A protest strike closed businesses, schools and public transport in a further blow to Haiti’s anemic economy, and unions and other groups vowed to continue the shutdown on Tuesday in anger at the worsening crime as authorities attempt to rescue 17 kidnapped members of a wemissionary group based.
FBI agents and other U.S. officials are helping Haitian authorities track down the 12 adults and five children linked to Ohio’s Christian Aid Ministries who were kidnapped on Saturday while on a trip to visit an orphanage.
This is the largest such kidnapping reported in recent years, with Haitian gangs becoming increasingly brazen and kidnappings increasing as the country tries to recover from the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse on July 7 and ‘a 7.2 magnitude earthquake that hit southern Haiti on August 14. and killed more than 2,200 people.
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“We call on the authorities to take action,” said Jean-Louis Abaki, a motorcycle taxi driver who joined the strike on Monday to denounce the killings and kidnappings in the hemisphere’s poorest country .
With the generally chaotic streets of the Haitian capital calm and largely empty, Abaki said that if Prime Minister Ariel Henry and National Police Chief Leon Charles are to remain in power, “they must give the people a chance for safety.” .
Haitian police told The Associated Press that the kidnapping of the 16 Americans and one Canadian was carried out by the 400 Mawozo gang, a group with a long history of killings, kidnappings and extortion. In April, a man who claimed to be the leader of the gang told a radio station he was responsible for the kidnapping of five priests, two nuns and three relatives of one of the priests that month. They were then released.
At least 328 kidnappings were reported to the Haitian National Police in the first eight months of 2021, compared to a total of 234 for all of 2020, according to a report released last month by the United Nations Integrated Office in Haiti.
Gangs have been accused of kidnapping schoolchildren, doctors, police officers, bus passengers and others as they grow more powerful and demand ransoms ranging from a few hundred dollars to millions of dollars.
Ned Price, spokesperson for the US State Department, said US officials were in constant contact with Haiti’s national police, the mission group and relatives of the victims.
“This is something that we have treated with the highest priority since Saturday,” he said, adding that officials were “doing everything we can to find a quick solution to this problem.”
UN spokesman Stéphane Dujarric said rising gang violence had affected relief efforts in Haiti. He said the UN resident and humanitarian coordinator said “violence, looting, roadblocks and the continued presence of armed gangs are all obstacles to humanitarian access. The situation is further complicated by de very serious fuel shortages and reduced supply of goods “.
Dujarric said the Haitian government should redouble its efforts to reform and strengthen the police department to ensure public safety and that all crimes should be investigated.
Christian Aid Ministries said the kidnapped group included six women, six men and five children, including a 2-year-old. A sign on the door to the organization’s headquarters in Berlin, Ohio said it was closed due to the kidnapping situation.
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Among those kidnapped were four children and one of their parents from a Michigan family, their pastor told the Detroit News. The youngest of the family is under 10, said Minister Ron Marks, who declined to identify them. They arrived in Haiti earlier this month, he said.
A couple of itinerant Christians stopped at the organization’s headquarters on Monday with two young children to drop off parcels destined for poor countries. Tirtzah Rarick, from California, said she and a friend prayed with those who had relatives among those abducted on Sunday.
“Even though it is painful and brings us to tears that our friends and relatives, our dear brothers and sisters, are suffering right now in a very real physical, mental and emotional way, he comforts us that we can carry these heavy burdens to the God we worship, ”she said.
Word of the kidnappings quickly spread in and around Holmes County, Ohio, the hub of one of the nation’s largest populations of conservative Amish and Mennonites, said Marcus Yoder, executive director of the Amish & Mennonite. Heritage Center in nearby Millersburg, Ohio.
Christian Aid Ministries is supported by conservative Mennonite, Amish, and allied groups in the Anabaptist tradition.
The organization was founded in the early 1980s and began working in Haiti later in the 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 it ships religious, school and medical supplies around the world.
Conservative Anabaptists, while disagreeing on technology and other issues, share traditions such as modest and simple clothing, separation from mainstream society, tightly disciplined congregations, and a belief in non-resistance to violence.
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The Amish and Mennonite communities of Holmes County maintain close ties with missionary organizations serving Haiti.
Each September, at the Ohio Haiti Benefit Auction, handmade furniture, quilts, firewood, and tools are sold, and barbecue chicken, Haitian beans and rice. are served. The event typically brings in around $ 600,000 which is divided among 18 missionary groups, said Aaron Miller, one of the organizers.
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