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An earthquake, then a brutal crime wave

Michael Nagle/Bloomberg

There have been at least 628 kidnappings in Haiti this year, three times as many as in 2020. But few outside the Caribbean country were paying attention until 17 missionaries – 16 Americans and one Canadian, five of them children – were abducted a fortnight ago. The gang responsible, 400 Mawozo, is demanding a $17m ransom. Previously kidnappers would avoid the hassle of taking Americans, say Mary Harris and Jacqueline Charles in Slate’s What Next podcast. But 400 Mawozo is now “taunting the entire US government”.

The gang began with cattle rustling, then progressed to stealing cars. Now it controls a swathe of the country between the capital, Port-au-Prince, and the border with the Dominican Republic. As well as kidnapping, 400 Mawozo extorts “taxes” from local businesses. The police are outgunned and outnumbered. Earlier this year five officers in an armoured car entered a gang-controlled slum to rescue a kidnap victim. None came out alive.

The tragedy is that just over a decade ago, Haiti, with much outside help, was at least stable. Then came the earthquake of 2010, which killed 300,000 people and left 1.5 million homeless. Billions of dollars in promised aid “never materialised”. UN peacekeepers brought cholera and fathered children they then abandoned. Now the country is reeling after the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse and another earthquake this summer. The gangs seized their moment and in many areas are now the de facto government – the country has “no institutions” left. The FBI might swoop in to rescue the missionaries, but the US won’t rescue Haiti. Will anyone?

Listen to the podcast here.