Haiti kidnappers demand $17m for US hostages including 8-month-old baby

‘They knew the dangers that they were in, or at least were aware of what could happen’

Gustaf Kilander
Washington, DC
Tuesday 19 October 2021 17:44

Related video: 400 Mawozo gang kidnapped the missionaries: Haiti police

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The Haitian gang who kidnapped 16 missionaries from the US and one from Canada has demanded $1m each for them to be released, a Haitian official has said.

The 17 people, one of them an 8-month-old baby, were taken by the “400 Mawozo” gang on Saturday from an orphanage in Croix-des-Bouquets, a suburb northeast of the capital Port-au-Prince, officials have said.

Haitian justice minister Liszt Quitel said on Monday that the missionaries are being held in a safe house outside the suburb by the gang. Mr Quitel told The Wall Street Journal that Haitian police and the FBI have made contact with the gang members and that negotiations could stretch out for weeks.

The missionaries are from Christian Aid Ministries in Ohio – the group confirmed the kidnapping on Sunday in a statement, adding that those kidnapped included five men, seven women, and five children.

The five children include the 8-month-old baby and four other minors aged 3, 6, 14, and 15.

Dan Hooley, a former field director for Christian Aid Ministries in Haiti, told CNN on Sunday that all the kidnapped missionaries are thought to have been in the same vehicle and that a few managed to get in touch with the organisation’s local director before they were abducted.

“A couple of fellows right away messaged the director and told him what was going on. And one of them was able to drop a pin, and that’s the last thing [the organisation] heard until the kidnappers contacted them later in the day,” Mr Hooley said.

Abductions have become more frequent and brazen as Haiti suffers from political instability following the assassination of President Jovenel Moise on 7 July, as well as civil unrest, poverty, and a lack of access to healthcare made worse by an earthquake on 14 August.

A Haitian transportation union called for an indefinite strike to start on Monday in protest of the kidnappings and other issues just before the missionaries were abducted.

“The welfare and safety of US citizens abroad is one of the highest priorities of the Department of State. We have been in regular contact with senior Haitian authorities and will continue to work with them and inter-agency partners,” the State Department said in a statement on Monday, CNN reported.

A nonprofit based in Port-au-Prince, the Centre for Analysis and Research for Human Rights (CARDH) has said that the rise in abductions is largely due to 400 Mawozo, with gang members being in confrontations with police almost every day and taxing local businesses.

According to CNN, 400 Mawozo and its 150 members have essentially taken over Croix des Bouquets having grown stronger during the last three years. Dozens of people, including foreigners, have been abducted by the gang this year.

The gang used to mainly steal cars but has now started employing a strategy of “collective” kidnappings – abducting groups of people from buses and cars, according to CARDH. The nonprofit also said that the number of kidnappings has spiked by 300 per cent since June, with most of the victims being Haitian citizens. CARDH has released data showing that at least 628 people – including 29 foreigners – have been abducted since January. The centre said 400 Mawozo usually demands a ransom of around $20,000.

“These are very dedicated people, people that have risked their lives, they knew the dangers that they were in, or at least were aware of what could happen, I’m sure,” Mr Hooley said of the missionaries to CNN.

“With all the political uncertainty in Haiti, gangs have taken over. Gangs fighting each other breaks the calm nights with rapid gunfire,” a Christian Aid Ministries missionary wrote in a blog post last year. They added that the group’s base of operations in Titanyen, a village north of the capital, had been threatened by a gang in the area.

The author of the blog post was unidentified, but wrote that they started “working with the gang trying to resolve the ugly situation”.

“After much dialogue, they agreed to lay down their gang mentality and try to find a way to help out the community, instead of terrorising it. Soon they agreed to work on rebuilding a road that goes through town,” they added.

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