Reuters file photo: A typical view of buildings in Port-au-Prince, October 4, 2020 from the outskirts of Port-au-Prince, Haiti. Reuter / Andres Martinez Kaiser
Written by Gesica Thomas and Brian Ellsworth
PORT-AU-PRINCE (Reuters) – Haiti’s Prime Minister Ariel Henry tried to lead a ceremony to commemorate the death of one of the country’s founding fathers on Sunday, but his delegation was met with a gunfight that forced officials to withdraw.
This is another sign of the growing power of groups of Caribbean peoples who kidnapped a group of Christian missionaries traveling near the capital, Port-au-Prince, on Saturday.
Human rights activist Pierre Esperance said that since the assassination of President Jovenal Moiz in July and the earthquake in August, gangs have become more comfortable committing crimes outside their area of control.
“The government that has been in power for three months is powerless in front of it,” Esperance, executive director of the National Human Rights Defense Network, said in a telephone interview.
“There is no plan, no way to fight insecurity. The national police force has not been strengthened.”
The missionary group Christian Aid Ministry said in a statement on Sunday that one or two U.S. citizens and one Canadian had been abducted while visiting an orphanage.
Security experts suspect that a gang known as the 40,000 Maozos is involved, controlling the commune Crocs-des-Bouquets, about miles (1 km) outside the capital.
Five priests, including two French nationals, and two nuns were abducted in April at Crix-des-Bouquet, also in connection with a crime suspected of being linked to 40,000 Maoists. They were released the same month.
The Sunday ceremony in honor of Jean-Jacques Desalins, who proclaimed the independence of the Haitians from France in 1804, was planned for Pont-Rouge, the eastern gateway to the city of Port-au-Prince, where Desaline was assassinated in 1806.
Officers have struggled for years to hold the event because of the presence of a gang alliance known as the G9, led by former police officer Jimmy Cherzier, aka “Barbecue.”
Henry instead laid a wreath at the Haitian National Pantheon Museum in the capital.
A spokesman for Henry’s cabinet did not respond to a request for comment.
The growing economic situation in the poorer countries and the growing expatriates of Haitians in the abduction have risen to look for better opportunities in other countries.
Last month, the United States deported about 7,000 Haitians who tried to enter the country via Mexico.
There have been at least 628 abductions in Haiti in the first nine months of 2021, including 29 involving foreigners, according to a report by the Haitian nonprofit Center for Analysis and Research Human Rights, or Card.
The actual figures are probably much higher because Haitians do not report kidnappings, for fear of retaliation by criminal gangs.
“The gangs have been brought together, they are well-organized, they have more money and ideals,” said Gadion Jean, director of the card. “We are moving towards a proto-state. The team is getting weaker and the police are getting weaker.”