In Haiti – one of the countries with the lowest rate of human development – continued institutional instability, corruption scandals, embezzlement, and inefficient economic policy has increased poverty, government over-indebtedness, as well as a widespread social crisis expressed into intense and violent social protests. This, coupled with a particular exposure to natural disasters makes its population one of the most vulnerable in the region and most dependent on international assistance and cooperation.
In addition, there has been an excessive increase in violence and insecurity. In March 2021, the Security Council emphasized the need for an immediate and coordinated response from the Haitian authorities to demonstrate their commitment to addressing the deteriorating security situation in Haiti, including gang-related criminal activities, increased abductions, killings, and rapes.
Religious leaders have been immersed in this climate of violence. Among the most recent cases, we can mention:
- The murder of a couple of pastors who returned from Florida to Haiti in November 2020 to build a church and orphanage.
- The kidnapping of Pastor Elie Henry, president of the Inter-American Seventh-day Adventist Division, and his daughter. The gang asked for $5 million for their ransom. Both were released after payment.
- The abduction of Father Ronald Sylvain, a member of the Congregation of the Immaculate Heart of Mary (CICM). The congregation did not have the sum required for the ransom, however, the pastor was released.
- The abduction of Sister Dachoune Sévére, religious of the Congregation of the Little Sisters of St. Teresita of the Child Jesus. She was taken away from the residence of her congregation and released days later.
- The kidnapping of five priests, two nuns, and three laypeople. The kidnappers demanded a million-dollar ransom. To date, only three of them have been released.
Crime rates are very high in urban areas due in part to gang activity. The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights has expressed concern that kidnappings, attacks by criminal gangs on supposedly rival neighborhoods, and widespread insecurity have increased in Haiti against back-to-near-total impunity. Gangs act under the acescency of security forces politicians and authorities to maintain control and hold themselves in power.
In the face of this context, the Episcopal Conference of Haiti has denounced a “dictatorship of kidnappings“. It has repeatedly called for action by the authorities to control the wave of violence in the country and not to perpetuate the insecurity resulting from corruption.
While the degree of insecurity affects the general population, these actions have a particularly negative impact on civil society organizations, confessional organizations, and religious congregations.
Because of the sources of funding or the relationships that religious groups have with international cooperation agencies, they are perceived by gangs as sources of high economic income and therefore more susceptible to ransom abductions.
Especially those religious organizations dedicated to humanitarian assistance can hardly carry out their work without being monitored by gangs and also risk being kidnapped or robbed.
Image: Latin Press