By Onz Chery | onz@haitiantimes.com

Belize soccer
Belize soccer team and coaching staff posing for a picture. Photo credit: Football Federation of Belize

The video clip opens with a masked man dressed as a police officer holding a rifle in his left hand. He then signals for a dozen men riding motorcycles to ride toward the Belize soccer team’s bus in Port-au-Prince on Monday. 

“The men look wild,” a Belize soccer player can be heard saying in the video of Fantom 509 members, the gang made up of masked police officers, stopping their team bus.

Four police officers who were tasked with escorting the bus then tell the Fantom 509 group that the bus is carrying Belize soccer players. The gang instantly allows the bus to proceed along its way, according to an account shared with Le Nouvelliste.

Experts find it puzzling that Belize’s soccer team traveled to Haiti for a soccer game despite all the reasons various authorities and officials have said not to. 

“I was actually surprised that they [Belize] actually had traveled to Haiti,” said Georges Fauriol, a senior associate at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) who focuses on Haiti. “For security reasons as well as the COVID-19 pandemic issue, I wonder how no one said, ‘Let’s think about this for a second. Is that a good idea?’”

Increasingly, more countries have been advising their residents not to travel to Haiti or for Haitians not to visit them because of the ongoing violence, kidnapping crisis and COVID-19. 

The U.S. Department of State has advised its citizens not to travel to Haiti since August because of the ongoing violence in the country and COVID-19 pandemic. This week, the U.S. Embassy in Haiti tweeted a quote of President Joe Biden saying not to come over.

Scores of Haitians thought Biden was telling them not to travel to the U.S. but Haiti’s Ambassador to the U.S. Bocchit Edmond clarified to The Haitian Times that the president was referring to “the issue at the U.S.-Mexico border, rather than in relation to Haiti.”

One month prior, two Dominican film crew technicians who were in Haiti didn’t receive a free pass like the Belizeans. The technicians were kidnapped for six days along with their Haitian translator. 

In February, the Bahamas began barring people in Haiti from traveling to their country after Haiti held a three-day carnival during the COVID-19 pandemic, a decision other countries disagreed with. An initial ban was issued from Feb. 15 to Mar. 8. Five days later, the Bahamas issued another ban for 30 days because there were concerns that people from Haiti spread the virus, officials said.

“It seems the health professionals were of the view that the additional cases were somehow related to travel to and from Haiti,” Bahamas Minister of Tourism Dionisio D’Aguilar told Eyewitness News.

Elsewhere, Belizeans expressed concerns about their compatriots being in Haiti.

“We need to get our Belize National A Team out of that place as soon as possible,” Gado Torres commented on Facebook. “Were there any red flags raised about travelling to Haiti? Or did we sleep with their eyes, didn’t do our homework and allowed our boys to simply journey on into what could have been a catastrophic event?”

Belize’s soccer team was stopped while leaving the Toussaint Louverture International Airport to head to their hotel. U.S. has warned people of possible carjackings and robberies after leaving the airport.

The Belize team has since requested that FIFA relocate the match scheduled for Thursday, March 25 at 5 p.m. As of Thursday morning, the match was still scheduled to be played in Haiti. 

As for the Belize players, Marlon Kuylen, an executive member of the team, said they can’t focus on playing.

“Our security is not guaranteed and what if we win and the crowd gets out of control again, who’s to say that we will be safe?,” Kuylen told a Belize television station. 

Sports analysts in Haiti said that Belize’s soccer team exaggerated the incident.

“Yes, Haiti is a country where security is uncertain however this report is far from being exactly what the federation of Belize brought up,” sports analyst Christian Bendy Calixte wrote for Haiti-Tempo

On a similar note, gang members who kidnapped the two Dominicans refrained from physically torturing them as they’ve done to other victims, according to local reports. In a twist, videos of the kidnapped men bathing and shopping went viral. In one video, one of the Dominicans and their Haitian translator was seen weeping.

As for the third reason against travel, the pandemic, Haitians have not been following the health guidelines. However, cases remain low. 

Haiti registered only two news cases of COVID on Mar. 18 — the last day for which COVID data was available. In total, Haiti had 12,732 confirmed cases and 251 deaths, according to the Health Ministry.

Onz Chery

Onz Chery started his journalism career as a City College of New York student with The Campus. He also wrote for First Touch, Cosmopolitan Soccer League and other local soccer leagues in New York. After...

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