Chargé: Embassy, diplomatic staff “as safe as it could be”
PORT-AU-PRINCE, HAITI — Security at the Bahamas’ Embassy in Haiti will be increased with additional Royal Bahamas Defence Force officers and more weapons following the kidnapping of a local worker last Thursday.
Eyewitness News understands that the woman employee had gone out to the ATM and was kidnapped as she arrived home sometime around 6am on September 1.
The family of the “long-time employee” is in talks with the kidnappers to negotiate her release, according to Foreign Affairs minister Fred Mitchell, who maintained the government was not involved in the matter.
There are 11 local staff and six diplomatic staff members at the embassy, including Chargé Commander Godfrey Rolle.
Rolle has been tasked with advising the minister on security conditions in Haiti and making recommendations for withdrawal if deemed necessary.
He told Eyewitness News he personally believed it would be “foolhardy” to shutter the embassy given the critical need to interact with Haitian authorities on the ground.
“This is my personal opinion,” he said.
“The fact of the matter is The Bahamas and Haiti have had a history for decades and The Bahamas is the only CARICOM country that has an embassy in Haiti, and for obvious reasons.
“We have a lot of Haitians, or Haitian Bahamians, or whatever the designation is, living in The Bahamas. We also have a migrant problem. It would be foolhardy for us to close our embassy and not have any contact with the Haitian government on the ground when we have all of these factors in play.”
Mitchell has confirmed the government has not issued an order for their withdrawal but diplomats are free to return home if they want.
“We asked them, if they wish to come home they can, but we haven’t ordered a withdrawal because we need diplomats in the place,” Mitchell said in an interview on Saturday.
“We are taking some additional security measures, I think additional defense force officers going in and it will probably be an increase in the weapons as well so those are the steps we’re taking.
Mitchell added: “[Rolle] he’s been asked to tell us when he deems it prudent for us to get out of there but at the moment he doesn’t think so.”
In a release on Saturday, the ministry advised that the matter has been reported to the police in Haiti and is being investigated. It added that while additional security measures are being taken, the diplomatic staff generally are not at risk.
“Our prayers are with the victim and family for a safe and speedy return. We will assist the authorities to the extent that we can,” the statement read.
Kidnappings and gang violence have reportedly surged in Haiti in recent weeks as it continues to grapple with political and economic instability. The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reported last month that hundreds of people have been killed in clashes with gangs in Haiti’s Cité Soleil since July.
In a statement, former Foreign Affairs minister Darren Henfield expressed concern over the incident and expressed hope the matter is resolved satisfactorily.
Yesterday, Rolle explained that gang activity has been a longstanding challenge in Haiti. He said he believed the Haitian National Police are getting a better handle on the gangs in the areas where they operate. Rolle furthered the embassy and housing for its diplomatic staff were located in a business and shopping district that is more heavily policed.
He noted that there were some locally employed staff that lived in areas where there is gang activity.
Rolle said both diplomatic and local staff have been advised not to come to work if they don’t feel safe, and not to return until they do.
“It’s as safe as it could be,” he said of embassy operations.
Rolle continued: “I’ve spent a total of seven years in Haiti. I first went as a part of peace keeping force when [former President of Haiti Jean-Bertrand Aristide] came back and as with any place you have to use common sense.
“There are some placed in New York or Washington where it probably wouldn’t make sense to go and the same applies for Haiti. For us in the diplomatic field, we are as secured as you can be.”