US, Haiti seek release of 17 missionaries snatched by gang
American officials are working with Haitian authorities to try to secure the release of 12 adults and five children connected with a US-based missionary group who were abducted over the weekend by a gang notorious for killings, kidnappings, and extortion.
Police say the group was snatched on Saturday by the 400 Mawozo gang in the community of Ganthier, which lies within the gang’s territory in the Croix-des-Bouquets area east of the capital of Port-au-Prince.
As authorities sought the release of the 16 Americans and one Canadian from the Ohio-based Christian Aid Ministries, local unions and other organisations launched a strike on Monday to protest Haiti’s worsening security. The streets of Port-au-Prince and other cities were largely empty as public transportation drivers stayed home. Businesses and schools also closed to join the strike.
“The population cannot take it any more,” said Holin Alexis, a moto taxi driver who joined the strike.
Barricades of burning tires closed off some streets in the capital and in other cities, including Les Cayes in southern Haiti, with some people throwing rocks at the occasional car that drove past.
Only a handful of moto taxi drivers like Marc Saint-Pierre zoomed through Port-au-Prince looking for customers. He said he was attacked for working on Monday but had no choice.
“I have children, and I have to bring food to my house today.”
The Western Hemisphere’s poorest nation is again struggling with a spike in gang-related kidnappings that had diminished in recent months after President Jovenel Moïse was fatally shot at his private residence on July 7 and a magnitude 7.2 earthquake killed more than 2,200 people in August.
“Everyone is concerned. They’re kidnapping from all social classes,” Méhu Changeux, president of Haiti’s Association of Owners and Drivers, told Magik9 radio station.
The US State Department said on Sunday that it was in regular contact with senior Haitian authorities and would continue to work with them and interagency partners.
“The welfare and safety of US citizens abroad is one of the highest priorities of the Department of State,” the agency said in a statement.