A group of 16 Americans and a Canadian mediated their terror after being abducted by a violent gang in Haiti over the weekend.
One of the 17 missionaries abducted in Haiti on Saturday sent a terrible cry for help on WhatsApp when the group of 16 Americans and a Canadian were abducted, according to a report.
“Please pray for us !! We are being held hostage, they kidnapped our driver. Be ber ber. We do not know where they are taking us, the group said in a report in the Washington Post.
The scary message came when the group – which includes adult missionaries as well as their children – was taken from a bus on its way to the airport in the Haitian capital Port-au-Prince, according to reports.
They are held by the so-called “400 Mawozo” gang, which for months has carried out kidnappings and robberies in the area between Port-au-Prince and the Dominican Republic border.
The gang has hijacked several vehicles – even entire busloads of victims – on roads it controls, kidnapped both Haitians and foreigners and held them for ransom, often many times a Haitian annual income.
Civilian groups in Haiti demanded the immediate release of the missionaries. “We call for the release of the abducted people, whether they are US citizens or of other nationalities,” said Gedeon Jean, director of the Center for Analysis and Research in Human Rights, based in the capital. He said the current situation was “harmful to human dignity”.
“The police have proved incapable of confronting the gangs, which have become better organized and who control more and more territory” around the capital and in provincial cities, Jean said.
His group has noted an alarming increase in kidnappings in Haiti: more than 600 occurred in the first three months of 2021, a sharp increase from 231 in the corresponding period of 2020.
The hijacking of the missionary group occurred on Saturday morning on roads controlled by the Mawozo group.
In addition to the Americans, an unknown number of Haitians were abducted.
The US State Department did not provide any details. A spokesman simply said: “The welfare and security of American citizens abroad is one of the top priorities at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
“We are aware of these reports and have nothing more to offer right now.”
Officials are typically close to mouth about abductions, given the extraordinary sensitivity in such situations.
In April, the Mawozo group held ten people, including two French Catholic clergy, for 20 days before they were released.
Haiti has struggled for years with natural and artificial challenges that have paralyzed economic growth.
The assassination of President Jovenel Moise on July 7 by an armed private commando plunged the country deeper into unrest. Then an earthquake on August 14 killed more than 2,200 people in the southwest.
Gedeon Jean says the absence of a strong state has left a void that criminal gangs have moved to fill, extending from some of the capital’s poorest districts to surrounding areas.
Even before Saturday’s kidnappings, business and professional groups in Port-au-Prince had called for an indefinite strike from Monday to protest the insecure climate.
The gangs often demand corresponding decades of wages from the families of kidnapping victims, most of whom live below the poverty line.
And rights groups say the vast majority of women kidnapped by criminal gangs are sexually abused.
– New York Post, AFP