It's not Just the Missionaries: Haiti had 782 Kidnappings This YearRoundup
tags: Haiti, political violence, missionaries, Kidnapping
Cécile Accilien is a scholar of Haitian studies and Haitian Studies Association board member based in Atlanta, Georgia.
President Joe Biden has received daily briefings this week on the 17 North American missionaries and children who continue to be held hostage in Haiti, according to the White House, and the U.S. has reportedly deployed three FBI agents to Haiti as well.
The involvement of U.S. citizens and one Canadian citizen in this particular hostage situation have caused the kidnapping to draw some attention to this incident within U.S. media, but the broader context of widespread kidnappings in Haiti continues largely to go unnoticed in the U.S.
In the first half of October alone, at least 119 known kidnappings (that is the official number) have taken place in Haiti. And according to the Center for Analysis and Research in Human Rights, there have been at least 782 known kidnappings in Haiti since January 2021.
The kidnapping that led to the hostage situation in which the U.S. has become politically involved occurred in Croix des Bouquets, a town located 11 miles from Port-au-Prince. According to the weekly New York-based Haitian Newspaper Haiti Observateur, on October 16, the notorious Haitian gang Katsan Mawozo (400 Mawozo) kidnapped more than 30 individuals, including 17 American and Canadian missionaries and children ranging in age from 8 months to 15 years who were in Haiti as part of the Ohio-based group Christian Aid Ministries. The gangs are asking for $17 million in U.S. dollars.
A day later, on October 17, another armed gang, the G-9 Family and Allies, drove off the de facto prime minister, Ariel Henry, prohibiting him from commemorating the assassination of Emperor Jean-Jacques Dessalines, the first leader of independent Haiti, who was assassinated on October 17, 1806. That this gang could categorically prevent the prime minister himself from entering the area of Pont Rouge for the ceremony speaks to the fact that gangs are becoming stronger and expanding their control of the country. Misery and fear continue for thousands of people in Haiti. Emperor Dessalines must be turning in his grave.
Because Americans are now being kidnapped in Haiti, we are hearing about an issue that has long plagued Haiti, which has the highest rate of kidnapping per capita of any country in the world. American and Canadian lives matter. Yet thousands of Haitians have been and continue to be tortured, killed, raped, extorted and kidnapped on a daily basis. Nearly 95 percent of kidnappings in Haiti since 2018 have targeted Haitian citizens. As a representative from the Christian Aid Ministries stated, “This time of difficulty reminds us of the ongoing suffering of millions of Haitians. While our workers chose to serve in Haiti, our Haitian friends endure crisis after crisis, continual violence, and economic hardship.”
A popular Haitian film, Kidnappings (2008), depicts the complexity and nuance of the kidnapping economy in Haiti. The rise of kidnappings is believed to have started in the early 2000s under former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, who armed people in the slums as a way to protect himself because he didn’t have enough police. The great majority of the people who align themselves with Aristide — known as chimè — lived in Cité Soleil, a commune of Port-au-Prince.
Political parties, political authorities, the political elite and the business elite have been nurturing the gangs and fomenting the kidnapping crisis. The kidnapping business is in fact supported by the convergence of interests of the political and business elite and the international community, while the interests of the vast majority of Haitians are obviously not taken into account. Now the gangs cannot be tamed, and they are everywhere. The gangs need ammunition, weapons and ransom money in order to function. Clearly, all those resources flow through international channels.
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