Diaspora

12 Remaining Members of a U.S. Group Kidnapped in Haiti Have Been Released – The New York Times

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Seventeen members of the group, Christian Aid Ministries, had been kidnapped by a gang in October. Five had been released earlier.
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Harold IsaacAnatoly Kurmanaev and
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — The 12 remaining members of a group of 17 North American missionaries who had been kidnapped in Haiti two months ago have been released, their U.S.-based charity and the Haitian national police said Thursday.
“All 17 of our loved ones are now safe,” Christian Aid Ministries, an organization based in Ohio, said in a statement, without providing further details. It was not immediately clear whether a ransom had been paid, or the physical conditions of the hostages.
The abduction underscores the power of criminal gangs in Haiti, a Caribbean nation of 11 million grappling with a deepening political and economic crisis and the aftermath of a powerful earthquake.
Five of the hostages had been let go already, although little was known about the terms of their release. The others were found in an outlying area of Port-au-Prince, the capital, on Thursday, local news reports said. A Haitian police spokesman also confirmed the release without providing details.
The 12 released hostages were expected to travel to Miami Thursday afternoon, according to one of the relatives, who spoke on the condition of anonymity and did not provide further details to safeguard the missionaries’ safety. The U.S. Embassy in Haiti declined to comment on the news of their release.
The group, which included children, was made up of 16 Americans and one Canadian. They were taken in October by a gang called 400 Mawozo in a neighborhood of Port-au-Prince after visiting an orphanage.
Dan Miller, a farmer in Ohio and the father of Matt Miller, one of the hostages released in November, said the families of the hostages, most of whom did not know one another before the kidnapping, have grown close over the past two months of fearful waiting.
“Now we’re all rejoicing together,” he said.
Gangs have steadily taken over new sections of the capital after the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse, in July, effectively seizing control of all overland supply routes to and from the city. Gang violence has greatly aggravated Haiti’s already acute economic crisis, leaving supplies of fuel, medical equipment and other essential goods in the capital at the mercy of gang leaders.
The violence has also deadlocked Haiti’s political crisis.
Prime Minister Ariel Henry and the leaders of several major Haitian parties have said Haiti cannot hold free and fair elections to replace Mr. Moïse until the police win back control of the capital from the gangs. But some police units have been implicated in Mr. Moïse’s assassination, further undermining confidence in Haiti’s weak security forces and complicating the struggle against organized crime.
“There are so many Haitians terrorized by kidnappings and extreme levels of violence,” Representative Andy Levin, Democrat of Michigan, a co-chairman of the Haiti Caucus in the House, said in a statement on Thursday. He added that the United States and its partners must work to restore democracy “that can bring peace and security to the Haitian people.”
Haiti’s caretaker government had asked for U.S. military assistance to safeguard critical infrastructure after Mr. Moïse’s murder, but the request was swiftly rejected in Washington. The United States has a long and troubled history of armed intervention in Haiti.
The abduction of missionaries. Seventeen people associated with a U.S. Christian aid group were kidnapped on Oct. 16 as they visited an orphanage in Haiti. The abductions, carried out by a gang called 400 Mawozo, shocked officials. Hostages were released gradually in November and December; the last 12 were freed on Dec. 16.
The aftermath of a deadly earthquake. On Aug. 14, a 7.2 magnitude earthquake struck Haiti, killing more than 2,100 people and leaving thousands injured. A severe storm — Grace, then a tropical depression — drenched the nation with heavy rain days later, delaying the recovery. Many survivors said they expected no help from officials.
The assassination of President Jovenel Moïse. A group of assailants stormed Mr. Moïse’s residence on July 7, killing him and wounding his wife in what officials called a well-planned operation. The plot left a political void that has deepened the nation’s turmoil as the investigation continues. Elections that were planned for this year are likely to be delayed until 2022.
Haitian politicians have for years financed gangs to use as paramilitary units that can terrorize opponents and stoke political unrest, according to the U.S. Treasury Department and diplomats in the country. When the remnants of central authority broke down following Mr. Moïse’s assassination, gangs filled the void, assuming ever greater political prominence.
One gang leader, Jimmy Cherizier, known as Barbeque, marched with his retinue dressed in a white suit to the downtown of Port-au-Prince in July to hold a memorial service for Mr. Moïse, without meeting any resistance from the police.
To finance themselves, gangs have increasingly resorted to kidnapping, targeting even students going to school and pastors delivering sermons.
The 400 Mawozo gang is well-known for orchestrating mass kidnappings. Its members had initially demanded a ransom of $1 million per person for the Christian Aid Ministries captives, but the sum was widely viewed as a starting point for negotiations.
“If I don’t get what I need, these Americans, I’d rather kill them all,” Mawozo’s leader, Wilson Joseph, said in a video released on social media in late October, after police killed five of his gang’s members. “I’ll unload a big gun in the head of each one of them.”
Harold Isaac reported from Port-au-Prince, and Anatoly Kurmanaev from Mexico City. Ruth Graham contributed reporting from Dallas.
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