up gang shootings in Port-au-Prince led to panic and deaths and further dashed hopes that fuel tankers would be able to get through gang-controlled territories to access blocked distribution terminals.

Gasoline, which is being taken by gangs, who are also kidnapping fuel tank drivers, is currently being sold for as much as $30 a gallon on the informal market. “Prices of basic commodities are going sky high when you can find them,” Craan said.

The Biden administration has sent teams to Port-au-Prince to evaluate the security situation, and FBI agents are still trying to secure the release of the missionaries and their relatives. They were kidnapped over three weeks ago in the Croix-des-Bouquets area after returning from visiting an orphanage. The group includes an eight-month-old baby.

In an interview Friday with Haitian reporters in Port-au-Prince, new U.S. chargé d’affaires Kenneth Merten, when asked about calls for a U.S. intervention or support for a U.N. peacekeeping mission, said, “We don’t want to be accused of meddling.”

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