Irish poet and playwright Oscar Wilde is credited with voicing that “No good deed goes unpunished.” Proof of his saying is playing out, not in Ireland, but in Haiti right now. A ruthless Haitian gang has kidnapped a group of 17 missionaries, including women and children, who were returning from rebuilding work at an orphanage. Not what most of us would deem a fitting reward for those actively helping their fellow man. Sadly, this crime is not an isolated incident in Haiti.
If you are planning a Caribbean vacation, cross Haiti off of your list. Why? It may be a tropical location, but Haiti is better described as the wild, wild west currently. It’s the kidnapping capital of the world, and the country is in general is plagued by lawlessness. Gangs are believed to control over two-thirds of Haiti. The situation is so bad in the Caribbean’s most populous country that the U.S. government has urged U.S. citizens not to travel there. You don’t have to tell me twice!
In case you are leery of anything the U.S. government advises, let’s consider some facts. At least 629 kidnappings were reported in Haiti since January. Of the victims, 29 were foreigners. Well, at least the criminals aren’t biased; they’ll take their fellow countrymen as well as hapless foreigners. A 300% increase in kidnappings has occurred since July. And these criminals aren’t taking any kind of a fall break. During the first half of October, at least 119 kidnappings were carried out.
What in the world is happening to result in such rampant crime in Haiti? The country is dealing with a number of daunting issues such as political instability, civil unrest, severe poverty, and natural disasters among others. Just this year the country’s president was shot and killed at his residence in early July, and a 7.2 strength earthquake killed over 2,200 people the following month. Haiti is the Western Hemisphere’s poorest country; over 40% of the population is food insecure. The bottom line is that the country is a hot mess.
The continuing lack of opportunity in Haiti is a breeding ground for the rise of gangs. Some 165 factions are thought to operate in the capital city of Port-au-Prince. Even scarier than the number of gangs is that many of them are better armed than the country’s police force. Food may be hard to come by, but weapons are apparently a commodity which can be secured.
The high profile gang of the moment is 400 Mawozo. The gang’s name roughly translates to 400 “inexperienced men.” I’m not sure what they are inexperienced at, but it isn’t kidnapping. Once notorious for stealing cars, gang members now focus on kidnapping. This gang has pioneered and perfected kidnappings of large groups of victims from cars and buses. Why kidnapping? Holding the victims for ransom provides a healthy, albeit illegal, source of income and is a hallmark of the gang’s activity. In addition to kidnappings, 400 Mawozo dabbles in carjackings and extortion of business owners. They might be lawless but they are certainly industrious.
To no one’s surprise, the surge in kidnappings has people afraid to go into the streets. The Haitian transportation union called for an indefinite strike starting Monday to protest the spike in kidnappings. The transportation sector, of course, is an easy and frequent target of the gangs.
The great increase in abductions this year is indicative of the growing power of violent criminal gangs in Haiti. Mawozo 400 has essentially taken control of Croix des Bouquets, a northeast suburb of Port-au-Prince, and the location of the orphanage Maison La Providence de Dieu. To this orphanage a group of missionaries with the Ohio-based Christian Aid Ministries traveled to assist with rebuilding efforts from damage in the August earthquake. Despite the knowledge of the dangerous conditions in Haiti, these missionaries willingly took risks to travel to this needy country to show love and to help their fellow man. But the gangs are no respecters of people of faith. Earlier this year they kidnapped 5 priests and 2 nuns. These gang members sure have a lot of actions to confess….
While traveling back to their in-country base of operations on October 16, the Ohio missionary group ran into some trouble. (OK, a LOT of trouble.) The 400 Mawozo stopped their van, and all 17 group members were taken hostage. In the group were 16 Americans and 1 Canadian–5 men, 7 women, and 5 children. The adults ranged in age from 18 to 48, and the children were 8 months, 3, 6, 13, and 15. With the children, I’m rooting for a “The Ransom of Red Chief” situation to occur.
How did the locals react to this rude treatment of people who came to Haiti to help people they did not even know? They were less than pleased. On October 19th, a peaceful demonstration was staged in Titanyen, north of Port-au-Prince, to protest the kidnappings. Participants held aloft signs saying “No to Kidnapping!” Protestors pointed out that the victims had helped them; they had built roads and schools and assisted with bills. These Haitians, unlike the gang members. recognized the missionaries did not deserve to be treated in this fashion given their unselfish acts.
But these protestations have fallen on deaf ears. The gang is holding firm to its demand of $1 million for EACH hostage. U.S. policy, however, is that it won’t negotiate with hostage takers. Wilson Joseph, the gang’s leader, has indicated that if the ransom is not paid, “I’ll put a bullet in each of their heads.” Despite the gang’s barbaric actions and statements, the missionary organization made a statement advising hat family members of the hostages had forgiven the perpetrators.
How this outrageous criminal incident will conclude is unknown. Hopefully, it will result in gang members cooling their heels in a hot jail cell for a lengthy time during which they can contemplate their selfishness and depravity. As for the hostages, I personally believe their good deeds will eventually be rewarded; unfortunately, that may not occur in this life. Nevertheless, they have provided a worthy example of putting the good of others before oneself. I, for one, am appreciative of their efforts to show love and to care for their fellow man.
Do you agree with the U.S. policy not to negotiate with kidnappers? Why or why not? If given the opportunity, would you travel to Haiti on a humanitarian or mission trip? Should the U.S. be concerned about the unstable condition in Haiti?