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Wednesday, December 8, 2021

Mass kidnapping of US missionaries stuns even kidnap-weary Haiti

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti – Children on their way to school, street vendors selling their wares, priests in the middle of a sermon – some Haitians, rich or poor, protected from gangs of kidnappers who save their country almost from punishment . But the abduction of 17 people linked to an American missionary group this weekend shocked authorities for its brazenness when they visited an orphanage.

On Sunday, the hostages, five of them children, remained in captivity, their whereabouts and identities unknown to the public. Adding to the mystery was the wall of silence of officials in Haiti and the United States, if anything, about what was being done to secure his release.

“We are seeking God’s direction for a resolution, and officials are looking for ways to help,” said the missionary group Christian Aid Ministries, an Ohio-based group founded by Amish and Mennonites. , which has a long history of working in the Caribbean, said. a statement.

Authorities identify the gang behind the kidnappings as 400 Mawozo, an organization notorious for taking kidnappings to a new level in a country almost turned into chaos by natural disaster, corruption and political murder. Not content to capture individual victims and demand a ransom from their family members, gangs snatch people en masse as they ride buses or walk the streets in groups whose numbers once protected them. Will happen.

With much of the government in a dilapidated state, gangs are an undeniable force in Haiti, controlling many neighborhoods.

“It’s crazy – you try to work for the country, to build something, to provide jobs, and they do that to you,” said a 42-year-old businessman, who in February He was kidnapped by the gang, as he went from house to house. Work in a bulletproof car. “Where is this going? Where is this country going? It’s a total mess.”

The businessman, who asked that he be identified only as Norman because he feared retaliation, said that he was not fed for the first four days of his captivity, and that children, some of whom were over 10 years old. were not. , beat him regularly with the arms or butts of their guns.

He was released after 12 days, when the gang accepted $70,000 in ransom, in return for the $5 million he had requested.

Kidnapping has become so common, he said, that he knows at least 10 people who have been snatched — including his mother.

This time, the victims – 16 Americans and one Canadian – were confiscated as they went to an orphanage outside the Haitian capital Port-au-Prince on Saturday.

The US government said it was aware of the kidnapping, but did not comment otherwise.

But a prominent lawmaker, Representative Adam Kizinger, a Republican of Illinois and foreign affairs committee member, told CNN on Sunday that the US government would do everything possible to get Americans back. “We need to find out where they are and see if talks are possible without paying the ransom or whatever we need to do on the military front or the police front,” he said.

Security in Haiti has collapsed since the country’s politics fell apart after the assassination of President Jovanel Mosse in July. Violence is escalating across the capital, where, by some estimates, gangs now control nearly half of the city. On a single day last week, gangs opened fire on a school bus in Port-au-Prince, wounding at least five people, including students, while another group hijacked a public bus.

According to the Center for Analysis and Research for Human Rights, which is based in Port-au-Prince, from January to September this year alone, 628 people, including 29 foreigners, were reported abducted.

“For us, the motive behind the increase in kidnapping is financial,” said the center’s executive director, Gaiden Jean. “Gangs need money to buy ammunition, to get weapons, to be able to function.”

This means missionaries are likely to emerge alive, he said.

“They’re going to be free – that’s for sure,” said Mr Jean. “We don’t know in how many days, but they’re going to negotiate.”

Experts said the abduction of Americans in Haiti, once rare, has become increasingly common in the past two years. When this happens, the FBI is the leading federal agency to respond.

Haitian-Americans have become accustomed to hearing about people they know being kidnapped, said Jean Monstime, the first Haitian-born member of the Miami-Dade County Board of County Commissioners in Florida.

He said, ‘There are many stories. “Lots to talk about.”

A senior US official said that while kidnappings for ransom in Haiti are not usually as brutal as terrorist groups in the Middle East, the US government approaches both with a sense of urgency. Separately, a senior State Department official said the Biden administration was in contact with the highest level of Haitian government officials about the kidnapping, but declined to comment further.

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In a poor country like Haiti, it doesn’t take much to make a person attractive to kidnappers – and it doesn’t take long to secure their freedom.

In Croix-des-Bouquets, a suburb now controlled by 400 mavozos – the Creole word roughly translated as “a farmer from the mountain” – vendors who lined the streets were kidnapped. Was taken because he had very little in his pocket. Sometimes, they were ordered to sell some of the property they had at home, such as the radio or refrigerator, to pay the ransom.

Now Croix-des-Bouquets is a nearby ghost town.

Gangs have plagued Port-au-Prince over the past two decades. But in recent years, their place in society has changed.

Older, more established gangs smuggled not only in kidnappings but also in politics, fulfilling the wishes of their powerful patrons. At times, they aided in voter suppression.

Now, as independent gangs, they have grown into a force that is seemingly uncontrollable, thriving in Haiti’s economic turmoil.

Members of new gangs such as 400 Mawjo rape women and recruit local children, forcing neighborhood youth to beat people up as they train a new, more violent generation of members.

Churches, once untouchables, are now frequent targets, even with priests abducted when they address their flocks. In April, gunmen kidnapped a pastor while he was conducting a ceremony that was being streamed live on Facebook.

In April, the 400 Mavojo gang kidnapped 10 people in Croix-des-Bouquets, including seven Catholic clergy members, five of whom were Haitians and two French. The group was finally released in late April. The kidnappers demanded a ransom of one million dollars, but it is not clear whether it was paid.

Haitians are driven into despair by the violence, which prevents them from making a living and prevents their children from attending school. In recent days, some have launched a petition to protest the mass violence, disbanding the 400 Mawjo gang and calling on the police to act. But the police, with little money and lack of political support, have been able to do very little.

Transport workers called for a strike on Monday and Tuesday in Port-au-Prince to protest the insecurity – an action that could turn into a more general strike, with word spreading for workers to stay home Those who condemn violence have “reached a new level.” in panic.”

“Heavily armed robbers are no longer satisfied with the existing abuses, racketeering, threats and kidnappings for ransom,” the plea said. “Now, criminals break into village houses at night, attack families and rape women.”

The Christian Aid Ministry, whose members were kidnapped on Saturday, is a major provider of aid to Haiti.

The group did not respond to requests for comment, but Dan Hole, a former field director in Haiti, said at least some of the kidnapped missionaries had not been in the country long. One family, he said, had been there for “a few months” while another came on Friday to work on a relief project related to the earthquake that devastated the country in August.

According to a study of global Christianity at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, there were about 1,700 Christian missionaries in Haiti as of mid-2020.

Mr. Hooli estimated that Christian aid ministries had more than 20 employees in the country.

The Ministries Complex in Haiti overlooks the Bay of Port-au-Prince in a suburb called Titanian.

On a visit there on Sunday, three large delivery trucks could be seen on a vast field surrounded by two enclosures reinforced with concertina wire. Chickens, goats, and turkeys can be seen near small American-style homes with white porches and mailboxes, and laundry is hung.

Creole also had a guard dog and a sign forbidding entry without authorization.

Neighbors said that since the area is so bad, the campus is the only building that is lit with electric lights at night. Everything else around him is shrouded in darkness.

The Mennonites, neighbors said, were kind, and tried to spread their work—for example, building a new stone wall around campus—so that everyone could earn a little and feed their families. They used to give food and water to the laborers and used to joke with them. And Haitians often came for Bible classes.

Usually children can be seen playing. There are swings, a slide, a basketball court and a volleyball court. It was very unusual, the neighbors said, to see it so quiet. Sundays, especially, it’s bustling.

But not this Sunday.

Andre Poultre, Oscar Lopez, Ruth Graham, Patricia Mazzei and Lara Jakes contributed reporting.

World Nation News Deskhttps://www.worldnationnews.com
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