The kidnapping of a group of 10 evangelical missionaries in Haiti has sparked fresh questions about law enforcement in one of the poorest countries in the Americas.
The Christian missionaries were kidnapped late on Monday from their car by men on motorcycles in Camp Perrin, in northern Haiti. They were on a mission in the coastal region when a large group of men on four motorcycles stopped the vehicle and ordered them from the vehicle. The assailants were said to be armed with machine guns and, having finished robbing the group, fled after taking the hostages away.
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The group were members of the Providence Haitian Association and were affiliated with the Scottsdale, Arizona-based Assemblies of God. They were travelling in a four-wheel drive vehicle belonging to Caritas. They are presumed to have been made to lay on the ground and then beaten with machetes. The Christians were attacked following a night spent sleeping rough in the region, after being stuck in a village with no power following flooding earlier in the week.
The biggest immediate reaction to the incident has been an outpouring of concern for the group from supporters, colleagues and politicians in the US. The country’s office of the Organisation of American States (OAS) has condemned the kidnapping.
The incident comes days after a group of 11 women missionaries from a California-based Christian group were released without charge after being held for five days. Seven women and one man have been killed in Haiti since the 2010 earthquake, and an estimated 500 churches are closed due to insecurity.
The Haitian government has recently introduced a programme to improve security, but it has not led to any substantial improvement. There is little internal mobility in Haiti, with most of the population living on one side of the country or the other, so the rescue operation and recovery after the earthquake remain a priority for the government.
Gilles Émond, the attorney general, said: “No one is excluded from the law and everyone will be checked for antecedents and checked for weapons. And we have to consider that the illegal weapons that were circulating in the country have just been controlled.”
Several explanations have been given for the men’s kidnapping. The aid organisation Concern Worldwide has said the abductors were bandits on rival kidnapping gangs’ “wish list”. There have also been reports of opportunistic kidnappings and children getting into car and motorcycle accidents.
Lyne Zamo (@old_Zamo) Innocent killers … just what we’ve expected on so many other ‘good missions’ trips.
Now, they’re got $10,000! pic.twitter.com/3PJ2fTVbFM
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Geraldine Bruno-Phillippe, an associate professor of international relations at the University of Florida, said: “As citizens of the country, we have to ask: why are we not receiving an adequate level of law enforcement? Can we rely on good intentions and humanitarianism for protection when it comes to security?”
The Seattle Times published a story on Tuesday about an unidentified survivor and asylum seeker from Haiti who said she survived by huddling under a quilt for seven hours, only to watch as another girl being taken off the highway was shot in the head.
“I couldn’t think anything. I just thought that maybe I’m going to die,” she said.
Ken Moen of the World Justice Project said the motive for the latest incident was “more than complacency” or the remnant of the cholera epidemic, which was endemic in Haiti until it was eradicated by US intervention in 2010.
Moen said: “It’s not as though people in the region are so naive that they believe that local law enforcement can’t be trusted. It’s more that what is problematic, more than the circumstances or why these people were kidnapped, is that Haiti cannot maintain a reasonable level of public safety in its territories.
“Unfortunately, it’s likelier that this was more than just a case of someone seizing opportunity. It is more likely that it was more than just a case of seizing opportunity, like cholera. It is more likely that it was more than just a case of seizing opportunity, like cholera.”