Authors: DÁNICA COTO and EVENS SANON
PORT OU PRINCE, Haiti (AP) – The normally chaotic streets of Haiti’s capital were quiet and nearly empty on Monday, as thousands of workers unhappy with the country’s insecurity went on strike in protest two days after 17 members of the USA Missionary group was kidnapped by a gang.
US officials, including the FBI, worked with Haitian authorities to try to secure the release of 12 adults and five children associated with Ohio-based Christian Aid Ministries who disappeared on Saturday during a trip to an orphanage.
This was the largest kidnapping of its kind in recent years. Haitian gangs have become more insolent amid continuing political instability, deepening economic crisis and a surge in violence that is forcing more and more people to leave the country.
Haitian police told The Associated Press that the kidnapping was carried out by the 400 mavoso gang, a group with a long track record of murder, kidnapping and extortion.
As authorities sought the release of 16 Americans and one Canadian, the strike, led by local unions and other organizations, disrupted much of daily life. Public transport drivers stayed at home, while businesses and schools were closed.
“The population can’t stand it anymore,” said Kholin Alexis, a motorcycle taxi driver who joined the strike.
Burning tire barricades closed some streets in the capital and other cities, including Le Qué in southern Haiti, and some people threw stones at passing cars.
Only a handful of motorcycle taxi drivers like Marc Saint-Pierre traveled around Port-au-Prince in search of clients. He said he was attacked for working on Monday, but he had no choice.
“I have children and today I need to bring food into the house.”
The poorest country in the Western Hemisphere is again grappling with a spike in gang-related kidnappings, which has diminished in recent months after President Jovenel Moise was fatally wounded at his private residence on July 7, and more than 2,200 people died in August in a 7.2 magnitude earthquake. …
“Everyone is worried. They kidnap people from all walks of life, ”Mehu Shengu, president of the Haitian Association of Owners and Drivers, told Magik9 radio.
He said the work will continue to be stopped until the government can guarantee the safety of people.
On Sunday, the US State Department said it was in regular contact with senior Haitian authorities and would continue to work with them and other partners.
“The well-being and safety of US citizens abroad is one of the top priorities for the State Department,” the agency said in a statement.
Christian Relief Services said the abducted group included six women, six men and five children, including a two-year-old. A sign on the door of the organization’s headquarters in Berlin, Ohio, said it was closed due to the kidnapping.
A pair of itinerant Christians walked into headquarters on Monday with two young children to send packages for poor countries. Tirza Rarik, a native of California, said she and her friend prayed on Sunday with those who had relatives among the hostages.
“Despite the fact that it is painful and makes us cry because our friends and relatives, our dear brothers and sisters are suffering very real physically, mentally and emotionally right now, we are comforted that we can bear this heavy burden. The God we worship, ”she said.
News of the abductions quickly spread in and around Holmes County, Ohio, the center of one of the nation’s largest Amish and conservative Mennonite populations, said Marcus Yoder, executive director of the Amish and Mennonite Heritage Center in nearby Millersburg, Ohio.
The Christian Relief Ministry is supported by conservative Mennonites, Amish and related groups in the Anabaptist tradition.
According to Stephen Nolt, professor of history and Anabaptist studies at Elizabethtown College in Pennsylvania, the organization was founded in the early 1980s and began operating in Haiti at the end of that decade. The group has year-round employees in Haiti and several countries, and delivers religious, school and medical supplies around the world, he said.
Conservative Anabaptists, while disagreeing over technology and other issues, share traditions such as modest, simple dress, separation from mainstream society, highly disciplined communities, and a belief in non-resistance to violence.
The Amish and Mennonite communities in Holmes County have close ties with missionary organizations serving Haiti.
Each September, the Ohio Haiti Benefit Auction sells handcrafted furniture, blankets, firewood and tools, along with barbecued chicken, Haitian beans and rice dishes. According to Aaron Miller, one of the organizers, the event usually brings in about $ 600,000, which is distributed among 18 mission groups.
Nearly a year ago, Haitian police issued a wanted list for alleged 400 Mauso gang leader Wilson Joseph on charges of murder, attempted murder, kidnapping, carjacking, and theft of goods trucks. His nickname is “Lanmò Sanjou”, which means “death does not know what day will come.”
Amid the surge in kidnappings, authorities said gangs demanded a ransom ranging from a couple of hundred dollars to more than $ 1 million, sometimes killing the kidnapped.
Haiti’s National Police have received reports of at least 328 abductions in the first eight months of 2021, up from 234 abductions for all of 2020, according to a report from the United Nations Office in Haiti last month.
The gangs are accused of kidnapping schoolchildren, doctors, police officers, buses carrying passengers and others as they gain strength. In April, a man who claimed to be the leader of the 400 mavosos told the radio that the gang was responsible for the kidnapping of five priests, two nuns and three relatives of one of the priests in the same month. They were later released.
Coto reported from San Juan, Puerto Rico. Associated Press videographer Pierre-Richard Luxama in Port-au-Prince and AP writers Eric Tucker and Matthew Lee in Washington, Matt Sedensky in New York, Peter Smith in Pittsburgh, John Seaver in Toledo, Ohio, and Julie Carr Smith in Berlin , Ohio contributed to this report.