US officials are working with Haitian authorities to try to secure the release of 12 adults and five children with a US-based missionary group who were kidnapped over the weekend by a gang known for their murders, kidnappings and his extortions.
The group was snatched up by the 400 Mawozo gang, which controls the Croix-des-Bouquets neighborhood east of the capital Port-au-Prince, police inspector Frantz Champagne told The Associated on Sunday. Press. The kidnapping occurred on Saturday in the community of Ganthier, which is in the area of the gang. He has been blamed for the kidnapping of five priests and two nuns earlier this year.
As authorities demand the release of the 16 Americans and a Canadian from Ohio-based Christian Aid Ministries, local unions and other organizations are expected to launch a strike on Monday to protest the worsening security gap in Haiti.
The poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere is once again grappling with an increase in gang-related kidnappings that has declined in recent months, after President Jovenel Moïse was fatally shot in his private residence on July 7 and a magnitude 7.2 earthquake killed more than 2,200 people in August.
” Everyone is concerned. They kidnap all social classes, ”Méhu Changeux, president of the Association of owners and drivers of Haiti, told Magik9 radio.
He said the work stoppage will continue until the government can ensure the safety of people.
The kidnapping of the missionaries came just days after senior U.S. officials visited Haiti and pledged more resources for the Haitian National Police, including an additional $ 15 million to help reduce gang violence, which this year displaced thousands of Haitians who now live in temporary shelters under increasingly unsanitary conditions.
The US State Department said on Sunday it was in regular contact with Haitian senior authorities and would continue to work with them and interagency partners.
“The well-being and security of US citizens abroad is one of the State Department’s highest priorities,” the agency said in a statement.
Christian Aid Ministries said the kidnapped group included seven women, five men and five children, including a 2-year-old. The organization said they were taken on a trip to visit an orphanage.
“Join us in praying for those held hostage, the kidnappers and the families, friends and churches of those affected,” Christian Aid Ministries said in a statement. “As an organization, we turn this over to and trust God to help us.”
An annual report released last year by Christian Aid Ministries said its U.S. employees had returned to their base in Haiti after a nine-month absence “due to political unrest” and noted “the uncertainty and hardship” that arise from such instability.
Nearly a year ago, Haitian police released a poster looking for alleged leader of the 400 Mawozo gang, Wilson Joseph, for murder, attempted murder, kidnapping, car theft and hijacking trucks carrying goods. He bears the nickname “Lanmò Sanjou”, which means “death does not know what day it is coming”.
Amid the surge in kidnappings, gangs have demanded ransoms ranging from a few hundred dollars to over a million dollars, sometimes killing those they abducted, authorities said.
At least 328 kidnappings were reported to the Haitian National Police in the first eight months of 2021, compared to a total of 234 for all of 2020, according to a report released last month by the United Nations Integrated Office in Haiti.
Gangs have been accused of kidnapping schoolchildren, doctors, police officers, buses full of passengers and others as they become more powerful. In April, a man who claimed to be the leader of 400 Mawozo told a radio station that she was responsible for the kidnapping of five priests, two nuns and three relatives of one of the priests that month. . They were then released.
The surge in kidnappings and gang-related violence has forced Haitians to detour into some gang-controlled areas while others choose to stay at home, which means less money for people like Charles Pierre , motorcycle taxi driver in Port-au-Prince. who has several children to feed.
“People don’t go out on the streets,” he said. “We can’t find people to transport.
Coto reported from San Juan, Puerto Rico. Associated Press videographer Pierre-Richard Luxama in Port-au-Prince and AP writers Matthew Lee in Washington and Matt Sedensky in New York contributed to this report.