PBS NewsHour


How American missionaries' kidnapping signals chaos in Haiti

A group of majority American missionaries in Haiti have not been heard from since their kidnapping over the weekend, a. As Yamiche Alcindor reports, there has been a growing number of abductions in Haiti, amid a number of crises there. Gary Pierre-Pierre, founder of The Haitian Times, an English-language publication serving the Haitian diaspora, joins Yamiche to discuss.

AIRED: October 18, 2021 | 0:06:36

JUDY WOODRUFF: A group of mainly American missionaries has not been heard from since

their kidnapping in Haiti over the weekend by a dangerous gang.

As Yamiche Alcindor, abductions are on the rise in Haiti, just one of a number of crises there.

YAMICHE ALCINDOR: On Saturday, the 17 kidnapping victims had just visited this

orphanage when they were seized, a sign of mounting dangers on the island nation.

CHARLES PIERRE, Motorcycle Taxi Driver (through translator): When we hear there is a kidnapping,

the effect of the kidnapping, we know it's not going to be good for drivers,

motorcycle drivers. People do not go out in the streets.

YAMICHE ALCINDOR: The Ohio-based Christian Aid Ministries says those abducted on Saturday

included 16 Americans and one Canadian. Five were children, one just 2 years old.

Haitian authorities say they were taken by the Katsan Mawozo, a notorious gang known

for kidnappings, killings and extortion. The missionaries were snatched in Ganthier,

a community east of Port-au-Prince, within the gang's known territory.

U.S. officials, including the FBI, are consulting with Haiti

to find the kidnapped 17 and bring them home.

NED PRICE, Spokesperson, State Department: Our embassy team

in Haiti has been in constant contact with the Haitian national police,

with the missionary group Christian Aid Ministries, and family members

of the victims. This is something that we have treated as -- with the utmost priority.

YAMICHE ALCINDOR: Haiti has been experiencing hardship on many fronts.

Kidnappings have spiked since President Jovenel Moise was assassinated in July.

In August, a massive earthquake devastated what was already the Western hemisphere's poorest

nation. And last month, thousands of Haitian migrants were expelled from the United States,

after crossing the border at Del Rio, Texas, and sent back to Haiti.

Against that backdrop, Haiti's gangs have grown in power, even marching in the streets.

And with me now is Garry Pierre-Pierre. He is the founder of The Haitian Times,

an English-language publication focused on covering the island nation.

Garry, welcome back to the "NewsHour." Thanks for being here.

What do these most recent kidnappings say about the

current state of Haiti and the insecurity there?

GARRY PIERRE-PIERRE, Founder, The Haitian Times: Well, thanks for having me, Yamiche.

What it means, it means that the country has plunged into chaos. And it has reached a depth

that we wouldn't even dream of just a few months ago. These gangs have been

operating with impunity, and they have gotten emboldened as we go along.

YAMICHE ALCINDOR: This was carried out by a gang, Katsan Mawozo. Can you tell me a

little a bit more about this gang. In English, it's 400 Mawozo, in Creole, Katsan Mawozo.

GARRY PIERRE-PIERRE: Yes, this gang has been

among the most violent, the most brazen of the gangs that have been operating in Haiti.

They're in the northeast corridor of the capital, Port-au-Prince.

Their M.O. is to abduct buses, taxis, and so to maximize

the ransom opportunity they get from abducting a large number of people, as opposed to individuals.

YAMICHE ALCINDOR: The other thing is, in Haiti, kidnappings have spiked 200,

300 percent. People have gotten so scared.

Talk a bit about us sort of what makes this kidnapping of these 17 missionaries,

16, Americans, one Canadian, different than the kidnappings

we have seen in the past. Talk about the evolution of kidnappings here.

GARRY PIERRE-PIERRE: Well, the kidnappings started years ago, by the way. It was basically targeting

mulatto class. They felt that they were rich, they had money. So they were kidnapped.

Then the darker skin rich Haitians were targeted.

And then, after that, street vendors were targeted. Just about anybody could be

kidnapped in Haiti, right? And so we have seen foreigners slowly being targeted.

We had French Catholic priests that were kidnapped. And then we saw churches. They

got inside the churches and abducted the pastors and parishioners live on Facebook.

And so now I was told that everybody is unsafe, except white American,

because everybody is afraid of the wrath of the U.S. government. But with this kidnapping

on Saturday, it shows to us clearly that this is not a concern anymore.

And, in fact, they are telling the Americans, OK, come get us if you can.

And so they have taken it to another level that this is the last stop. And every time I think

this is the last stop, something else happens and tells me you have a long way to go down.

YAMICHE ALCINDOR: The U.S.' position has clearly been that they do not negotiate

with terrorists. They don't pay ransoms. How do you see this possibly being resolved here?

And, also, how does that connect with the way that the Haitian government and the Haitian people see

negotiating with terrorists and negotiating with gangs?

GARRY PIERRE-PIERRE: The Haitian government has negotiated with these guys.

The Haitian people have negotiated with these guys. It's very difficult if you have a loved

one in captivity for you not to pay the money for their freedom. The U.S. government has a

different position. It's very clear. They say they don't negotiate with terrorists.

But these guys are terrorists, by the way, because that's what they're doing.

We call them gangs, but they are terrorists terrorizing the country.

So it'll be interesting to see how the U.S. handles this. And I know that there

are FBI agents on the ground, and perhaps these 400 Mawozos have never dealt with

FBI interrogation or a negotiator. And so it'll be interesting to see how this is resolved.

They are going to demand money. This is all about money. This is not about ideology. This is not

anything to do with political. This is: We want money. We want power. We want control.

And we're going to attack Americans if that means getting more money.

YAMICHE ALCINDOR: A tough situation in Haiti.

Thank you so much, Garry Pierre-Pierre, for joining us.

GARRY PIERRE-PIERRE: My pleasure, Yamiche. Thank you.


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