PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti —
U.N. peacekeepers in Haiti say they are battling an image of fear that is keeping the Caribbean nation mired in hunger and disease, with little hope of attracting foreign visitors and investment.
Forbes magazine has named Haiti one of the world’s 10 most dangerous destinations, along with Iraq, Afghanistan and Somalia.
The Associated Press has called Port-au-Prince the kidnapping capital of the Americas.
The U.S. government maintains a perpetual travel warning on Haiti, while diplomats, journalists and aid workers spend much of their time holed up in fortified hotels.
The image stems largely from two violent years after the 2004 U.S. ouster of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide when the slums of Port-au-Prince erupted in gunbattles between gangs, Haitian police and U.N. peacekeepers, plus a wave of kidnappings.
Today, Haiti’s reputation is undeserved, say security analysts and officials from the U.N. peacekeeping mission. They argue that Haiti is no more violent than any other Latin American country.
“It’s a big myth,” said Fred Blaise, spokesman for the U.N. police force in Haiti. “Port-au-Prince is no more dangerous than any big city. You can go to New York and get pickpocketed and held at gunpoint.”
Reliable statistics are scarce in Haiti, but U.N. data indicate that the country could be among the safest in the region.
The U.N. peacekeeping mission recorded 487 homicides in Haiti last year, or about 5.6 per 100,000 people.
A U.N.-World Bank study last year estimated the Caribbean’s average homicide rate at 30 per 100,000, with Jamaica registering nearly nine times as many — 49 homicides per 100,000 people — as those recorded by the United Nations in Haiti.
In 2006, the neighboring Dominican Republic notched more than four times more homicides per capita than those registered in Haiti: 23.6 per 100,000, according to the Central American Observatory on Violence.
Even the United States would appear to have a higher homicide rate: 5.7 per 100,000 in 2006, according to the U.S. Justice Department.
“There is not a large amount of violence [in Haiti],” said Gen. Jose Elito Carvalho Siquiera, the former Brazilian commander of the U.N. military force in Haiti. “If you compare the levels of poverty here with those of Sao Paolo [Brazil] or other cities, there is more violence there than here.”
The U.N. peacekeeping mission, known as Minustah, arrived in Haiti in June 2004, three months after U.S. troops whisked Mr. Aristide into exile amid an armed rebellion.View Entire Story
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