WorldKidnapping wave in Haiti portrays a stateless country

Kidnapping wave in Haiti portrays a stateless country

There are countries, like Haiti, that seem to be always decaying. Countries that are never on the news for anything good because their athletes never win anything, no one wins a cinematographic award, they don’t have a published book highlighted, they don’t have a typical dish and their turquoise beaches are unknown because the only conjugated verb is always the same : survive. Countries that sometimes explode in 35 seconds as a result of the action of nature when an earthquake shakes the earth, and sometimes in which it is man’s hand that destroys it.

Countries so insignificant that when last Saturday the news of the kidnapping of 17 religious from Ohio on the streets of Port-au-Prince hit the news around the world, someone in the back of the group seemed to raise a hand to say no, we are 18, because I , the driver, a Haitian citizen, was also kidnapped. Omissions that, obvious as they are, describe the big picture better than any report from official bodies.

People stand guard while waiting for fuel at a closed gas station in Port-au-Prince. RICARDO ARDUENGO (AFP)

The dramatic decomposition in which the Caribbean country of 11 million people is immersed required a mass kidnapping to get back to talking about how a nation decomposes in real time. How a country crumbles before our eyes.

The kidnapping of 18 people — 16 from the United States, one from Canada and one from Haiti who were part of a religious group — by a gang known as 400 Mawozo, something like ‘400 of the people’, confirms the dimension that these gangs assumed in replacing the State. The kidnappers demanded 17 million dollars (96 million reais) to free the hostages, and the gang leader threatened to “put a bullet in their heads” unless the ransom is paid.

The kidnapping of the religious is the epilogue of a series of misfortunes that reached its peak in July, when the president of Haiti, Jovenel Moïse, was murdered in his bed, plunging the country into a deep political chaos without anyone so far solving the murder. A month later, more than 2,000 people died in a magnitude 7.2 earthquake and at the same time Grace’s tropical depression left thousands destitute. While all this was happening, in no day was the arrival of planes from the United States loaded with Haitians interrupted, in total more than 11,000 deported immigrants, left to their own devices in the country after several years abroad.

Panoramic view of a market in the streets of Port-au-Prince.
Panoramic view of a market in the streets of Port-au-Prince.RICARDO ARDUENGO (AFP)

In this context, the increasingly armed gangs found in kidnappings a way to gain power and money. Between July and September, 221 kidnappings were registered. More than two people a day, including merchants, street vendors, doctors, students, children and religious, many religious. Kidnapping has become such a lucrative business that currently eight people are kidnapped a day. In the last 15 days, there were 119, according to the Center for Analysis and Research on Human Rights (CARDH), a local non-profit group that counts 36 Americans kidnapped in 2021.

So far, kidnapping foreigners has been a lucrative business, where the average fee, to begin with, is $1 million for whites (5.65 million reais) and $100,000 for locals. In a country divided by race, class and income, kidnapping has become the only democratic thing, as it affects everyone equally and the testimonies of those who manage to pay the money describe prolonged torture and ill-treatment in captivity. The consequence is that, at dusk, this turbulent, Caribbean and joyful country that survives by day, at nightfall holds its breath. “This country is upside down, you can’t walk, leave Port-au-Prince or be out on the street when the sun goes down. If we continue like this, the next step will be looting,” says Francine Sabalo, 28, who sells chicken on the streets of Juvenant, a town in the capital. His cousin, a transporter who carried goods from Port-au-Prince to Cap Haitien, was kidnapped as he crossed the Croix de Buquet neighborhood and, like many who manage to raise the money and be released, his account of what he lived through during the kidnapping contains bad beatings. -treatments, screams and eleven days of eating a bowl of rice. “He’s not the same anymore. You don’t want to talk about it because of the trauma it causes you. She starts to cry and has seizures”, she explains. According to Gedeon Jean, director of CARDH, “kidnappings do not distinguish between blacks, mulattos, rich, poor, women or children. Each kidnapping puts the whole family and the people around them into debt,” he said. According to their data, 80% of those kidnapped are released after paying amounts ranging from 1,000 to 100,000 dollars.

Barbecue, the leader of the 'G9 and family' gang, stands beside the garbage to draw attention to the conditions in which people live as he leads an anti-kidnapping march in the La Saline neighborhood of Port-au-Prince.
Barbecue, the leader of the ‘G9 and family’ gang, stands beside the garbage to draw attention to the conditions in which people live as he leads an anti-kidnapping march in the La Saline neighborhood of Port-au-Prince. Joseph Odelyn (AP)

There are currently about 150 active gangs in Haiti, according to a count conducted by the Je Klere Foundation (FJKL) in August. The strongest are the 400 Mawozo, responsible for the mass kidnapping of religious, led by Wilson Joseph, and the G-9, by Jimmy Barbecue Cherizie. The two factions have divided the city and some control the area of ​​Croix de Buquet and others, Martissan, preventing the population from leaving the city without risking their lives. Their power is such that the United Nations had to negotiate with them to allow them to unload and distribute humanitarian aid sent after the earthquake. Mexico, on the other hand, did not negotiate as it should and after two attempts had to take back its ship loaded with food and medicine after gang gunmen began shooting in front of the vessel, President López Obrador confirmed a few days later.

To explain the arrogance of the gangs and the decomposition of the state, just look at the scene that took place last Sunday during the 215th anniversary of the death of Jean Jaques Dessalines, the black slave brought from Guinea who rebelled against France and stabbed to death 4,000 whites in few weeks, starting the creation of the first free country in Latin America. Honoring his figure is a tradition that President Ariel Henry wanted to fulfill and also BBQ, who appeared at the scene dressed exactly like the president, in a white suit and black tie, surrounded by armed people. the appearance of BBQ made Henry flee, taking refuge in a nearby police station. Even worse, the police officers who were supposed to protect him despised the president and applauded the arrival of BBQ, according to an agent present at the police station. “Until now the gangs functioned as a transmission belt for the parties, but they have gained firepower and money and it will be difficult to fit them back into the current power vacuum,” describes one European diplomat. “We are witnessing the end of a cycle. The end of the rule of law. The State has never been a big deal in Haiti, but we had never seen this situation of decomposition”, explains Heroldy Jean Françoise, director of Radio Ibo, one of the most listened to in the country.

A woman washes clothes inside a shelter for families displaced by gang violence in the church of Saint Yves in Port-au-Prince.
A woman washes clothes inside a shelter for families displaced by gang violence in the church of Saint Yves in Port-au-Prince.RICARDO ARDUENGO (AFP)

As a result of the control of the port, through which 70% of the gasoline enters, ships have stopped arriving and the shortage has inflamed the population, who this week protested blocking roads to demand an end to insecurity. “We have no president, no gas, no money, just hunger,” said young Louis Bourgone, who was taking part in protests with a stone in his hand at a barricade in Delmas. With so many international journalists in their country, Haitians took the opportunity to burn tires and block streets, tired of being kidnapped number 18 that no one talks about.

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