The ‘400 Mawozo’ gang suspected of kidnapping one of Haiti’s most dangerous
The gang which police say kidnapped 17 missionaries and their families in Haiti on Saturday is one of the most dangerous in the country and one of the first to engage in mass kidnappings.
The gang, known as “400 Mawozo”, controls the area from which the missionaries were abducted in the suburbs of Port-au-Prince, the capital. The group has been sowing terror for several months in the suburbs, engaging in armed combat with rival gangs and carry out the kidnapping of businessmen and police officers.
The gang also introduced a new type of kidnapping in Haiti – mass kidnapping. For the first time, Haiti began to see entire groups kidnapped as they passed by bus or together on the streets. The gang also allegedly killed Anderson Belony, a famous sculptor, on Tuesday, according to local media. Mr. Belony had worked to improve his impoverished community.
Croix-des-Bouquets, one of the suburbs now controlled by the gang, has become a virtual ghost town, with many residents fleeing the daily violence. The once bustling neighborhood now lacks the poor street vendors who once lined the sidewalks, some of whom had been kidnapped by the gang for what little they had in their pockets or told to sell what little goods they had. at home, including radios or refrigerators, to pay the ransom. By some estimates, gangs now control around half of the capital.
With each new generation of gangs that arise in Haiti, new lows move closer to normalization. Gangs have plagued Port-au-Prince for the past two decades, but have often been used for political purposes – such as voter suppression – by powerful politicians. But they have become a force that now seems out of control, thriving in the economic malaise and desperation that worsens each year, with independent gangs mushrooming in the capital.
While older and more established gangs engage in trafficking to kidnap or execute the will of their political bosses, newer gangs like “400 Mawozo” rape women and recruit children, forcing young people in their neighborhoods to beat up. those they captured, forming a new, more violent generation of members. Churches, once untouchable, are now a frequent target with priests kidnapped in the middle of a sermon.
Residents are fed up with violence, which prevents them from earning a living and prevents their children from going to school. The locals started a petition in recent days to protest the rise in gang violence in the region, pointing the finger at the 400 Mawozo gang and calling on the police to take action. The transport industry has announced a general strike from Monday in Port-au-Prince to protest against gangs and insecurity.
“The violence suffered by families has reached a new level of horror,” reads the text of the petition. “Heavily armed bandits are no longer content with current abuses, racketeering, threats and kidnappings for ransom. Currently, criminals break into village homes at night, attack families and rape women.
In April, the gang of “400 Mawozo” kidnapped 10 people in Croix-des-Bouquets, including seven members of the Catholic clergy, including five Haitians and two French. The whole group was finally released at the end of April. The kidnappers had demanded a million dollar ransom, but it is still unclear whether it was paid.
This kidnapping in Croix-des-Bouquets, a town northeast of the capital, happened as the group was on their way to the installation of a new parish priest.
Michel Briand, a French priest living in Haiti who was part of the group, said the gang forced their cars out of the way before kidnapping them. “If we hadn’t obeyed them – that’s what they told us afterwards – they would have shot us,” he said.
The group was then guarded by armed men for about 20 days, sleeping on the ground and sometimes in the open.
“For several months, this group has been operating on a daily basis,” Briand said, adding that the group demanded a ransom “to buy arms and ammunition”.
Mr Briand said the gang had violent control over the surroundings of Croix-des-Bouquets.
“The population complies with their demands because they are armed,” he declared. “They have the right to life or death no matter who they meet. They are sowing terror to ensure their authority, ”he declared.
Armed groups have grown increasingly powerful in Haiti, playing on political instability and growing poverty to take control of large areas of large cities like Port-au-Prince.
“For some time now, we have been witnessing the descent into hell of Haitian society,” said a declaration of the Archdiocese of Port-au-Prince, released after the April kidnapping.
A recent upsurge in clashes between rival gangs has left many civilians dead and extraordinary levels of displacement of people fleeing the violence.
A report The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs estimated that more than 13,600 people fled their homes in Port-au-Prince, which has a population of nearly six million, during the first three weeks of June. This is four times more trips linked to violence in the capital than in the previous nine months, according to the report.