Two members of a group of 17 missionaries who were kidnapped more than a month ago by an armed gang in Haiti have been released and are safe, their organization Christian Aid Ministries (CAM) has said. “Two of the hostages in Haiti have been released,” the Ohio-based congregation confirmed in a statement on its website. The news comes five weeks after their kidnapping while visiting an orphanage outside the Haitian capital, Port-au-Prince.
The hostages included 16 Americans and one Canadian citizen, with five children among them, as well as their bus driver, a Haitian national. The incident has highlighted the serious security problem in Haiti, where kidnappings and gang violence have reached unprecedented levels due to an economic crisis and power vacuum left by the assassination of the country’s president Jovenel Moïse in July.
The released missionaries were “in good spirits and being cared for,” the religious organization said on Sunday, although it declined to give out their names or any other information regarding the kidnapping. “While we rejoice at this release, our hearts are with the 15 people who are still being held,” the statement added.
A local gang known as 400 Mawozo threatened to kill the hostages if they did not receive a ransom of $1 million per person, although it was unclear if that included the children. The US government has urged its citizens to leave Haiti due to the country’s growing insecurity and severe fuel shortages, and Canada announced on Friday that it would withdraw all essential personnel from its embassy.
Gédeon Jean, director of the Haitian human rights organization CARDH, has described Haiti’s new generation of kidnapping gangs as a combination of Mexican narcos, Central American gangs and former Colombian guerrillas. “There are about 200 [gangs] throughout the country and they employ thousands of people working at different levels. Some send information, some watch the streets, some carry out operations,” he said.
Violent gangs in Haiti are increasingly armed and have found kidnapping to be a lucrative way to earn power and money. Between July and September of this year, 221 kidnappings were recorded. Shopkeepers, street vendors, doctors, students, children and many religious figures have been affected. Kidnappings have become such a lucrative business that currently an average of eight people are kidnapped every day, representing 119 in the last 15 days, according to CARDH, which has counted 36 Americans kidnapped so far in 2021.
“In 90% of cases they are released after a few days and it is very rare for them to be killed,” said Jean. “The goal is to earn money and also to create a crisis and political destabilization.”