A Haitian gang that kidnapped a group of American and Canadian missionaries has demanded a $17m ransom for their release, according to the country’s justice minister.
Liszt Quitel told the Wall Street Journal the FBI and Haitian police were in contact with the kidnappers from the 400 Mawozo gang, who seized the missionaries at the weekend outside the capital, Port-au-Prince.
The 16 Americans and one Canadian include six women and five children: an eight-month baby and others aged three, six, 14 and 15 years old, Quitel told the Journal.
It is the largest reported kidnapping of its kind in recent years, with Haitian gangs growing more brazen and abductions spiking as the country tries to recover from the 7 July assassination of President Jovenel Moïse and a magnitude 7.2 earthquake that struck southern Haiti on 14 August and killed more than 2,200 people.
“We are trying to get them released without paying any ransom,” said Quitel. “This is the first course of action. Let’s be honest: when we give them that money, that money is going to be used for more guns and more munitions.”
The same gang was responsible for the kidnapping of 10 people, including seven members of the clergy, in April. Those hostages were eventually released after a ransom was paid for two of the clergymen, Quitel said.
Negotiations could take weeks, Quitel told the Journal.
After the abduction of the clergymen, the archdiocese of Port-au-Prince said that Haitian society had been experiencing a “descent into hell”, adding that “violence by armed gangs” was taking on “unprecedented” proportions.
Kidnappings have become more brazen and commonplace in Haiti amid a growing political and economic crisis, with at least 628 incidents in the first nine months of 2021 alone, according to a report by the Haitian non-profit Center for Analysis and Research in Human Rights, or CARDH.
On Monday, businesses, schools and public transportation all ground to a halt amid a nationwide strike to protest gang crime and kidnappings.