The U.S. Embassy in Port-au-Prince informs U.S. citizens that carnival season has begun and advises citizens to take extra security precautions. This year’s annual celebration of Carnival is expected to bring tens of thousands of partygoers and observers. Characterized by large raucous, (and often intoxicated) crowds, Carnival can be a fun, yet potentially unsafe place for revelers. Good judgment and personal security awareness are critical. Strong-arm robberies, assaults, and pick pocketing remain the most likely threats against those who are victimized at Carnival.
Although the ‘official’ dates for Carnival are from February 26 – 28, many traditional festivities are currently ongoing and will run through the final day. The official Carnival celebration in Port-au-Prince will take place in the Champ-de-Mars/downtown area. Embassy personnel are restricted from that area and may only attend celebrations as official representation with security escort. One can expect to see many Carnival related activities in and around Port-au-Prince. U.S. Embassy personnel are strictly prohibited from participation in Carnival activities in Les Cayes, due to the fluid security situation in the area as a result of Hurricane Matthew.
It is expected that all the carnival-related inconveniences (traffic, random “Ra-Ra” bands in the streets, road closures, crowds, etc.) will increase as the official dates approach.
Ra-Ra Bands will be out in the streets with increased frequency on Sunday afternoons and evenings leading up to Carnival. Band members may crowd around vehicles, block them in, bang on windows, crack bull whips, twirl knives and machetes, and make a lot of noise. It can be a potentially unsettling situation, but generally speaking, bands remain non-violent.
Should you get caught in a Ra-Ra band while driving:
- Keep windows rolled up and doors locked.
- Put the car in park until the band passes. The driver will be in the most danger if he/she attempts to drive through the crowd.
If you attend this year’s Carnival celebrations, despite these concerns, take the following security precautions.
- View Carnival parades and festivities from private or “controlled access” viewing stands or vantage points on private property.
- Avoid walking through, or stopping in large crowds of people along the routes of Carnival processions. Stay to the periphery of condensed activity, as these areas are considered safer.
- Avoid getting swept into “Ra-Ra” band groups. These spontaneous celebrations tend to be especially unruly and are prime opportunities for criminal activity.
- Travel and stay in groups. Never leave a traveling companion alone with plans to “meet up” later.
- Keep a cell phone at all times. Carry a flashlight.
- Avoid wearing flashy or expensive jewelry.
- Keep money and wallets in front pocket. Avoid taking purses or other bags. Do not put bags on the ground or hang loosely on one shoulder.
- Keep identification on you at all times.
- Stay on the Main Roads at all times. Do not take “shortcuts” when walking to or from the event. Most crimes against persons occur when people wander onto dark side streets departing the event.
- Avoid confrontations of any type. Quickly move away from any incident of violence or overzealous behavior that might trap you or otherwise risk injury to you. Know your best route of escape and be prepared to move in that direction.
- Have a plan. In the instance your group is separated, have a pre-determined rally point, along with a drop-dead time to meet at the end of the night.
- Road travel to and from other cities presents hazards such as drunk or reckless drivers, increased traffic, and increased potential for roadblocks. Always travel city to city during daytime hours.
- Travel in two or more vehicles outside of Port-au-Prince, in case of breakdown or emergency.
If you see anything suspicious, please leave the area immediately. If you have any questions regarding this or any security advisory, or should you have any security concerns, please see our Travel Warning.
For further information about security in Haiti:
- See the State Department’s travel website for the Worldwide Caution, Travel Warnings, Travel Alerts, and Haiti Specific Information.
- Enroll in the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) to receive security messages and make it easier to locate you in an emergency.
- Contact the U.S. Embassy in Haiti, located at Tabarre 41, Boulevard du 15 Octobre, Tabarre, Haiti; telephone 509-2229-8900; after-hours emergency telephone 509-2229-8122; ACS unit fax 509-2229-8027; e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org; website.
- Call 1-888-407-4747 toll-free in the United States and Canada or 1-202-501-4444 from other countries from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Eastern Standard Time, Monday through Friday (except U.S. federal holidays).