U.S. Embassy urges Americans in Haiti to leave the country “as soon as possible”

Haiti Tear Gas

Important Takeaways:

  • American citizens in Haiti should leave the country “as soon as possible” because of spiraling security and infrastructure “challenges,” the U.S. Embassy said in a travel advisory issued late Wednesday.
  • Over the weekend, a Haitian gang opened fire on protesters from a church who sought to confront one gang leader over the surging turmoil. At least seven people were killed.
  • If “you encounter a roadblock, turn around and get to a safe area,” a reference to an escalating gang turf war that has seen Haiti consumed by random killings, rapes, extortion and kidnappings.
  • Haiti’s gangs have been vying for territory and resources in the wake of the 2021 assassination of President Jovenel Moïse. They now control large parts of the country.

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Haiti is becoming too Dangerous: US officials request government personnel to leave

US Embassy Haiti

Important Takeaways:

  • US Orders Government Personnel, Family Members to Leave Haiti
  • The U.S. State Department on Thursday ordered non-emergency government personnel and family members to leave Haiti as soon as possible, citing “kidnapping, crime, civil unrest, and poor health care infrastructure.”
  • The State Department said U.S. citizens not working for the government should also leave Haiti as soon as possible “by commercial or other privately available transportation options.”
  • “Kidnapping is widespread, and victims regularly include U.S. citizens. Kidnappers may use sophisticated planning or take advantage of unplanned opportunities, and even convoys have been attacked,” the State Department said in a travel advisory.
  • Haiti has struggled to contain violence and chaos as heavily armed gangs drive a humanitarian crisis that has displaced tens of thousands amid frequent kidnappings for ransom, gang rapes, tortures and murders.
  • The Caribbean nation has not elected a new leader since President Jovenel Moïse was assassinated on July 7, 2021.

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U.S. and Canadian missionaries kidnapped in Haiti released by gang

By Gessika Thomas and Brian Ellsworth

(Reuters) -The last 12 Canadian and American missionaries from a group kidnapped in October in Haiti have been released, police said on Thursday, ending an ordeal that brought global attention to the Caribbean nation’s growing problem of gang abductions.

The group, which was abducted by a gang known as 400 Mawozo after visiting an orphanage, originally numbered 17 people on a trip organized by Ohio-based Christian Aid Ministries (CAM).

Five of the hostages had already been freed in recent weeks, and the final dozen were found by authorities on a mountain called Morne à Cabrit, said police spokesman Garry Derosier. He declined to provide further details on the release.

“Join us in praising God that all seventeen of our loved ones are now safe,” CAM said in a statement. “Thank you for your fervent prayers throughout the past two months.”

The 400 Mawozo gang, which controls territory to the east of the capital Port-au-Prince, had said it was seeking a ransom of $1 million for each of the missionaries.

The gang’s leader, who goes by the nickname Lanmo Sanjou and has appeared in internet videos wearing a Spider-Man mask, had said he was willing to kill the hostages.

It was not immediately clear whether any ransom was paid.

Gangs have extended their control of territory in Haiti since the assassination in July of President Jovenel Moise. One gang coalition in October created a nationwide fuel shortage by blocking access to storage terminals.

Haitians say everyone from well-heeled elites to working class street vendors face the threat of abduction by the gangs.

(Reporting by Gessika Thomas in Cap-Haitien and Brian Ellsworth in Caracas; Editing by Daniel Wallis)

Haiti crippled by fuel shortages as gang leader demands prime minister resign

By Brian Ellsworth and Gessika Thomas

PORT-AU-PRINCE (Reuters) -Haiti’s streets were unusually quiet on Tuesday and gas stations remained dry as gangs blocked the entrance to ports that hold fuel stores and the country’s main gang boss demanded that Prime Minister Ariel Henry resign.

Days-long fuel shortages have left Haitians with few transport options and forced the closure of some businesses. Hospitals, which rely on diesel generators to ensure electricity due to constant blackouts, may shut down as well.

The situation has put further pressure on a population already struggling under a weakening economy and a wave of gang kidnappings, which include the abduction earlier this month of a group of Canadian and American missionaries.

Jimmy “Barbecue” Cherizier, leader of the ‘G9’ coalition of gangs in the metropolitan area of the capital Port-au-Prince, said in a radio interview on Monday night that he would ensure safe passage of fuel trucks if Henry leaves office.

“The areas under the control of the G9 are blocked for one reason only – we demand the resignation of Ariel Henry,” Cherizier said in an interview on Haiti’s Radio Mega.

“If Ariel Henry resigns at 8:00 am, at 8:05 am we will unblock the road and all the trucks will be able to go through to get fuel.”

A spokesperson for Henry’s office did not respond to a request for comment. Reuters was unable to contact Cherizier.

His statements show how gangs have taken on an increasingly political role following the July assassination of President Jovenel Moise. Cherizier has said Henry should “answer questions” linking him to Moise’s murder. Henry has denied any involvement.

Elections had originally been scheduled for November but were suspended after Henry last month dismissed the council that organizes elections, which critics had accused of being biased in favor of Moise. Henry has promised to appoint a new non-partisan council that will set a new date.

Kidnappings have been in the headlines for months as Haitians from all walks of life face abduction by the increasingly powerful gangs.

The missionaries traveling as part of a trip organized by Ohio-based Christian Aid Ministries was abducted by a gang called 400 Mawozo that operates east of the capital and is seeking a ransom of $1 million for each person.

Christian Aid Ministries asked people in a statement on Tuesday to remember both those “being held hostage as well as those recovering from the experience of being kidnapped.”

‘THE WORST I’VE SEEN’

Haiti’s foreign aid bureau BMPAD, which oversees fuel procurement, tweeted a video saying the country has 150,000 barrels of diesel and 50,000 barrels of gasoline, with another 50,000 barrels of gasoline set to arrive on Wednesday.

A total 100,000 barrels of diesel and gasoline would supply Haiti’s fuel needs for five to seven says, said Marc Andre Deriphonse, head of the country’s service station owners’ association ANAPROSS.

Businesses have been warning that they may have to halt operations for lack of fuel. Telecoms firms said some cell towers are no longer in operation.

“This is the worst I’ve seen,” said one motorcycle taxi driver waiting to pick up passengers outside Port-au-Prince, when asked about the fuel shortages. He declined to give his name.

Motorcycle drivers strap one-gallon containers to their bikes in the hopes of filling them with fuel sold on the black market. A gallon of gas on the street can now fetch $20, compared with typical filling station prices of around $2.

Transportation industry leaders have called for strikes to protest the wave of kidnappings, which have disproportionately affected truck drivers and public transport workers.

United Nations children’s agency UNICEF on Sunday said it had negotiated fuel deliveries to Haitian hospitals but that the provider later refused to make the deliveries, citing security conditions.

At one police station near Port-au-Prince, two officers had been unable to get to work due to fuel shortages, according to a police official, who asked not to be named because he is not authorized to speak with reporters.

“Most of our vehicles have about a quarter of a tank,” he said.

(Reporting by Brian Ellsworth and Gessika Thomas in Port-au-Prince, Additional reporting by Brad Brooks, Editing by Rosalba O’Brien)

Haiti gang seeks $1 million per person for kidnapped missionaries

(Reuters) -A Haitian gang that kidnapped a group of American and Canadian missionaries is asking for $17 million — or $1 million each — to release them, according to a top Haitian official.

Justice Minister Liszt Quitel told Reuters that talks were underway with kidnappers to seek the release of the missionaries abducted over the weekend outside the capital Port-au-Prince by a gang called 400 Mawozo.

The minister confirmed the hefty ransom fee, telling Reuters “they asked for $1 million per person.” The fee was first reported by the Wall Street Journal earlier in the day.

CNN reported earlier on Tuesday the kidnappers first called Christian Aid Ministries – the group to which the victims belonged – on Saturday and immediately conveyed the price tag for the missionaries release. The FBI and Haitian police were advising the group in negotiations, the minister said.

Several calls between the kidnappers and the missionary group have taken place since their disappearance, the minister told CNN.

The Ohio-based Christian Aid Ministries called for prayers for the “Haitian and American civil authorities who are working to resolve this situation” in a statement.

The group of 16 Americans and 1 Canadian includes six women and five children, including an eight-month old baby, the missionary organization said. They were abducted in an area called Croix-des-Bouquets, about 8 miles (13 km) outside the capital, which is dominated by the 400 Mawozo gang.

Five priests and two nuns, including two French citizens, were abducted in April in Croix-des-Bouquets and were released later that month.

Quitel told the Wall Street Journal that a ransom was paid for the release of two of those priests.

Kidnappings have become more brazen and commonplace in Haiti amid a growing political and economic crisis, with at least 628 incidents in the first nine months of 2021 alone, according to a report by the Haitian nonprofit Center for Analysis and Research in Human Rights, or CARDH.

Haitians on Monday mounted a nationwide strike to protest gang crime and kidnappings, which have been on the rise for years and have worsened since the July assassination of President Jovenel Moise.

Shops were open again on Tuesday in Port-au-Prince and public transportation had starting circulating again. Transport sector leaders had pushed for the strike, in part because transport workers are frequent targets of gang kidnappings.

The FBI said in a statement on Monday that it is part of a U.S. government effort to get the Americans involved to safety.

Kidnappings in Haiti rarely involved foreigners.

The victims are usually middle-class Haitians who cannot afford bodyguards but can nonetheless put together a ransom by borrowing money from family or selling property.

The growing crisis in Haiti has also become a major issue for the United States. A wave of thousands of Haitian migrants arrived at the U.S.-Mexico border last month, but many were deported to their home country shortly after.

(Reporting by Daniel Flynn, Brian Ellsworth and Gessika Thomas; Editing by Daniel Flynn and Alistair Bell)

FBI involved in effort to recover U.S. missionaries kidnapped in Haiti – source

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -The FBI will assist in the investigation and efforts to locate and free a group of U.S. Christian missionaries who have been kidnapped and are being held by a criminal gang in Haiti, a U.S. law enforcement official told Reuters on Monday.

The Ohio-based Christian Aid Ministries organization on Sunday said a group of its missionaries had been kidnapped in Haiti. The group includes 16 Americans and one Canadian.

They were in Haiti to visit an orphanage when their bus was hijacked on Saturday outside the capital Port-au-Prince, according to accounts by other missionaries, amid a spike in kidnappings following the murder of President Jovenel Moise.

The incident is a further sign the Caribbean nation’s gangs are growing increasingly brazen amid political and economic crises.

Specific details of the role the FBI will play in trying to free the missionaries were not immediately available. The FBI’s national press office said in a statement it was referring questions on the kidnapping to the State Department.

Representatives of key congressional committees overseeing foreign affairs and law enforcement said they had not been briefed on FBI involvement in efforts to locate and free the missionaries.

(Reporting By Mark Hosenball; Editing by Alistair Bell)

Biden urged to end Haitian border expulsions, Mexico detains migrants

By Daina Beth Solomon

CIUDAD ACUNA, Mexico (Reuters) – U.S. President Joe Biden faced pressure on Tuesday to halt the expulsion of asylum seekers to Haiti from a Texas border camp, as worries about their safety compounded disquiet at images of officials on horseback using reins as whips against migrants.

Several hundred have been sent to Haiti from the camp in Del Rio, Texas, since Sunday. Thousands more have been moved into U.S. detention for processing and more flights are due to leave on Tuesday, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said.

U.S. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer urged fellow Democrat Biden to put an immediate end to the expulsions, adding to similar calls from several United Nations agencies.

Schumer said sending Haitians back to their home country, where a presidential assassination, rising gang violence and a major earthquake have spread chaos in recent weeks, “defies common sense.”

“It also defies common decency,” he said, calling images taken in recent days of mounted U.S. border agents using horse reins like whips “completely unacceptable.”

“The images turn your stomach. It must be stopped.”

The sprawling camp containing up to 10,000 mostly Haitian migrants under a bridge spanning the Rio Grande is a new flashpoint for the White House, already grappling with record numbers of border arrivals that Republican Senator Mitt Romney on Tuesday called a “disaster.”

The camp’s population peaked at up to 14,000 at the weekend, but has since diminished.

Mexican authorities also appeared to be detaining some of the migrants, who have regularly crossed back over to Mexico to get food.

A Reuters crew witnessed migrants who appeared to be Haitian detained on the streets of Ciudad Acuna across the river from the main camp on Monday by agents flanked by Mexico’s National Guard.

In one encounter, several migrants yelled and protested as agents boarded them into a National Immigration Institute (INM) van. INM did not immediately respond to a requests for comment.

The clashes at the border were also criticized by Mayorkas, who pushed ahead on Tuesday with moving migrants out of the camp to be flown to Haiti.

Speaking to CNN, Mayorkas said 4,000 Haitians had been moved from the camp. It was not clear if all of those were to be expelled from the United States, although he announced four flights were expected on Tuesday.

HOPE

Despite the risk of being returned to Haiti after sometimes years-long journeys through Latin America to reach the United States, the hope of being let in meant many migrants remain in the camp.

Carly Pierre, 40, said he was staying in the U.S. camp because he saw a chance to make it into the country with his wife and two children, ages 3 and 5, after several years living in Brazil.

“There are deportees, and there are people who will make it in,” he said, shorts still wet from having crossed the river to buy ice and soda at a convenience store on the Mexican side.

Despite the outcry over mistreatment and anger in Del Rio about the camp, Mayorkas emphasized that U.S. border agents were delivering medical attention and were working with the Red Cross.

In Ciudad Acuna, residents were also bringing relief to the migrants, after a couple of hundred gathered in a shady area resting on pieces of cardboard and blankets.

Jessica de la Garza, 22, who helped organize a drive on Facebook to collect donations, early on Tuesday distributed coffee, water, milk, sandwiches, cereal, beans and diapers.

“They say, ‘Thank you Mexico,’ because we are helping a little. The need is great, and so is the empathy.”

(Reporting by Daina Beth Solomon in Ciudad Acuna, Additional reporting by Doina Chiacu in Washington; Editing by Bernadette Baum and Rosalba O’Brien)

Haiti former first lady calls for help in unraveling husband’s murder

By Dave Sherwood

(Reuters) – The widow of Haiti’s slain President Jovenel Moise called on the international community to help track down those responsible for gunning down her husband in a late night raid by suspected mercenaries at the couple’s home in July.

Moise’s assassination plunged the Caribbean nation, already plagued by hunger and gang violence, further into chaos, and triggered a hunt for the masterminds across the Americas.

Wearing a black dress and sling following the injuries she suffered during the attack, Martine Moise told Reuters in a room flanked by bodyguards on Monday that while Haitian authorities had made some advances, she feared progress had slowed.

“I feel that the process is… stalling a little,” she said. “The people that did this are still out there, and I don’t know if their name will ever be out. Every country that can help, please help.”

Nearly two months after the July 7 assassination of her husband, key aspects of the murder remain shrouded in mystery. Haitian police have arrested more than three dozen suspects, including 18 Colombian mercenaries, an obscure Haitian-American doctor they say aspired to be president, and the head of Moise’s security team.

But they have made public little in the way of evidence.

“Those people (they have arrested) did it, but someone gave the orders, someone gave the money,” Moise told Reuters.

She said she had spoken twice with the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and felt they could “find the people that financed that odious crime.”

As security worries have dogged the investigation in Haiti, one judge investigating the case stepped down, citing concerns for his safety.

First lady Moise said Haiti’s Prime Minister Ariel Henry, who is also now dealing with the aftermath of an August earthquake that killed more than 2,000 people, must call for elections as soon as possible to ensure stability.

“I think the advice that my husband would give him (is) try to have an election. With the election you can have peace, you can think long term,” she said.

Elections initially slated for September have been postponed until November, and some have speculated they could be delayed further following the quake.

“If they want elections to happen, (they) will,” said Moise.

Moise confirmed previous comments she had made in interviews on her interest in running for president herself but said that she would take care of her family first.

“I want to run for president. I won’t let the vision of the president die with him. With the earthquake too, there’s a lot to be done in Haiti,” she said.

HAITI RUMOR MILL

Amid the ongoing investigation and arrests, conspiracy theories about the murder in Haiti have swirled for weeks.

Friends of the murdered president have told Reuters he feared for his life immediately before he was killed.

His wife on Monday said he had not talked to her of a specific plot against him.

“If he knew he would talk about it… but he never did,” she said. “Because having Colombians, having soldiers here in Haiti, they are here for something.”

She denied social media rumors that Moise had squirreled away millions in cash in his official residence in the upscale suburb of Petion-Ville.

“It is a president. There is some money. But the amount of $48 million that I heard in social media, that can’t be true. Where in the room (can you stick) $48 million?”

(Reporting by Dave Sherwood, Editing by Rosalba O’Brien)

Haiti’s hunger crisis bites deeper after devastating quake

By Laura Gottesdiener

NAN KONSEY, Haiti (Reuters) – In a tent encampment in the mountains of southern Haiti, where hundreds of villagers sought shelter after a powerful earthquake flattened their homes this month, a single charred cob of corn was the only food in sight.

“I’m hungry and my baby is hungry,” said Sofonie Samedy, gesturing to her pregnant stomach.

Samedy had eaten only intermittently since the 7.2-magnitude earthquake on Aug. 14 destroyed much of Nan Konsey, a remote farming village not far from the epicenter. Across Haiti, the quake killed more than 2,000 people and left tens of thousands homeless.

In Nan Konsey, the earth’s convulsions tore open the village’s cement cisterns used to store drinking water and triggered landslides that interred residents’ modest subsistence farms.

Since then, Samedy and the rest of the community have camped alongside the main highway, about a 40-minute walk from their village, hoping to flag down the rare passing truck to ask for food and water.

“I’m praying I can still give birth to a healthy baby, but of course I’m a little afraid,” she said.

Haiti, the poorest country in the Americas, has long had one of the world’s highest levels of food insecurity. Last year, Haiti ranked 104 out of the 107 countries on the Global Hunger Index. By September, the United Nations said 4 million Haitians – 42% of the population – faced acute food insecurity.

This month’s earthquake has exacerbated the crisis: destroying crops and livestock, leveling markets, contaminating waterways used as sources of drinking water, and damaging bridges and roads crucial to reaching villages like Nan Konsey.

The number of people in urgent need of food assistance in the three departments hardest-hit by the earthquake – Sud, Grand’Anse and Nippes – has increased by one-third since the quake, from 138,000 to 215,000, according to the World Food Program (WFP).

“The earthquake rattled people who were already struggling to feed their families,” Lola Castro, WFP’s regional director for Latin America and the Caribbean, said in a statement.

“The compound effects of multiple crises are devastating communities in the south faced with some of the highest levels of food insecurity in the country.”

‘IN THE HANDS OF GOD’

Just off the highway leading to Nan Konsey, a few dozen men gathered at a goat market, where they sold off their remaining livestock to secure cash to feed their children or to pay for family members’ funerals.

Before the quake, farmer Michel Pierre had tended 15 goats and cultivated yams, potatoes, corn, and banana trees. He arrived at the market with the only two animals that survived the earthquake.

With his crops also buried beneath landslides, he hoped to earn about $100 from the sale to feed himself, his wife and his children.

When that money runs dry, he said, he isn’t sure what he will do. He is still in debt from when Hurricane Matthew ravaged Haiti in 2016.

“Day by day, it’s getting harder to be a farmer,” he said. “I am in the hands of God.”

Haiti was largely food self-sufficient until the 1980s, when at the encouragement of the United States it started loosening restrictions on crop imports and lowered tariffs. A subsequent flood of surplus U.S. crops put droves of Haitian farmers out of business and contributed to investment in the sector tailing off.

In recent years, climate change has made Hispaniola – the island Haiti shares with the Dominican Republic – increasingly vulnerable to extreme droughts and hurricanes. Spiraling food costs, economic decline and political instability have worsened the shortages.

For Gethro Polyte, a teacher and farmer living north of the town of Camp-Perrin, the earthquake decimated his two main sources of income: leveling the school where he taught fourth grade, and submerging his crops and livestock in an avalanche of earth.

Before the disaster, he and his family had been able to pull together two meals a day and draw water from underground springs, he said. But since then, his food supplies have dwindled down to a few yams and bananas, and the water has been contaminated with silt.

Polyte doubted the school would be rebuilt for classes to start in September and for him to receive a paycheck, given the chaos following the assassination of President Jovenel Moise in July. And with bank loans still to pay off, he doubted he’d be able to secure money to invest in rebuilding his farm.

“We are living now by eating a little something just to kill the hunger,” he said. “And, of course, things will only grow worse in the coming days.”

(Reporting by Laura Gottesdiener in Haiti, additional reporting by Ricardo Arduengo and Herbert Villarraga in Haiti; Editing by Daniel Flynn and Rosalba O’Brien)

‘Trying to survive’: Scrap metal recycling brings cash in Haiti post-earthquake

By Laura Gottesdiener

LES CAYES, Haiti (Reuters) – After a devastating earthquake leveled tens of thousands of homes in Haiti, some residents have started to pick up the pieces, collecting scrap metal from the rubble to resell and make ends meet.

Djedson Hypolite deftly coiled severed electrical wires at a collapsed home in the southern Haitian city of Les Cayes on Monday afternoon, as he scanned the debris for more metal.

The 13-year-old boy and his brother Dawenson, 9, have been extracting and reselling wires and cables found in the wreckage since the quake struck on Aug. 14, killing over 2,000 people across Haiti.

“We are fatherless and our home collapsed, so we’re just trying to survive somehow,” said Hypolite, explaining the two brothers earned about $5 a day collecting the electrical wires.

The earthquake occurred just over a month after the assassination of President Jovenel Moise, deepening the political turmoil in the Western Hemisphere’s poorest nation, where violent gangs run rampant, hunger is on the rise and healthcare services were already buckling under COVID-19.

Though official efforts to clear the rubble have been slow in hard-hit cities and towns across Haiti’s southern peninsula, scrap metal collectors and recycling enterprises are busier than ever, providing much-needed cash for hundreds of residents, and extra hands for clearing debris.

All across the city, residents carried the scrap metal to collection sites on motorbikes, pickup trucks, or balanced on top of their heads. Those who could shoulder the weight hauled aluminum sheeting, which netted 25 Haitian gourdes (25 cents) per kilo, or iron rods, which went for 10 gourdes at a recycling collection site in downtown Les Cayes.

Holmes Germain, the owner of a downtown recycling enterprise, said the amount of iron and aluminum he was receiving had doubled or tripled since the quake.

Trucks flowed in and out of his scrap yard, taking the loads of twisted iron, warped aluminum sheeting, tangled wires and the occasional battery to the capital city, Port-au-Prince. From there, he said, it was recycled for domestic use, or packed onto shipping containers and exported.

Germain sees his business as both an economic opportunity and a public service at this time of crisis.

“If we don’t buy the iron they will throw it away or just leave it lying there, so this is our way of trying to clean up downtown,” he said.

(Reporting by Laura Gottesdiener in Les Cayes, Haiti; Editing by Anthony Esposito and Karishma Singh)