Negotiations for the release of 17 members of a U.S.-based missionary group kidnapped over the weekend by a violent gang demanding a $1 million ransom per person dragged on for a fourth day.
A top Haitian official said Tuesday that the group includes five children ranging in age from 8 months to 15 years, however officials were unsure whether the ransom sum included them. There are sixteen Americans and one Canadian among the abductees.
According to the Center of Analysis and Research of Human Rights, a local nonprofit organization, there were at least 119 kidnappings in Haiti in the first half of October. According to the report, a Haitian driver was kidnapped with the missionaries, increasing the total number of individuals kidnapped by the group to 18.
The Associated Press was informed by a Haitian official who was not allowed to speak to the press that a member of the 400 Mawozo gang made the ransom demand in a call to a leader of the Ohio-based Christian Aid Ministries immediately after the kidnapping on Saturday.
“This group of employees has been dedicated to ministry across poverty-stricken Haiti,” according to the Ohio group, which added that the missionaries most recently worked on a project to assist repair homes destroyed in the magnitude-7.2 earthquake that rocked southern Haiti on Aug. 14.
The party was taken while returning from a visit to an orphanage, according to the charity.
Workers launched a protest strike on Monday in response to a recent surge of kidnappings, shutting down businesses, schools, and public transit. The labor stoppage dealt a further setback to Haiti’s already-fragile economy. Unions and other groups have promised to keep the government shutdown going forever.
Hundreds of people marched through the streets of Titanyen, north of Port-au-Prince, on Tuesday, demanding the release of the missionaries. Some held posters that said “Free the Americans” and “No to Kidnapping!” and stated that the missionaries assisted in paying bills and constructing roads and schools.
“They help us a lot,” Beatrice Jean added.
Meanwhile, the country’s gasoline scarcity grew worse, with companies blaming gangs for obstructing highways and gas delivery stations.
On Tuesday, hundreds of motorcyclists sped through Port-au-streets, Prince’s yelling, “If there’s no gasoline, we’re going to burn it all down!”
Police used tear gas to disperse a gathering demanding gasoline outside the prime minister’s home in one demonstration.
The FBI was “part of a concerted US government effort” to rescue the missionaries, said to White House press secretary Jen Psaki. The US Embassy in Port-au-Prince was in contact with local officials and the relatives of the captives.
“We know these organizations target U.S. people because they think they have the resources and money to pay ransoms, even if that is not the case,” Psaki said, stressing that the administration has advised Americans not to travel to Haiti.
Psaki declined to share the operation’s details since it is against US policy to deal with hostage takers.
The kidnapping was the largest of its sort in recent years, according to reports. As the country recovers from President Jovenel Mose’s killing on July 7 and the earthquake that killed over 2,200 people, Haitian gangs have become more aggressive.
Six ladies, six men, and five children were kidnapped, according to Christian Aid Ministries. The organization’s headquarters in Berlin, Ohio, was closed due to the abduction issue, according to a notice on the entrance.
According to Marcus Yoder, executive director of the Amish & Mennonite Heritage Center in neighboring Millersburg, Ohio, news of the kidnappings traveled quickly in and around Holmes County, Ohio, which is home to one of the biggest communities of Amish and conservative Mennonites in the United States.
Christian Aid Ministries is funded by conservative Anabaptist organizations such as Mennonites, Amish, and other similar groups.
According to Steven Nolt, professor of history and Anabaptist studies at Elizabethtown College in Pennsylvania, the group was formed in the early 1980s and began operating in Haiti later that decade. According to him, the organization has year-round mission workers in Haiti and numerous other nations, and it delivers religious, school, and medical materials all over the world.