In Haiti, Kidnappings are Common as Extortion of American Evangelical Missions

12 residents of a local group in Haiti were kidnapped last week, apparently by a criminal group. As of this posting they have been released. News reports do not indicate their current location.

Although it is unclear if they were ambushed or abducted, most individuals in the neighborhood they live in believed the kidnappers were local to the community where they lived and had worked in the past. For instance, a local health clinic in the neighborhood knew that at least one of the residents was taken.

Local police reported that the abductors were a motorcycle gang and that the gang members spoke Creole and may have been born in the area.

The kidnappers tried to use the Americans as “pawns,” forcing them into a car and driving them several miles to a remote location near the beach. When they questioned the Americans, they explained that they were members of a humanitarian organization and from Connecticut and New Jersey. They also said that their boss wanted money for a military transport plane.

These abductions are rare in the area. An official in Haiti’s Government of National Accord said the country’s Ministry of Interior alerted all police forces to the situation.

Matthew Blaylock, a legal advisor to USAID, explained that they worked with Haitian authorities to form a Joint Security Task Force to locate the Americans. He confirmed that the 12 citizens were released with no major injuries or losses. The details and identity of the kidnappers remain unclear.

On July 23rd, the office of U.S. Ambassador Michael McKinley posted a statement on Facebook on how USAID is assisting the Americans in their release. A resident and a news journalist live in Haiti were also on site assisting in the rescue effort.

This remains a very dangerous area in Haiti. Although the recent kidnappings have not yet been reported, reports that individuals have also been kidnapped on multiple occasions in July.

The kidnappings of innocent individuals is unfortunately very common in Haiti and is believed to be a criminal, not religious, activity. Many of the people targeted are poor people working with the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) or independently to support projects in Haiti.

However, the majority of the population believes the kidnappings are a religious effort by certain individuals to coerce money from the United States.

One longtime Haitian resident who asked to remain anonymous told me: “We do not believe in this situation is linked to religious activity. We have a friend that was kidnapped in August 2018 and a neighbor that was also kidnapped in July 2018, where the kidnappers are the same gang they have been working with.

“All these reports that they are being harassed by a gang because they work for USAID…is not true.”

This resident explained that American Evangelical missionaries regularly work in Haiti. Many organizations, for example, Volunteers of America and International Mission are active in the area, as well as similar governmental agencies. Many community members believe that this is how kidnapping victims in Haiti are targeted.

President Donald Trump announced this past week his intention to end Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for Haitian immigrants that legally resided in the United States. As explained in my previous piece, this outcome could be very troubling for the U.S. standing in Haiti and a ripple effect in the rest of the Americas.

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