Search

THE RISE OF KIDNAPPINGS FOR RANSOM IN HAITI

Jennifer Kelly and Tatiana Vasquez; Illicit Finance and Economic Threats Team

Week of November 22, 2021


Kidnapping for ransom victim[1]


The threat of kidnappings for ransom in Haiti has grown in recent years, with criminal gangs targeting both Haitian locals and foreign nationals.[2] Economic hardship, corruption, political instability, and the effects of recent natural disasters have very likely contributed to the increase in kidnappings for ransom. Gangs will very likely continue kidnappings for ransom in the absence of a stable government and exploit the aftermath of the assassination of former President Moise. The proceeds received from the kidnappings are likely used by the gangs to acquire equipment for the kidnappings and to fund political movements. Natural disasters in conjunction with the kidnappings will likely cause vulnerable and highly-skilled Haitians to emigrate. The insecurity caused by the kidnappings will likely have a negative impact on Haiti’s tourism industry and exacerbate Haiti’s economic decline. Assistance from the international community will likely help Haiti reduce the threat of kidnappings for ransom as Haitian law enforcement is under equipped and underfunded to handle the kidnappings.


Kidnapping for ransom has become a prominent threat in Haiti in recent years, with kidnappings increasing by 150 percent in the first three months of 2021 compared to the same period in 2020.[3] Officials state almost 800 kidnappings for ransom were reported in the first ten months of 2021, as opposed to 796 reported in the whole of 2020.[4] It is very likely these cases are under-reported due to a fear of retaliation from the gangs responsible. A lack of trust in Haitian law enforcement due to their inability to locate the hostages likely discourages the public from reporting cases. A steady rise in the number of kidnapping for ransom cases almost certainly indicates that the gangs conducting the kidnappings have met minimal resistance from law enforcement, enabling them to continue their operations undeterred. The lack of police presence in gang-controlled neighborhoods likely makes it easier for gangs to kidnap victims.


Criminals primarily target middle-class workers such as teachers, priests, civil servants, and small business owners, who can gather sufficient assets or contact connections to pay a ransom.[5] Gang members likely assess locals prior to kidnapping to ascertain their likelihood of paying the ransoms. Gangs are unlikely to target poorer Haitians as they will be unable to pay high ransoms, and instead are likely to target richer foreign nationals. In October 2021, armed members of the 400 Mawozo gang abducted 17 US and Canadian missionaries from the Croix-des-Bouquets suburb of Port-au-Prince, demanding $17 million USD for their safe release.[6] Only two hostages have been released so far.[7] 400 Mawozo very likely targeted the foreign missionaries as the gang is to get a higher ransom from them than the Haitian population. However, if victims are unable to pay the initial ransoms, gangs will likely lower the ransom amount after a period of time. Holding victims for a long period likely prevents gangs from conducting other kidnapping operations as their safehouses are likely to be crowded. Lowering the ransom amount likely reduces the time it takes to receive payments and prevents authorities from finding the kidnappers’ location.


The “G9 Alliance,” a collection of nine gangs led by a former police officer Jimmy ‘Barbecue’ Cherizier, and the 400 Mawozo gang are responsible for the majority of the kidnappings in Haiti.[8] Kidnapping for ransom is 400 Mawozo’s largest source of income in conjunction with extortion and weapon smuggling.[9] According to Haitian officials, 400 Mawozo makes approximately $70,000 USD per week from kidnapping and extortion.[10] 400 Mawozo likely exploits the weak security measures by the Haitian government at ports, borders, and airports to conduct cross-border weapons smuggling. 400 Mawozo likely use the money from kidnappings to buy and maintain warehouses to store their weapons, and purchase equipment such as phones and transportation needed to conduct smuggling and kidnapping operations. The gang members likely use ransom proceeds from the kidnapping operations to also purchase weapons and bribe border officials and law enforcement to facilitate their smuggling activities. G9 Alliance’s leader, Jimmy Cherizier, often presents himself as a political figure, leading political marches, and holding news conferences to garner support.[11] Ransoms paid to the G9 Alliance gang likely fund Cherizier’s political movements. Cherizier's direct interactions with the Haitian population at political rallies and news conferences will likely increase the G9 Alliance’s membership. A larger group of supporters will almost certainly enable the G9 Alliance to better coordinate and increase their kidnapping operations in Haiti.


Haiti has experienced political unrest since 2015, starting with allegations of electoral fraud, accusations of corruption against former President Moïse, and protests against President Moïse’s refusal to step down at the end of his presidential term.[12] Haitian law enforcement was likely focused on managing the protests and protecting the President, likely resulting in inadequate time and financial resources to respond to the increasing kidnappings. The gangs likely exploited the political instability and a distracted Haitian law enforcement to increase their kidnappings operations. Political tensions in Haiti escalated in July 2021, following the assassination of President Moïse and the involvement of three police officers who were later arrested.[13] Police officers linked to the assassination almost certainly highlights corruption within the Haitian police force. Gangs almost certainly exploited the protests against corruption and the police force’s lack of control over their officers in the aftermath of the assassination to engage in more kidnappings with less likelihood of interference from law enforcement. Without a stable government and competent law enforcement, gangs are unlikely to cease kidnappings for ransom in Haiti.


President Moïse’s government reportedly had strong ties with the G9 Alliance gang, as gang leaders evaded persecution if they kept their neighborhoods in a peaceful state.[14] This alleged alliance between government officials, law enforcement, and gangs very likely indicates corruption at high levels within the national police force and the government. Haitian law enforcement will likely struggle to combat gang violence and kidnappings, as gangs have established a sense of sovereignty in their neighborhoods. Haitian law enforcement almost certainly does not have the appropriate equipment or personnel to combat the threat of kidnappings. Some members of the Haitian National Police force are active members of gangs, while others pass information and allow gangs to conduct their criminal operations.[15] The agreement between law enforcement and the gangs very likely enables kidnappings for ransom to continue without convictions, and members of the police force likely receive a portion of the ransoms as payment for their cooperation. Additionally, the Haitian police force has diminished in recent years and has lost authority in gang-controlled territories, as police departments are underfunded, while officers are under equipped and underpaid.[16] The Haitian police use cheap quality motorbikes which makes pursuing gangs difficult as the motorbikes tend to fall apart.[17] Law enforcement’s inability to navigate the city likely reduces the likelihood of encountering potential kidnapping situations or apprehending vehicles transporting victims to safe houses. The efficiency of the kidnapping operations, and the financial resources of the gangs very likely surpasses the funds available to the Haitian police.


The Haitian economy has declined in recent years, deflating by 3.8 percent in 2020 following a 1.7 percent decline in 2019, which exacerbated the numbers of kidnappings for ransom.[18] A large percentage of the Hatian population lives in poverty, as 60 percent of the Haitian population make less than $2 USD daily and approximately two-thirds of Haiti’s wealth is held by the top 20 percent of the population.[19] The government's failure to prioritize adequate financial support to businesses and sectors like education during President Moïse’s term very likely enabled the Haitian economic decline and impacted poverty rates. This unstable economic climate very likely reduces job opportunities for individuals, which likely prevents access to food, education, and essential services like healthcare and will likely encourage individuals to resort to criminal activities like kidnappings for ransom as a source of income.


The impact of natural disasters has likely increased the number of kidnappings for ransom in Haiti. A 7.2 magnitude earthquake struck Haiti in August 2021, killing more than 2,200 people and destroying thousands of buildings.[20] Tropical Storm Grace hit Haiti shortly after the August earthquake and washed away critical roads that had been damaged by the earthquake.[21] Destruction of major roads will likely force locals to utilize less frequented routes with an increased risk of gangs ambushing individuals. Foreign aid workers assisting the Haitian people are likely to become targets for kidnapping as these individuals can pay higher ransoms than Haitian locals. Without assistance from aid workers and foreign charity groups to rebuild infrastructure and help affected communities, Haiti will likely be unable to develop its economy and recover from the natural disasters. Two-fifths of the Haitian population depends on the agricultural sector, mainly subsistence farming, which is vulnerable to natural disasters.[22] Natural disasters will likely lower food production, and result in more financial loss for the population involved in agriculture. With no income and a lack of food to sustain families, individuals will likely join gangs to earn money through kidnapping operations. Families forced to pay a ransom on behalf of a kidnapped victim will very likely financially struggle in the declining economy, likely prompting some of these individuals to become gang members and generate money from ransom operations of their own.


Thousands of Haitians migrated to the Texas-Mexico border after the August 2021 earthquake, similar to the 2010 earthquake aftermath when more than 1.5 million Haitians migrated to the US.[23] A lack of economic opportunities caused by recent natural disasters will likely result in Haitians migrating to the US, likely causing a refugee crisis in the US. Highly-skilled Haitian workers also emigrated to Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries like Canada.[24] Vulnerable Haitians impacted by natural disasters very likely feel heightened insecurity from kidnappings motivating them to migrate to more secure countries in search for work. Emigration of highly-skilled workers very likely negatively impacts the failing Haitian economy, as industries such as education and healthcare will have insufficient numbers of qualified individuals. As highly-skilled individuals emigrate from Haiti, gangs will likely start targeting poorer Haitians. Lower-income individuals will likely face more financial hardships, like being unable to pay rent or cover the cost of basic necessities such as food due to ransom demands.


Travel and tourism contributed 8.3% to Haiti’s gross domestic product in 2019.[25] A strong tourism industry means lower-skilled Haitians such as hotel staff and tour guides likely benefit from employment opportunities in tourist regions. The increasing threat of kidnappings for ransom very likely threatens the tourism industry, as tourists will consider Haiti to be unsafe. Tourists will likely be targets of kidnappings as they can pay more ransom than the majority of the Haitian population, and likely carry significant sums of foreign currency which is more useful to gangs purchasing illegal weapons. By combating the threat of kidnappings for ransom, the Haitian government will likely boost the tourism industry and increase employment opportunities for the Haitian population like hotel maintenance positions, which will likely prevent emigration of low-skilled workers and encourage economic growth.


The Haitian government’s anti-kidnapping unit was deemed inadequate by specialists from Colombia’s national police force who reported weaknesses like inadequate border controls that allow gangs easy access to weapons.[26] Without weapons, gangs will likely be less capable of kidnapping people and instilling fear in the population. Gangs likely exploit the weak border security to conduct other illicit activities like human trafficking of kidnapped victims. The Haitian government has enlisted the assistance of the US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) to locate and recover the US and Canadian missionaries kidnapped in October 2021.[27] The presence of FBI agents in Haiti will very likely deter gangs from kidnapping foreign nationals. The FBI has greater resources and training than Haitian law enforcement and will very likely locate the kidnapped missionaries. This will likely reinforce the Haitian population’s feelings of insecurity and distrust in the local police.


The Counterterrorism Group (CTG) recommends a greater regional effort to address the threat of kidnapping for ransom in Haiti. Regional countries’ law enforcement should offer assistance to Haiti to decrease kidnapping operations and search for safe houses used by the gangs to hide the victims. Haiti’s government should prioritize addressing corruption within the law enforcement with the help of international organizations like the United Nations (UN). The US and international organizations like the UN should offer specialized training to Haitian law enforcement for locating kidnapped hostages. Addressing the unstable political climate and implementing a stronger government by reducing corruption and combating gang activity will very likely ensure Haitian officials have a greater chance of regaining control of the territories lost to criminal gangs and reducing the opportunities of kidnappings for ransom. The Haitian government should invest in rebuilding the tourism industry and ensure tourists feel safe when visiting Haiti, to develop the Haitian economy and improve the lives of the Haitian population.


CTG and the Illicit Finance and Economic Threats (IFET) Team will continue to monitor developments and the financial threats relating to kidnapping for ransom in Haiti. The IFET Team will consult with the SOUTHCOM Team to determine the level of threat to other countries in Latin America and the Caribbean, while reporting any imminent threat to the proper channels. Future reports will track and outline developments of threats of illicit financing from kidnappings for ransom, as well as implications for any local, regional, or international groups. CTG’s Worldwide Analysis of Terrorism, Crime, and Hazards (W.A.T.C.H.) Officers and Threat Hunters will continue to provide up-to-date reports on threats or attacks of this nature in the region.


The Counterterrorism Group (CTG) has become the global leader in proactively fighting terrorist organizations around the world. CTG specializes in intelligence collection, and analysis, as well as investigative work to counterterrorism. Innovation must be constantly adapted to ensure financial stability. Our 24/7 W.A.T.C.H services produce daily threat intelligence, also designed to complement other intelligence products which utilize analytical and scenario-based planning for the quick assessment of terrorist networks that are fanatical about their profession. CTG’s innovative teams can support terrorism, criminal, financial, and cyber threats to maintain its leading edge in this ever-evolving industry with growing demands among enterprises, academia, and professional institutions alike for intelligence, and security solutions made easy but hard hitting all at once! All CTG products are the perfect go-to source for anyone who’s interested in following geopolitical events, especially those that affect or could potentially affect their personal security. We can provide you with the safety and protection needed to feel secure. No matter if it’s just one person or an entire organization, we can handle everything for your peace of mind. We are the present, and future solution to the ever-evolving global threat landscape. To find out more about our products and services visit us at counterterrorismgroup.com.


 

[1]Tied weak victim showing a sign with a ransom sum” by Yakobchuk Viacheslav licensed under Shutterstock Standard License

[2] Data Illustrates Magnitude Of Haiti’s Kidnap-For-Ransom Crisis, Forbes, June 2021, https://www.forbes.com/sites/riskmap/2021/06/16/data-illustrates-magnitude-of-haitis-kidnap-for-ransom-crisis/?sh=6a19678c7259

[3] Ibid

[4] Dispute over Haiti presidential term triggers unrest, BBC News, February 2021, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-latin-america-58993730

[5] ‘Descent into hell’: Kidnapping explosion terrorizes Haiti, Reuters, April 2021, https://www.reuters.com/world/americas/descent-into-hell-kidnapping-explosion-terrorizes-haiti-2021-04-26/

[6] Two of 17 Kidnapped Missionaries in Haiti Are Freed, Group Says, New York Times, November 2021, https://www.nytimes.com/2021/11/21/world/americas/haiti-missionaries-kidnapping.html?referringSource=articleShare

[7] Ibid

[8] ‘It’s Terror’: In Haiti, Gangs Gain Power as Security Vacuum Grows, New York Times, October 2021, https://www.nytimes.com/2021/10/21/world/americas/haiti-gangs-kidnapping.html

[9] Haiti Kidnappings Target Foreigners in Evolution of Security Crisis, InSight Crime, October 2021, https://insightcrime.org/news/kidnapping-foreigners-evolution-haiti-security-crisis/

[10] Two of 17 Kidnapped Missionaries in Haiti are Freed, Group Says, New York Times, November 2021, https://www.nytimes.com/2021/11/21/world/americas/haiti-missionaries-kidnapping.html

[11]‘It’s Terror’: In Haiti, Gangs Gain Power as Security Vacuum Grows, New York Times, October 2021, https://www.nytimes.com/2021/10/21/world/americas/haiti-gangs-kidnapping.html

[12] Dispute over Haiti presidential term triggers unrest, BBC News, February 2021, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-latin-america-56069575

[13] Haiti Arrests 3 Police Officers as Part of Investigation Into President’s Killing, New York Times, July 2021, https://www.nytimes.com/2021/07/20/world/americas/haiti-assassination-police-arrested.html

[14] Is Hiati’s G9 Gang Alliance a Ticking Time Bomb?, Insight Crime, July 2020 https://insightcrime.org/news/analysis/g9-gang-alliance-haiti/

[15] Haiti sees nearly 800 kidnappings so far this year, NGO says, BBC News, October 2021, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-latin-america-58993730

[16] As Gangs’ Power Grows, Haiti’s Police Are Outgunned and Underpaid, The New York Times, October 2021, https://www.nytimes.com/2021/10/26/world/americas/haiti-police-gangs.html

[17] Ibid

[18] Data Illustrates Magnitude Of Haiti’s Kidnap-For-Ransom Crisis, Forbes, June 2021, https://www.forbes.com/sites/riskmap/2021/06/16/data-illustrates-magnitude-of-haitis-kidnap-for-ransom-crisis/?sh=6a19678c7259

[19] Ibid

[20] Desperate Haitians suffocate under growing power of gangs, AP News, October 2021, https://apnews.com/article/business-caribbean-port-au-prince-haiti-gangs-8793b917718e5f67f27317e765c410aa

[21] Aid Workers On The Front Line In Haiti Find Washed-Out Roads, And Some Signs Of Hope, NPR, August 2021, https://www.npr.org/2021/08/19/1029013784/aid-workers-on-the-front-line-in-haiti-find-washed-out-roads-and-some-signs-of-h

[22] The World Factbook, Central Intelligence Agency, November 2021, https://www.cia.gov/the-world-factbook/countries/haiti/#economy

[23] How Hope, Fear and Misinformation Led Thousands of Haitians to the U.S. Border, The New York Times, September 2021, https://www.nytimes.com/2021/09/17/us/haitians-border-patrol.html

[24] Global talent flows: Causes and consequences of high-skilled migration, World Bank, May 2017, https://blogs.worldbank.org/developmenttalk/global-talent-flows-causes-and-consequences-high-skilled-migration

[25] Haiti- Contribution of Travel and Tourism to GDP as a Share of GDP, Knoema, n.d. https://knoema.com/atlas/Haiti/topics/Tourism/Travel-and-Tourism-Total-Contribution-to-GDP/Contribution-of-travel-and-tourism-to-GDP-percent-of-GDP

[26] Colombia's police advises Haiti on tackling kidnapping crisis, Reuters, May 2021, https://www.reuters.com/world/americas/colombias-police-advises-haiti-tackling-kidnapping-crisis-2021-05-19/

[27] F.B.I. Is Working in Haiti to Recover Kidnapped Missionaries, New York Times, October 2021, https://www.nytimes.com/2021/10/18/world/americas/haiti-protests.html

440 views