Seventeen missionaries were kidnapped by an armed gang in Haiti on Saturday. It was the latest in what experts are calling a kidnapping crisis in the country — a crisis largely driven by one gang.



Seventeen American missionaries, including children, were kidnapped yesterday by a gang in Haiti. The Ohio-based Christian Aid Ministries said that they were on their way home from helping to build an orphanage. The Caribbean nation is still reeling from the events following the assassination of President Jovenel Moise in July and a deadly 7.2-magnitude earthquake. Widlore Merancourt is the editor-in-chief of the AyiboPost. And he joins me now from Port-au-Prince. Thank you very much. Hello.


GARCIA-NAVARRO: It is good to have you. What is the latest on the location of the missionaries?

MERANCOURT: Well, a lot of details are still yet to be uncovered because the information was circulating early in the morning yesterday that what we do know is they were on the way to the airport when they were kidnapped. So the gang that is allegedly responsible for the kidnapping of these missionaries and other people is responsible for the most cases of kidnappings that we see in Haiti this year. And they are very well-known because, you know, this is their brand, kidnapping people.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Has the U.S. government said anything about the search? I mean, do we know if they are involved at all?

MERANCOURT: Well, the U.S. Embassy in Haiti is involved, but they are not giving a lot of details. I mean, it's a sensitive matter. It's expected that they would not be in the press commenting. But they confirm that they have this information and the well-being and the safety of U.S. citizens - their priority.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: We are, of course, talking about U.S. citizens at this particular point in time. You also mentioned, of course, that Haitians were kidnapped. And Haitians are dealing with this insecurity every single day. Can you just take me to Haiti right now and tell me what it is like there with gangs kidnapping people seemingly at random and without any real control?

MERANCOURT: Yes, exactly. The wave of kidnapping that we are seeing in Haiti right now is the worst in the history of the country. The kidnapping of this year is already sixfold more than what we saw last year for the entire year. And Haiti has the highest rates per capita kidnappings of the world - more kidnappings than Mexico City, Bogota and Sao Paulo combined. It's a very dire situation. Kids, children are being kidnapped. Women are being kidnapped - practically everybody. You'll see police officers being kidnapped. But you see, you know, small merchants on the street being kidnapped. Sometimes, they ask for a lot of money. They can ask for 3 millions of dollars. But, sometimes, they - when they kidnapped the poor person on the street, they will settle for as little as $100.

So it's something that most Haitians are living with, and lots of people choose to not go in the street because they are afraid. In Port-au-Prince, when it's 6 p.m., 7 p.m., you can see how little traffic you have in the street because of this kidnapping problem. I mean, five minutes from where I live, yesterday, police officers were chasing a couple of guys that just kidnapped someone. The police officers are notoriously not well-equipped to deal with this situation. And most Haitians are living with, you know, this fear of being kidnapped. And you have, also, a wave of people leaving the country because of that.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Widlore Merancourt is the editor-in-chief of the AyiboPost in Haiti and a contributor to The Washington Post. Thank you very much.

MERANCOURT: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.


In an earlier version of this story, Widlore Mérancourt's first name was misspelled as Wid dore. Additionally, the original audio for this story stated that the 17 missionaries kidnapped are all American, but it is unclear that all 17 are from the United States.