U.S Missionaries Kidnapped In Haiti

400 Mawozo, an organized gang in Haiti, is believed to have abducted 17 missionaries and their family members, seizing their vehicle while they were returning from a site visit to an orphanage in Port-au-Prince. The missionary group, comprising 16 Americans and one Canadian, reportedly sent an audio recording to their Christian parent organization requesting assistance, stating that they were being held at gunpoint.

The people who abducted the missionary group will likely be placing them under ransom by communicating with Haitian officials and the U.S. State Department. The American foreign minister, Claude Joseph, has stated, “The missionaries were travelling by vehicle Saturday to Titanyen, north of the capital Port-au-Prince, after visiting an orphanage in the Croix des Bouquets area. They were abducted along the route between the two places.”

The Ohio-based Christian Aid Ministries returned their American staff to Haiti in 2020 after leaving for nine months due to political unrest. However, when they re-entered the country, the political unrest would only worsen.

Haiti has seen a severe rise in kidnappings, due to armed gangs linked to politicians and private businesses growing in power. As Haiti’s economy wanes and unrest sweeps the country, these gangs seize power where political influence weakens. According to the Center for Analysis and Research in Human Rights in Port-au-Prince, 395 kidnappings took place in the first six months of 2021 alone. (Out of those kidnappings, 29 involved foreigners, targeted for their perceived higher income and ability and willingness to pay ransoms. Kidnappers also tend to focus on singular vehicles filled with large numbers of people, especially children.)

The rate of abductions briefly decreased after the assassination of President Jovenal Moïse in July; there is evidence that the president had connections with gangs across the nation who used kidnapping as a source of revenue and control. The drop in abductions was brief before a surge in August and September. This new surge stems from an increase in poverty, political turmoil after the August earthquake, and the power vacuum left after Moïse’s assassination.

The kidnappings haven’t gone ignored. A Haitian transport union, the Association of Owners and Drivers of Haiti (A.P.C.H.), called for an indefinite strike to begin Monday to protest the rise in kidnappings. Any driver who mans a seized vehicle is also automatically kidnapped and subjected to physical abuse, so for the sake of their safety, the safety of their passengers, and their income, the group called on all sectors to join the strike, which was announced moments before the missionaries had reportedly been kidnapped.

Mahu Changeux, president of the A.P.C.H., has been calling on the government to put an end to the kidnappings and provide drivers and workers in other sectors with safety, or otherwise, to resign. “The latest tragedy of the kidnapping of the American missionaries shows no one is safe in this country,” Changeux said. “We will fight for our lives and our future. … [D]on’t wait until it’s your turn to be kidnapped by these gangs. We are hostages in our own country.”

Last Friday, the U.N. Security Council voted to extend the U.N. mission in Haiti’s mandate by nine months, postponing its conclusion until July of 2022. By keeping the mission in Haiti to support democratic institutions, as well as strengthening the country’s economic stability, political environment, and law, there is a chance that the nationwide unrest, and the kidnappings which stem from it, may lessen.

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