Mass abduction of US missionaries startles even kidnap-weary Haiti

A gang-controlled neighbourhood in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Jul 27, 2021. Gang members seized 16 Americans and one Canadian, among them five children, as they visited an orphanage. Victor Moriyama/The New York Times
Children on their way to school, street vendors selling their wares, priests midsermon — few Haitians, rich or poor, are safe from the gangs of kidnappers that stalk their country with near impunity. But the abduction this weekend of 17 people associated with an American missionary group as they visited an orphanage shocked officials for its brazenness.

On Sunday, the hostages, five of them children, remained in captivity, their whereabouts and identities unknown to the public. Adding to the mystery was a wall of silence from officials in Haiti and the United States about what, if anything, was being done to secure their release.

“We are seeking God’s direction for a resolution, and authorities are seeking ways to help,” the missionary group, Christian Aid Ministries, an Ohio-based group founded by Amish and Mennonites that has a long history of working in the Caribbean, said in a statement.

Authorities identified the gang behind the kidnappings as 400 Mawozo, an outfit infamous for taking abductions to a new level in a country reduced to near lawlessness by natural disaster, corruption and political assassination. Not content to grab individual victims and demand ransom from their family members, the gang has taken to snatching people en masse as they ride buses or walk the streets in groups whose numbers might once have kept them safe.

With much of the government in shambles, gangs are an undisputed power in Haiti, in control of many neighbourhoods.

This time, the victims — 16 Americans and one Canadian — were seized as they paid a visit Saturday to an orphanage outside the Haitian capital, Port-au-Prince.

The US government said it was aware of the kidnappings, but otherwise offered no comment.

But one prominent lawmaker, US Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Ill., a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee, said Sunday on CNN that the US government would do everything possible to get the Americans back. “We need to track down where they are and see if negotiations without paying ransom are possible or do whatever we need to on the military front or police front,” he said.

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