Kidnappings in Haiti have increased during the first three months of 2022, continuing a grim surge that began last year and may in large part be the result of the country’s economic crisis preventing gangs from making money elsewhere.
From January to March 2022, Haiti registered 225 kidnappings, a 58 percent jump from the 142 during the same period last year, according to a new report by the Haiti-based Center for Analysis and Research in Human Rights (Centre d’analyse et de recherche en droits de l’homme – CARDH).
The report provided a detailed geographical breakdown of kidnapping hotspots and actors. It identified the Grand Ravine gang, based in the capital of Port-au-Prince, as the main culprit, stating that the gang and its allies “kidnap at will” in numerous neighborhoods and slums around the city.
Interestingly, the northern Port-au-Prince suburb of Croix-des-Bouquets saw a reduction in the crime. The neighborhood suffered a spree of kidnappings last year that included the abduction of 17 missionaries. Between July and December 2021, 400 Mawozo, the gang that controls Croix-des-Bouquets and took the missionaries, was responsible for 60 percent of kidnappings nationwide. This fell to under 20 percent during the past three months, according to the report. The CARDH noted that the drop was likely due to several members having been killed by authorities and many others having fled the area.
According to the report, fewer foreigners were the subjects of kidnappings in 2022 when compared to last year, although as InSight Crime has noted, this is likely due to most international organizations and charities having suspended operations in Haiti.
While lawlessness and kidnappings have plagued Haiti for years, the power and impunity of street gangs has increased markedly since the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse in July 2021. The ability of gang leaders to influence national decision-making in Haiti became so clear that, in 2021, InSight Crime named as its Criminal Winner Haiti’s most powerful criminal figure, Jimmy Chérizier, alias “Barbecue.”
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Relations between Haiti’s gangs and its political and business elites are at the core of this kidnapping crisis.
Allies of Jovenel Moïse, the slain president, maintained a business relationship with the G9 and Family (G9 an fanmi), a gang alliance in Port-au-Prince led by Chérizier. A report by Harvard Law School’s International Human Rights Clinic revealed how the Moïse government funnelled money, weapons, uniforms and vehicles to gangs like the G9, in exchange for them repressing political opponents, often brutally, and maintaining the peace in poorer neighborhoods.
Moïse’s death saw this source of funding dry up. In July 2021, the month the president was assassinated, Haiti saw 31 registered kidnappings. This soared immediately afterwards to 73, 117 and 140 monthly kidnappings for August, September and October, according to the CARDH report.
Gangs have tried other ways of making money. The multimillion-dollar ransoms demanded by 400 Mawozo for the kidnapped missionaries was one. Those with the clout and resources to do, such as the G9, have been more ambitious. Chérizier paralyzed the country by blocking off access to oil terminals and provoking a fuel crisis, for which he allegedly received a handsome payoff.
But for others, the collapse of regular businesses has seen extortion payments dry up and the departure of foreign organizations has deprived them of more lucrative targets. The average Haitians are paying the cost. According to CARDH, those most commonly targeted for kidnapping are now lawyers, doctors, public officials, students, police officers and small business owners.
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