Negotiations drag on over 17 kidnapped missionaries in Haiti
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AP) – Negotiations spanned a fourth day to demand the return of 17 members of a United States-based missionary group, kidnapped over the weekend by a violent gang demanding a ransom of a million dollars per person.
The group includes five children aged 8 months to 15 years, although authorities did not say whether the ransom amount included them, a senior Haitian official said on Tuesday. Sixteen of those abducted are Americans and one Canadian.
The kidnapping is one of at least 119 kidnappings recorded in Haiti for the first half of October, according to the Center for Analysis and Research on Human Rights, a local non-profit group. He said a Haitian driver was kidnapped with the missionaries, bringing the total to 18 people taken away by the gang.
The Haitian official, who was not authorized to speak to the press, told The Associated Press that someone from the 400 Mawozo gang demanded the ransom on Saturday during an appeal to a leader of the Christian Aid Ministries, based in Ohio shortly after the kidnapping.
“This group of workers are committed to ministry throughout poverty-stricken Haiti,” the group from Ohio said, adding that missionaries recently worked on a project to help rebuild lost homes. during the magnitude 7.2 earthquake that hit southwestern Haiti on August 19. 14.
The group was returning from a visit to an orphanage when it was abducted, the organization said.
In response to the recent wave of kidnappings, workers staged a protest strike that shut down businesses, schools and public transport from Monday. The work stoppage was yet another blow to Haiti’s anemic economy. Unions and other groups have vowed to continue the shutdown indefinitely.
During a peaceful demonstration Tuesday north of Port-au-Prince, dozens of people marched through the streets of Titanyen to demand the release of the missionaries. Some carried signs saying “Free the Americans” and “No to kidnappings!” And explained that the missionaries helped pay the bills and build roads and schools.
“They do a lot for us,” said Béatrice Jean.
Meanwhile, the country’s fuel shortage has worsened, with companies accusing gangs of blocking roads and gas distribution terminals.
Hundreds of motorcycles roamed the streets of Port-au-Prince on Tuesday as drivers shouted: “If there is no fuel, we will burn everything!”
A demonstration took place near the Prime Minister’s residence, where police fired tear gas to disperse a crowd demanding fuel.
In Washington, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said on Tuesday that the FBI was “part of a coordinated US government effort” to free the missionaries. The United States Embassy in Port-au-Prince was coordinating with local authorities and the families of the hostages.
“We know these groups are targeting American citizens who they believe have the resources and finances to pay ransoms, even if they don’t,” Psaki said, noting that the government urged citizens Americans not to go to Haiti.
It has long been a US policy not to negotiate with hostage takers, and Psaki has declined to discuss the details of the operation.
The kidnapping was the largest of its kind reported in recent years. Haitian gangs have become more brazen as the country tries to recover from the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse on July 7 and the earthquake that left more than 2,200 dead.
Christian Aid Ministries said the kidnapped group included six women, six men and five children. A sign on the door to the organization’s headquarters in Berlin, Ohio said it was closed due to the kidnapping situation.
Word of the kidnappings quickly spread in and around Holmes County, Ohio, the hub of one of the largest populations of conservative Amish and Mennonites in the United States, said Marcus Yoder, executive director of the ‘Amish & Mennonite Heritage Center in nearby Millersburg, Ohio.
Christian Aid Ministries is supported by conservative Mennonite, Amish and related groups who are part of the Anabaptist tradition.
The organization was founded in the early 1980s and began working in Haiti later in the decade, said Steven Nolt, professor of history and Anabaptist studies at Elizabethtown College in Pennsylvania. The group has year-round mission staff in Haiti and several countries, he said, and it ships religious, school and medical supplies around the world.
Coto reported from San Juan, Puerto Rico. Associated Press reporters Matías Delacroix in Port-au-Prince, Matthew Lee in Washington, Pete Smith in Pittsburgh, John Seewer in Toledo, Ohio, and Julie Carr Smyth in Berlin, Ohio, contributed to this report.