Haitian Justice Minister Liszt Quitel said the gang that kidnapped 17 Americans demanded a ransom of $1 million per person. Quitel confirmed the figure to New York Times. The victims consisted of 12 adults and five children aged 8 months and 3, 6, 14 and 15 years.
A wave of kidnappings sparked a strike that shut down businesses, schools and public transport, hurting Haiti’s ailing economy, and unions and other groups vowed to resume their strike on Tuesday.
The FBI and other American officials are helping Haitian authorities search for victims from Christian Aid Ministries in Ohio, who were abducted Saturday (15/10) on their way back from a visit to an orphanage.
The kidnapping is the largest in recent years, as gangs in Haiti are getting bolder and increasing kidnappings as the country tries to recover from the July 7 assassination of President Jovenel Moise and the 7.2 magnitude earthquake that hit southern Haiti on August 14, killing more of 2,200 people.
Haitian police told the news agency Associated Press that the abductions of 16 Americans and one Canadian were carried out by the Mawozo gang, a group with a long history of murder, kidnapping and extortion.
The gang has been accused of kidnapping schoolchildren, doctors, policemen, bus passengers and others as they grow stronger and demanding ransoms ranging from a few hundred dollars to millions of dollars.
Ned Price, a spokesman for the US State Department, said US officials were in constant contact with the Haitian National Police, missionary groups and relatives of the victims.
“‘This is something we have been treating with the utmost priority since Saturday,”‘ he said, adding that officials were doing “everything we can do to seek a speedy resolution.”
UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said the rise in gang violence had affected aid efforts in Haiti. He said the UN humanitarian envoy and coordinator reported that “violence, looting, road blockades and the constant presence of armed gangs all pose barriers to access to humanitarian aid.
Among those kidnapped were four children and one of their parents from a family in Michigan, their pastor told the Detroit News. The youngest of the family was under 10 years old, said Reverend Ron Marks. They arrived in Haiti earlier this month, he said.
Two traveling citizens stopped at the organization’s headquarters on Monday to deliver packages to poorer countries. Tirtzah Rarick, who is from California, said he and a friend prayed on Sunday with those who had relatives among the abductees.
“Although it is painful and brings us to tears that our dear friends or relatives are now experiencing real physical, emotional and mental suffering, we are comforted that we can carry this heavy burden on the God we worship,” he said.
Tirtzah Rarick said that there was confidence and reassurance that the hostages would be loyal to the truth and that it gave family members a sense of peace.
“I know it hurts that their loved ones are suffering now, but there is confidence and serenity that no matter what happens, we can trust that our friends will stand by the truth and that gives us a sense of peace,” he added.
News of the abductions spread quickly in and around Holmes County in the state of Ohio, the center of one of the largest populations of conservative Amish and Mennonites, said Marcus Yoder, executive director of the Amish & Mennonite Heritage Center near Millersburg, Ohio.
Christian Aid Ministries is supported by Mennonite, Amish churches and related groups from the Anabaptist tradition.
The organization was founded in the early 1980s and began working in Haiti at the end of that 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 sends school and medical supplies around the world.
The Anabaptist group, a sect that does not use technology and lives in simplicity, and has a tradition of modest dress, simple life, separate from mainstream society, strict discipline and belief in non-resistance to violence.
Every September in Ohio the group holds an auction called the “Haiti Benefit Auction.” The auction, whose proceeds are donated to Haiti, sells handcrafted furniture, blankets, firewood, other equipment, and various kinds of food. These auction events typically generate around $600,000 entirely donated to Haiti. [lt/jm]