In Haiti on Sunday, people suspected to be members of an armed gang named “400 Mawozo” kidnapped ten people including two nuns, five priests, and three family members of one of the priests.
The suspected abductors have asked for a ransom of $1 million, according to a report from Vatican News on Monday. The hostages are said to include one French priest and one French nun, with the remaining captives being Haitians.
“This new case is a reflection of the collapse of the security apparatus of the state and the country. No one seems to be safe anymore,” Redemptorist Father Renold Antoine said to Fides, the news agency of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, on Monday.
“Outlawed groups continue to sow fear and sadness in the hearts of the population,” he added.
The kidnapping was said to have taken place in Croix-des-Bouquets, a commune north of the capital city of Port-au-Prince, while the religious collective was traveling to appoint the new parish priest.
“The nation must stand up and fight these thugs,” secretary general of the Haitian Catholic Bishops’ Conference Father Gilbert Peltrop said.
France’s Foreign Ministry acknowledged that two French citizens had been taken hostage in Haiti but did not go into further detail, citing security concerns.
“The crisis and support centre of the ministry of Europe and foreign affairs is fully mobilized as well as our embassy in Haiti, in close contact with local authorities,” the statement said.
The kidnapping happened less than two weeks after the abduction of a Christian pastor along with three others by armed combatants, as hostage taking motivated by ransom money has seen a spike in the last few months in Port-au-Prince as well as other parts of the country.
Seventy percent of Haiti’s population of nearly ten million people live below the poverty line, making it the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere.
Haiti, which accounts for almost a third of the island of Hispaniola, is in the throes of a serious economic, political, and social crisis. In the past 15 years natural disasters such as hurricanes, earthquakes, and epidemics have led to a rash of hostage-taking and violence.
“This is too much. The time has come for these inhuman acts to stop,” Bishop Pierre-André Dumas of the Haitian commune Miragoane said to AFP.
“The Church prays and stands in solidarity with all the victims of this heinous act.”
Haitian President Jovenel Moïse has occupied his office for over a year by decree, due to the lack of a legislative body in the nation as well as a delay in parliamentary elections, which were first scheduled for January 2020 but have since been postponed, along with presidential elections, until next September.
On Feb. 2, a fiery statement issued from the Haitian Bishops’ Conference emphasized that the nation had become “totally unlivable.”
“The daily life of the Haitian people is reduced to death, homicides, impunity and insecurity,” the bishops asserted. “Discontent is present everywhere, in all areas.”
Moïse declared a month-long state of emergency in March to attempt to salvage some semblance of safety in territory now controlled by gangs, which includes the country’s capital.
The new measure was a response to the activities involving armed gangs that “kidnap people for ransom, openly declaring it, steal and loot public and private property and openly confront the public security forces,” he said in a presidential statement.
For now, all the French Bishops’ Conference can do is declare its sympathy for Haiti, expressing its “deep concern over the kidnapping of seven people in Haiti” and begging the abductors to “free the men and women of peace they have kidnapped and not to add further hatred where poverty and insecurity already exist.”