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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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
A tough situation in Haiti.
Thank you so much, Garry Pierre-Pierre, for joining us.
My pleasure, Yamiche. Thank you.
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Yamiche Alcindor is the White House correspondent for the PBS NewsHour; the moderator of Washington Week, the weekly public affairs show on PBS; and a political contributor for NBC News and MSNBC. She often tells stories about the intersection of race and politics as well as fatal police encounters. She is currently covering the administration of President Joe Biden and the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.
Layla Quran is a general assignment producer for PBS NewsHour. She was previously a foreign affairs reporter and producer.
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