The U.S. State Department on Wednesday urged all U.S. citizens to leave the Caribbean country of Haiti as soon as possible.
"Given the current security situation and infrastructure challenges, U.S. citizens in Haiti should depart Haiti as soon as possible via commercial or private transport," the State Department said in an updated security alert. "Multiple airlines and charter companies currently offer flights from Haiti’s international airports (Port-au-Prince and Cap-Haitien)."
"Flights fill up quickly and seats may only be available several days or even weeks in advance of departure. Given that there may be a limited number of seats, U.S. citizens should consider booking flights in advance, the alert added, providing a "non-exhaustive list" of commercial airlines servicing Haiti: American Airlines, JetBlue, Spirit. Air Caraibe and Sunrise Airways.
"U.S. citizens wishing to depart Port-au-Prince should monitor local news and only do so when considered safe," the alert said. "Please contact ACSPAP@state.gov if you are having challenges in departing Haiti or if you need to apply or request the return of a U.S. passport (or other travel document) to travel to the United States."
U.S. citizens are urged to use extreme caution in traveling around the country and avoid demonstrations and large gatherings of people. Americans who might encounter a roadblock are encouraged to turn around and get to a safe area.
The State Department said to make and practice contingency plans for sheltering in place and/or accessing airports and to review the guidance on travel to high-risk areas. Traveling to high-risk areas "may put you at increased risk for kidnapping, hostage-taking, theft, and serious injury," according to the State Department websites.
In high-risk areas, U.S. citizens are subject to the laws and the legal system of the country they are visiting, and in many of those high-risk areas, the State Department says it "cannot help you."
The security update did not say what led to the State Department's decision to issue it, but escalating gang violence in the country has prompted local evacuations and protests.
The director of Haiti’s National Police vowed Monday to hold accountable those who encouraged hundreds of parishioners to take up machetes and sticks over the weekend to try and rid a community of gang members, only to be fatally shot by them.
Police Chief Frantz Elbé said the group’s religious leader, identified as Marcorel Zidor, participated in the protest Saturday and was accompanied by unidentified people clad in olive green carrying assault rifles as they and the parishioners marched toward the community of Canaan.
Elbé said the group drew gunfire from gang members, and that "multiple" people were killed and several kidnapped, though he did not provide numbers.
Also this week, a judge in Haiti is for the first time interrogating some of the 18 Colombian suspects arrested more than two years ago and accused of being part of a mercenary squad that assassinated President Jovenel Moïse, according to The Associated Press.
The former Colombian soldiers earlier had refused to talk when questioned by a judge who previously had been assigned to the case. The first two suspects were transported on Monday and Tuesday from Haiti’s main penitentiary in downtown Port-au-Prince to a government office in nearby Petion-Ville, where they were undergoing interrogations by Judge Walther Wesser Voltaire.
The 18 Colombians are among more than 40 suspects, including elite Haitian police officers who were arrested in Haiti, after Moïse was fatally shot in July 2021 in his private residence. The investigation in Haiti has moved very slowly, in part due to a high turnover of judges overseeing the case.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.