Looking After a Reporter in Port au Prince, Haiti
TSS Latam’s most recent high risk task took place a few weeks ago in the city of Port au Prince in Haiti. This empoverished country has been convoluted lately with episodes like the assassination of their President by a group of Colombian mercenaries and the gang wars to take over roads and strangle the capital’s supply of fuel and water and be able to take a strong position in negotiations with the government.
Our main office in Bogotá, Colombia was contacted by the client in order to establish the feasability of having a reporter doing some field work in Haiti. Before giving a positive answer, we had a conversation with our local resources to establish the kind of risks we were looking at if accepting this task. The main two risks established were kidnapping and being in the wrong place at the wrong moment which could result in being caught in the crossfire of a gang fight.
Next we had a new meeting with our client in which we gave them an idea of the risks involved and the conditions under which we would accept this job, which were not negotiable. Our conditions were: the use of an armored vehicle, having an armed security agent with the reporter at all times and operating only between 7:00 am and 4:00 pm. In addition, the reporter must follow all instructions received from the security agent. After the client acknowledged this, we decided to accept the task and set the operation up.
For this job we selected an armored SUV, Toyota Prado, recent model. Allthough this type of vehicle may stand out, it is usually used by NGO’s and foreign agencies. Additionally, these types of vehicles are in optimal functioning condition.
Next we chose our team, local Haitian elements, a security driver and armed executive protection agent, English speaking both of them. This is essential for communication with the traveller and command center.
The reporter arrived on a Friday afternoon and immediately got to work. He would be interviewing local players in the political scene. This involved visiting different areas of the city which were evaluated previously to determine the convenience of visiting or not. Biggest challenge was that the photographer that accompanied the reporter wanted photos of the city at dawn and dusk, which were out of the timeframe established by us as safe. As we said at the beginning, this condition was not negotiable. Reporters who cover these high risk environments can be stubborn at times, but we were able to convince him that this was for his safety.
The trip lasted for three days which went by without any type of incidents. Most valuable lesson learned is that travellers need to be briefed by their superiors of the conditions existing on the ground to be able to carry out a safe trip.