The streets of Haiti’s capital Port-au-Prince were quiet on Monday as Haitians engaged in a general strike to protest worsening insecurity and gang violence after the abduction of a group of Christian missionaries.
“The population cannot take it anymore,” said Holin Alexis, a moto-taxi driver who joined the strike.
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Barricades of burning tires closed off some streets in the capital and other cities, with some people throwing rocks at the occasional car that drove past, the Associated Press reported.
The FBI was working with State Department diplomats to locate and free the missionaries in the Western Hemisphere’s poorest nation, which has descended into crisis since the assassination of its prime minister in July.
“The president has been briefed and is receiving regular updates on what the State Department and the FBI are doing to bring these individuals home safely,” White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said on Monday.
“The FBI is part of a coordinated US government effort to get the US citizens involved to safety,” Psaki said, declining to provide additional details because of “operational considerations”.
A Haitian gang known for brazen kidnappings and killings was accused by Port-au-Prince police of kidnapping the US missionaries, including 12 adults and five children. It was the largest reported kidnapping of its kind in recent years.
The kidnapped group from Ohio-based Christian Aid Ministries consisted of 16 US citizens and one Canadian national. They were in a bus after a visit to an orphanage when they were abducted, the group said.
“We are entering the third day since seventeen of our workers were kidnapped by a gang in Haiti,” Christian Aid Ministries said in a statement on Monday.
“Civil authorities in Haiti and the United States are aware of what has happened and are offering assistance,” said the group, founded and supported by Amish and Mennonite church groups.
“We continue to monitor the situation closely and are in earnest prayer,” the statement said.
Haiti has seen a sharp rise in kidnappings following the killing of President Jovenel Moise in July as armed gangs take advantage of spreading insecurity, food shortages and the government’s political crisis.
The 400 Mawozo gang snatched the missionary group in Ganthier, east of the capital of Port-au-Prince, Haitian police inspector Frantz Champagne told the AP news agency on Sunday.
The gang, whose name roughly translates to 400 “inexperienced men”, controls the Croix-des-Bouquets area that includes Ganthier, where the kidnapping occurred.
The Centre for Analysis and Research in Human Rights in Port-au-Prince has tallied an alarming increase in kidnappings in Haiti, with more than 600 in the first three months of 2021, up from 231 in the corresponding period of 2020.
“The police have proven incapable of confronting the gangs, which have become better organised and which control more and more territory,” Gedeon Jean, director of the centre, told the Agence France-Presse.