By Onz Chery
In late October, Junior Aristide was thinking about taking a 30-member film crew to Haiti to shoot his first feature film. But then news broke of high schooler Evelyne Sincère’s kidnapping-murder in early November.
Later that month, guitarist Philippe Augustin and prominent physician Dr. Hans Thelemaque were kidnapped as well, among others. The kidnapping spree continued into December with the snatching of musician Dickens Princivil, the National Palace security head’s wife, Maritza Herard, and street vendor Magdala “Dadou” Louis taken hostage. Many more made the news and countless others did not.
Aristide, 27, decided to shelf the film trip to Haiti this year based on the news. By foregoing the visit, Aristide joins a sea of Haitian-Americans who chose not to travel to Haiti during the ongoing period of insecurity and the novel coronavirus pandemic, many choosing not to risk the trip even for the holidays.
“People are carrying guns like cellphones in Haiti in some places,” Aristide said. “We put a full stop on going to Haiti. I just can’t believe what I’m seeing.”
As of October, Haitian civil society groups have reported 161 kidnappings up from the 35 reported kidnappings in 2019, according to the U.S. Overseas Security Advisory Council. Haitian-Americans have been among the victims during the kidnapping surge, the agency said.
Haiti’s economy, which heavily depends on tourism and often enjoys a boost during the holidays, is sure to be impacted —if the trend holds. The number of tourists who visited the country dropped from 1,332,000 in 2018 to 938,000 in 2019 as the insecurity grew worse. During that period, tourism revenue decreased from $779 million to $703 million, according to Statista.
The numbers will likely keep dropping because, historically, an uptick in violence in Haiti usually means a decrease in Haitian-Americans heading back home. With the rise of COVID-19 cases in the United States prompting public health experts to advise against mass travel domestically during the holidays, that change too can depress travel overall. Globally, according to the International Air Transport Association, air travel is down by 66 percent.
To stimulate travel to Haiti, its government has worked with airlines to ensure flights are available, officials said. President Jovenel Moïse has pushed directly for Haitians in the diaspora to visit the country during the holidays.
“We’re asking diasporas to return home for the end of the year. Come see your family. Come see you friends,” Moïse posted on Twitter Nov. 6.
Haitian-Americans have frowned at the ask from Moïse’s. On social media, many rejected the ask outright.
Kerry Waynes Officiel’s tweet in English: “You want them to kill the diasporas.”
Tinègbizotonan’s tweet in English: “To which country? Not the Haiti I see, where there’s kidnapping and insecurity in every corner of the country. Well, Mister President, your Haiti is upside down.”
Aristide, who lives in Los Angeles, was equally puzzled about the tweet.
“I don’t understand his logic behind that because we’re still under a pandemic,” Aristide said of the Moïse tweet. “How do you think people who live in the United States, or people all over the world, are going to feel when you encourage them to come to a country where you can’t even protect your own residents? That’s a joke.”
Still, many in the U.S. are planning to visit Haiti.
Julian Smith Jr., a Haitian-American based in Atlanta, plans to visit for the first time in the annual Sovereign Haiti Initiative (S.H.I.) Nation’s Call tour from Dec. 30 to Jan. 8. The group plans to visit Hinche, Milot and Port-au-Prince.
“I understand how much of an impact tourism can have on the economy,” Smith, 34, said. “You made your money in America, come home for a few days or so and head back.”
Smith said he’s not afraid to visit mainly because he will be with a group. He also said even if there are fewer festivities, simply setting foot in his ancestors’ land will be worth the trip.
“I look forward to seeing [Haiti] for myself,” he said.