Suspected members of an armed gang called 400 Mawozo abducted ten people in Haiti on Sunday: two religious sisters, five priests, and three family members of one of the priests.
The kidnappers have demanded a ransom of $1 million for the group, Vatican News reported Monday, which includes one French priest and one French nun. The rest are Haitians.
The abduction took place in Croix-des-Bouquets, a commune northeast of the capital city of Port-au-Prince, while the group was on its way to the installation of a new parish priest.
“The nation must stand up and fight these episodes,” said Father Gilbert Peltrop, secretary general of the Haitian Catholic Bishops’ Conference.
The abduction took place less than two weeks after the kidnapping by armed gunmen of a Christian pastor and three others, as ransom-motivated seizures have surged in recent months in Port-au-Prince and elsewhere in the country.
Haiti has a population of some 10 million, of which more than 70 percent live below the poverty line, making it the poorest country in the Americas.
Haiti, which occupies about a third of the island of Hispaniola is experiencing a serious economic, political, and social crisis. Fifteen years of natural disasters such as hurricanes, earthquakes, and epidemics have paved the way for kidnappings and violent crimes.
Haitian President Jovenel Moïse has been governing for more than a year by decree, given the absence of the legislative body, and parliamentary elections, originally scheduled for January 2020, have been postponed to next September along with presidential elections.
In a searing public statement released on February 2, the Haitian Bishops’ Conference said that the country had become “totally unlivable.”
“The daily life of the Haitian people is reduced to death, homicides, impunity and insecurity,” the bishops said. “Discontent is present everywhere, in all areas.”
In March, Moïse declared a month-long state of emergency to restore security in gang-controlled areas, including in the capital.
The step was a reaction to the actions of armed gangs that “kidnap people for ransom, openly declaring it, steal and loot public and private property and openly confront the public security forces,” read the presidential decree.
For its part, the French Bishops’ Conference has expressed its solidarity with Haiti, voicing its “deep concern over the kidnapping of seven people in Haiti” and appealing to the kidnappers to “free the men and women of peace they have kidnapped and not to add further hatred where poverty and insecurity already exist.”