The Current·Q & A

Nobody is safe from kidnappings in Haiti, says reporter

Freelance reporter Gessika Thomas says nobody is safe from kidnapping in Haiti, as gangs feel they have more power and freedom in the country.

Gessika Thomas says gangs feel they have more power as country grapples with abduction of missionary members

Police remove a roadblock set by protesters in Port-au-Prince, Haiti on Oct. 18, 2021. Workers angry about the nation’s lack of security went on strike in protest 2 days after 17 members of a U.S.-based missionary group, including 1 Canadian, were abducted by a violent gang. (Joseph Odelyn/The Associated Press)

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Freelance reporter Gessika Thomas says nobody is safe from kidnapping in Haiti, as gangs feel they have more power and freedom in the country.

Thousands of workers went on strike on Monday, angry about the country's lack of security, following the abduction of 17 members of a U.S.-based missionary group, including one Canadian citizen.

American officials including the FBI were working with Haitian authorities to try to secure the release of the 12 adults and five children connected with the Ohio-based Christian Aid Ministries who disappeared Saturday while on a trip to visit an orphanage.

And Thomas, who lives in Port-au-Prince, says the violence doesn't just affect people from abroad. She said her friend was once kidnapped, and that his family was forced to pay ransom twice before he was released. She worries about going outside herself, too.

She spoke with Matt Galloway on The Current. Here is part of that conversation.

How tense is the situation? Can you feel that in the streets right now? 

It is tense because over the last two or three years, what happened is that the kidnapping has been growing and the state is powerless. 

It's a situation where, during the last two months since the president has died, during the last two or three months, it has been growing back, constantly. 

Children stand in the courtyard of the Maison La Providence de Dieu orphanage where a gang abducted 17 missionaries from a U.S.-based organization. (Joseph Odelyn/The Associated Press)

Before you would have certain areas where you know, okay, you just don't go there. But now nobody is safe. It can happen anywhere and it can happen to anybody. 

I was going to say, who is usually targeted? But [you're now suggesting] that anybody could be targeted.

Before you would have businessmen, people who are well known who have money, who were loaded, who could be targeted, or politicians, stuff like that. 

But now it's totally different because ... the gangs, they feel more powerful now. It's about money, really, because most of the times when they kidnap the people, they don't kill them, they release them. They would hold them for a month. They would keep on asking for money. 

Their purpose really is to monetize the value of the person for their family, which is heartless.

You had a friend who was kidnapped. 

Yes, I had a friend. It was really difficult. He was kidnapped in his house. They went in, [got] him in his house.

He spent nearly a month captive, and his family paid twice. They paid a first ransom and they called him on the Saturday to say that they were going to release him and they never did. The family thought he was dead.

The next Wednesday, they called again and they asked for more money, saying that the money wasn't enough for them [the kidnappers] to share. The family and friends had to put together [more money] in order to help them pay. 

That friend is still living here in Haiti because sometimes people don't have the choice; they cannot leave. They don't have the means because there is that economical death. After you finish to pay that kind of money, you would sell house, cars. 

A man pulls a loaded shopping cart through a street, empty due to a general strike in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Monday, Oct. 18, 2021. (Joseph Odelyn/The Associated Press)

How do you think what he went through changed him as a human being? 

Well, he was really affected. What happens when you get through this kind of experience, it changes you in a way that it makes you see life differently. 

You either go where you feel that nothing has any value anymore, you're just living or you just know that you can die any time. Or you just say, OK, I went through that, and I'm sure that I'm going to grow more powerful. I'm going to grow, my personality is going to be stronger. 

What does that mean for people's daily lives when they go out? 

When you step out the door, that means you don't know if you're going to come back. Because you might not be attacked by a gang directly, but if you are in an area, [and if] there is a fight, so you might be a victim of that. 

When you step out of your house, you don't have the choice, you know, you have to go out. 

Are you worried about your own safety? 

Yes, I am, like everybody else. But this is where you're living. It's a risk. 

Written by Philip Drost. Produced by Rachel Levy-McLaughlin, Paul MacInnis, and Ben Jamieson. Q&A edited for length and clarity.

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