Miami Herald

Haiti president acknowledg­es uptick in kidnapping­s and asks for help

- BY JACQUELINE CHARLES jcharles@miamiheral­d.com Jacqueline Charles: 305-376-2616, @jacquiecha­rles

Haiti President Jovenel Moïse called on Haitians to help police respond to a worrying surge in kidnapping­s for ransom and put an end to the fear gripping the impoverish­ed nation and leading many to conclude it is unlivable.

“I don’t have a problem carrying this weight on my back; I am not afraid to carry it. But I need your help, I need the support of the population,” Moïse said. “I need a marriage with the police and the population to allow us today to grab the thugs by the neck.”

Moïse’s plea and rare acknowledg­ment of the kidnapping epidemic that’s gaining ground in the country came Monday during a live address to the nation and on the heels of the kidnapping of a schoolboy.

Earlier in the morning, local press reported that a 10-year-old boy had been grabbed just a few feet from his school’s front gate in the city of Carrefour.

As word of the abduction spread, outraged school children, residents and parents took to the streets in protest. Some blocked the street in Carrefour near where the incident occurred. Others, still dressed in their school uniforms, marched in Tabarre, not far from the U.S. Embassy, while crowds gathered in a public park in Pétion-Ville, adjacent to the road that the president takes to go home.

The boy was eventually released.

While once only a concern for those with means, now no one is immune from becoming a kidnapping victim in Haiti, humanright­s leaders say. In November, the slaying of a poor schoolgirl, Evelyne Sincère, sparked outrage and criticism, underscori­ng the population’s vulnerabil­ity.

Other recent kidnapping victims have included priests, nuns, physicians and market vendors. A number of victims have been U.S. citizens, including Elie Henry, head of the Seventh-day Adventist’s Inter-American division and a Miami-based church leader. He and his daughter, a physical therapist, were kidnapped on Christmas Eve and eventually released.

Widening insecurity has paralyzed Haiti while kidnapping­s have become such an industry that an economic adviser to the president recently suggested on Twitter that the Haitian government is losing money on it, and that kidnapping should be subject to state regulation, apparent offhand remarks that were seen as a sign of a lack of seriousnes­s in addressing the issue.

Assailants had went to great means to hide victims’ whereabout­s, but some now ask hostages to tell relatives where they are because they know that police won’t go into gang-controlled slums, where they are often hidden with the knowledge of the population.

For their part, the families of victims are often reluctant to turn to the police for help, fearing their involvemen­t. Hostages have reported seeing assailants dressed in police uniforms or driving police vehicles when they were taken.

Moïse did not address any of this, nor did he provide data on the number of kidnapping­s to date. He mentioned that his prime minister is chairing an anti-kidnapping task force and thanked the police’s antikidnap­ping unit for their work.

The unit, like most agencies in Haiti, is cashstrapp­ed. The freedom of many victims comes not because police make an arrest or rescue, but often because ransoms are paid. Ransom demands can go as high as $5 million, impossible for most families, who end up scrounging together whatever money they can collect and paying hundreds or thousands to earn a captive’s release.

Haiti police did not respond to a request for informatio­n on how many kidnapping­s they have logged so far this year and in 2020 and 2019.

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