Tuesday, July 3, 2007
Thinking of a visit?
The Dominican Republic is a prime tourist destination, although most visitors stay in all inclusive resorts. Here is the report from the US State Department:
SAFETY AND SECURITY: American citizens should be aware that foreign tourists are often considered attractive targets for criminal activity, and should maintain a low profile to avoid becoming victims of violence or crime. In dealing with local police, U.S. citizens should be aware that the standard of professionalism might vary. Police attempts to solicit bribes have been reported, as have incidents of police using excessive force.
Protests, demonstrations, and general strikes occur periodically. Previous political demonstrations have sometimes turned violent, with participants rioting and erecting roadblocks, and police sometimes using deadly force in response. Political demonstrations do not generally occur in areas frequented by tourists and are generally not targeted at foreigners. However, it is advisable to exercise caution when traveling throughout the country. Street crowds should be avoided. In urban areas, travel should be conducted on main routes whenever possible. Power outages occur frequently throughout the Dominican Republic, and travelers should remain alert during blackout periods, as crime rates often increase during these outages.
U.S. citizens considering overland travel between the Dominican Republic and Haiti should first consult the Consular Information Sheet for Haiti as well as the Internet site of the U.S. Embassy in Port-au-Prince for information about travel conditions in Haiti. Santo Domingo and the majority of tourist destinations within the Dominican Republic are located several hours from the Haitian border, and recent events in Haiti have generally not directly affected these areas.
And a bit of a more personal approach from the government of Canada:
This information is current as of today, document.write(Date()+".") Tue Jul 03 2007 17:55:18 GMT-0500 (Eastern Standard Time).
GENERAL SAFETY MEASURES
The security situation is stable, but demonstrations and protests occasionally occur. These are not targeted at foreigners and do not happen near resorts. Canadians should exercise caution, monitor local news reports, and avoid large crowds and demonstrations.
Aquatic equipment offered at the beach may not meet Canadian safety standards. Check that your travel insurance covers recreational activities. Swimmers should remain in well-marked and supervised areas and be aware of water conditions including the possibility of strong undertows. Avoid swimming at or walking on deserted and unpatrolled beaches after dark.
Avoid excursions that are not recommended by tour operators. In general, travellers should ensure tour operators have taken proper safety measures, including the use of safety equipment such as helmets and life jackets, before undertaking extreme or eco-tourism types of activities, especially for excursions to the 27 Charcos/Damajagua waterfalls near Puerto Plata.
A number of cases have been reported of Canadians losing large sums of money while playing Progressive Keno, Super Keno and other Keno or Progressive Roulette games at Casinos. These games operate on a progressive wagering basis, and large amounts of money can be lost rapidly. Canadians should exercise caution in hotel casinos where these games are offered, especially when requested to provide credit card information.
The crime rate has increased. While violent crime, including assault, has affected a few foreigners, petty crime, including pick pocketing, is common in urban areas. Thefts have also been reported in resorts. Canadians should exercise caution and be aware of their surroundings, especially after dark. Avoid showing signs of affluence and ensure passports and other travel documents are secured at all times. Do not leave personal belongings unattended on the beach.
Theft of items from checked baggage at airports, particularly in Puerto Plata, has recently increased. Thefts are reported most frequently upon departure. Money and personal items are sometimes stolen from carry-on luggage while travellers are going through security checks. Do not pack valuables in your checked luggage. Items most likely to disappear include electronics (especially digital cameras), jewellery and perfume. All bags are routinely x-rayed on arrival and departure, as part of normal local procedure.
In the event that documents are lost or stolen, travellers should obtain a police report in order to receive a passport or an appropriate travel document from the Embassy of Canada in Santo Domingo or the Consulate of Canada in Puerto Plata.
Unaccompanied female travellers should exercise caution in dealing with strangers or recent acquaintances, especially regarding the acceptance of rides or other invitations. Incidents of assault, rape and sexual aggression against foreigners have been reported, including at beach resorts. In some cases, hotel employees have been implicated. Anyone who is a victim of sexual assault or other crimes should report the crime immediately. No criminal investigation is possible without a formal complaint to the Dominican authorities.
The Tourist Police (POLITUR) can provide assistance to tourists. They can be reached at 809-686-8639, or toll-free at: 1-200-3500.
Canadians planning to visit any area near the Dominican/Haitian border should be aware that Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada is advising Canadians to avoid all travel to Haiti.
And the reason that I am now living here rather than in Haiti - from the US government:
January 10, 2007
This Travel Warning is being issued to remind American citizens of ongoing security concerns in Haiti, including frequent kidnappings of Americans for ransom. Travelers are strongly advised to thoroughly consider the risks before travel to Haiti, and to take adequate precautions to ensure their safety if they do so. This Travel Warning supersedes the Travel Warning issued July 7, 2006, and expires July 9, 2007.
U.S. citizens traveling to and residing in Haiti are reminded that there is a chronic and growing danger of kidnappings. Most kidnappings are criminal in nature, and the kidnappers make no distinctions of nationality, race, gender or age; all are vulnerable. Over 60 Americans were kidnapped in 2006, most in Port-au-Prince. Many abductions are the result of carjacking or home invasions. Past kidnappings have been marked by deaths, sexual assault, shooting and physical assault of Americans. The lack of civil protections in Haiti, as well as the limited capability of local law enforcement to resolve kidnapping cases, further compounds the element of danger surrounding this trend.
U.S. citizens are also reminded of the potential for spontaneous protests and public demonstrations that can occur at any time, day or night, and may result in violence. While the nation-wide elections for municipal and other local positions on December 3rd, 2006, were conducted peacefully, political violence can occur at any time. American citizens are advised to take commonsense precautions and avoid any event where crowds may congregate. Visitors and residents must remain vigilant due to the absence of an effective police force in much of Haiti; the potential for looting; the presence of intermittent roadblocks set by armed gangs or by the police; and the possibility of random violent crime, including carjacking and assault.
Travel can be hazardous within Port-au-Prince. Some areas are off-limits to embassy staff, including downtown Port-au-Prince after dark. U.S. Embassy personnel are under an embassy-imposed curfew and must remain in their homes or in U.S. government facilities during the curfew. The embassy has limited travel by its staff outside of Port-au-Prince and therefore its ability to provide emergency services to U.S. citizens outside of Port-au-Prince is constrained. The UN stabilization force (MINUSTAH) remains fully deployed and is assisting the government of Haiti in providing security.
Due to the current security situation in Haiti, the Department of State reminds U.S. citizens traveling to or residing in Haiti to remain vigilant with regard to their personal security; they are strongly advised to register either online at https://travelregistration.state.gov/ibrs/ or with the Consular Section of the U.S. Embassy in Port-au-Prince. The Consular Section can be reached at (509) 223-7011, fax number (509) 223-9665, or e-mail address email@example.com. Travelers should also consult the Department of State's latest Consular Information Sheet for Haiti and Worldwide Caution Public Announcement at http://travel.state.gov. American citizens may also obtain up-to-date information on security conditions by calling 1-888-407-4747 toll free in the United States or Canada or 1-202-501-4444 from overseas. In Haiti citizens can call 509/222-0200, ext. 2000.
And from Canada:
WARNINGS AND RECOMMENDATIONS
The hurricane season extends from June 1st to November 30th. For more information, please see our Current Issues on the hurricane season.
OFFICIAL WARNING: Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada advises against all travel to the region(s) specified below. (IDW5)
Travellers are advised against all travel in the Gonaïves region, Trou du Nord, the Cap-Haïtien region, and in the neighbourhoods of Martissant, Carrefour, Bel Air, Sonapi and Cité Soleil in the Port-au-Prince area. The security situation in these areas is unstable and dangerous.
OFFICIAL WARNING: Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada advises against non-essential travel to this country. (IDW7)
It is imperative that all Canadians who must travel to Haiti have suitable accompaniment. They must ensure that they are expected by family members, friends, colleagues, local business representatives or organizations able to meet them as soon as they arrive at the airport or border, and to guide them in their travels. No public transport of any kind is recommended.
Canadians who must travel to Haiti must be extremely vigilant throughout the country. Since the beginning of 2007, actions by the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) to disband criminal gangs and ensure the safety of citizens has caused criminals to flee the capital. These criminals have taken refuge in certain regions where an upsurge of insecurity has been observed.
Although travel in the provinces presents less of a risk once beyond the suburbs of Port-au-Prince, travellers are advised to exercise extreme caution and not to travel after dark.
Despite improvement since early 2007, the situation is relatively dangerous throughout the country owing to criminal activity combined with the difficulties the police have in organizing themselves and ensuring order. Personal safety cannot be guaranteed by local authorities, and police presence is not guaranteed in all cities. In most cities, the police are unable to respond in a timely manner to calls for assistance. It is strongly advised to avoid going out after nightfall, especially in the areas most at risk.
The security situation is dangerous and unpredictable. Kidnappings and carjackings still occur regularly in Haiti. The general Haitian population, regardless of level or social class, can be considered at risk of being kidnapped. However, there have already been kidnappings involving Canadians and other foreign nationals, including missionaries, aid workers and children. Most victims have been released after paying large ransoms. However, in some cases, victims have disappeared or have been killed.
Canadians in Haiti should monitor local developments and news broadcasts, and review their security arrangements carefully. In light of the uncertainty regarding the security situation, the Government of Canada does not allow dependents under 18 years of age to accompany Canada-based staff posted to Port-au-Prince.
The Embassy of Canada in Port-au-Prince remains fully operational. However, because of current problems with transportation and communications, the Embassy may be unable to provide consular assistance to Canadians, including in emergency situations or in the event of a natural disaster. The Government of Haiti’s capacity in responding to such situations is also low.
Because the situation can change at any moment, visitors are advised to check with the organizations, institutes or hosts that are taking care of them to receive the latest updates on the security situation in the region they are travelling to.
It is the responsibility of individual travellers to make informed travel choices. The Government of Canada takes very seriously the safety and security of Canadians abroad and provides credible and timely advice in its Country Travel Reports. Situations vary from country to country, and there may be constraints on government resources, which can limit the ability of the Government of Canada to provide assistance, particularly in countries where the potential for violent conflict or political instability are high. In the event of a crisis situation that requires evacuation, the Government of Canada’s policy is to provide safe transportation to the closest safe location. Canada will assist Canadians in leaving a country as a last resort, when all means of commercial or personal transportation have been exhausted. This service is provided on a cost-recovery basis. Onward travel is at the individual’s personal expense.
3. SAFETY AND SECURITY
The decision to travel is the sole responsibility of the traveller. The traveller is also responsible for his or her own personal safety. The purpose of this Travel Report is to provide Canadians with up-to-date information to enable them to make well-informed decisions.
Demonstrations, protest marches and strikes may occur at any time in the capital, throughout the country and on main highways. Local transportation services can be disrupted. Avoid large crowds, particularly in downtown Port-au-Prince, as they can quickly turn into violent demonstrations with gunfire and burning barricades. The rhetoric of some activists and popular organizations has been anti-foreign. Canadians should monitor the political situation and remain indoors during political rallies and demonstrations. Curfews may be imposed.
Route Nationale No. 1 (toward the north), Route Nationale No. 2 (toward the south), and rural roads close to the Dominican Republic border are particularly vulnerable to roadblocks erected to protest social and economic conditions. You should not attempt to cross blockades, even if they appear unattended.
Criminal activity is endemic throughout Haiti, especially in large centres such as downtown Port-au-Prince and Gonaïves, where armed and extremely dangerous gangs operate.
Murder, kidnapping, armed robberies, burglaries, and carjackings (especially on Route Nationale No. 1, in the port area, and on the road to the airport) are common in daylight hours. Avoid walking alone at all times. Keep car windows closed and doors locked when travelling
Avoid showing visible signs of affluence, such as wearing expensive-looking jewellery or cameras. Remain cautious with new acquaintances offering friendship or hospitality. Foreigners, including Canadians, are viewed as wealthy and have been robbed, kidnapped and murdered. Travellers should comply and not resist if attacked.
Remain alert to small groups of loiterers, especially near your residence. Keep doors and windows secure at all times. Instruct domestic staff to only permit pre-authorized visitors whose identities have been verified into your home. Keep all visitors under close supervision.
Personal and luggage security cannot be guaranteed at the Port-au-Prince airport. Arriving passengers are often overwhelmed by the large crowd of loiterers outside the terminal who pretend to offer porter or taxi services. Canadians have been arrested for drug trafficking after they agreed to check in bags for new acquaintances.
Foreigners have reported the theft of their yachts and sailboats in Haiti.
Avoid photographing individuals without obtaining their approval first. Shantytowns should not be photographed.