U.S. officials are working with Haitian authorities to try to secure the release of 12 adults and five children with a U.S.-based missionary group who were abducted over the weekend by a gang notorious for killings, kidnappings and extortion.
The group was snatched by the 400 Mawozo gang, which controls the Croix-des-Bouquets area east of the capital of Port-au-Prince, police inspector Frantz Champagne told The Associated Press on Sunday. The abduction happened Saturday in the community of Ganthier, which lies in the gang’s area. It was blamed for the kidnapping of five priests and two nuns earlier this year.
As authorities sought the release of the 16 Americans and one Canadian with the Ohio-based Christian Aid Ministries, local unions and other organizations expected to launch a strike Monday to protest Haiti’s worsening lack of security.
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.
He said the work stoppage would continue until the government could guarantee people’s safety.
The kidnapping of the missionaries came just days after high-level U.S. officials visited Haiti and promised more resources for Haiti’s National Police, including another $15 million to help reduce gang violence, which this year has displaced thousands of Haitians who now live in temporary shelters in increasingly unhygienic conditions.
The U.S. State Department said 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 U.S. citizens abroad is one of the highest priorities of the Department of State,” the agency said in a statement.