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a828: Kidnappers in Haiti preying on missionaries (fwd)

From: Robert Benodin <r.benodin@worldnet.att.net>

Kidnappers in Haiti preying on missionaries
By Noah Bierman, Palm Beach Post Staff Writer
Sunday, February 17, 2002

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti -- A group of 10 to 20 armed men stormed a walled
missionary compound last month, took an American man and demanded money.
They returned the man to the mission 45 minutes later, where they burned
tires and bashed windows until the missionaries opened a safe and handed
them the Haitian equivalent of $3,000 -- money the men said they needed to
buy weapons.
The Haitian government and police consider the incident a kidnapping. Police
have identified the ringleaders but say they have yet to arrest them because
the community regards these men as leaders and would resist attempts to take
them in.
Police say the past six months has seen a wave of abductions, with as many
as one or two a day for several weeks in January.
Organized abductions have long been a part of life among Haiti's wealthy,
well-protected elite. But extreme poverty and a weakened sense of order have
opened the door to less discriminant kidnappers, targeting a broader class
of victims. Small business owners, pastors and Americans are potential
"It's the same way people are overfishing on Haiti's coasts," said Brian
Concannon, an American lawyer who's spent seven years here, helping the
government improve its criminal justice system. "If they could get by on
just getting the big fish, they would. But there's so many people wanting to
eat fish, they're taking everything they can."
Haitians have long treated foreigners as friends, protecting them at times
more than their own countrymen. The vast majority of Haitians still hold
that view, but as the country slips further into disorder, there are signs
of erosion. Two weeks after the missionary incident, a Canadian journalist
was shot while investigating gang warfare in Port-au-Prince's poorest slum,
Cite' Soleil. The same week, thieves looted a missionary radio station in
the city of Cayes, according to Le Novelliste, a Haitian newspaper.
Warnings from the U.S. State Department have led some missionary groups to
cancel trips, but many -- especially those living there year-round -- say
they do not feel their lives are in danger. They point to a faith in God too
strong to shake their commitment to helping the hemisphere's poorest
"I don't want to understate the events, and I don't want to overstate their
implications," said Dave Muchmore, the director of the 50-acre UFM mission
compound, where last month's dramatic incident occurred. "For us as North
Americans, we have the illusion that we're in control.... You park that at
the door when you come down here to Haiti."
Muchmore said he did not consider the incident at the UFM mission a
On Jan. 9, while most of UFM's missionaries were off campus at business
meetings, Duane Brown, of New Paris, Ind., was taken from the compound by a
group of 10 to 20 armed men who held a gun to his side. Brown, who is
responsible for construction and maintenance on the compound, had lived at
the mission for seven years with his wife, Beth.
"They just wanted to rough him up and get some money from him," said Boxley
Boggs, a veteran missionary. Boggs, of Garland, Texas, coordinates UFM's
Caribbean missions.
Mission still seen as community's friend
UFM once stood for Unevangelized Field Missions but now stands alone as the
organization's name. The organization, which represents more than 400
missionaries worldwide, is based in Pennsylvania.
In less than an hour, the men returned Brown to the compound. They started
bashing windows and burning things.
"They were under siege," Boggs said. "They (the attackers) had M-14s and
But Brown was not a hostage in the traditional sense, because he was
returned quickly and his captors said they took him merely to explain the
reason they needed money, Muchmore said. He believes the community at large
continues to regard the UFM mission, a base for 30 American missionaries and
200 Haitian seminary students, as a friend.
Muchmore said the small group of Americans at the compound during the
incident decided opening the safe was the wisest thing, to keep the incident
from getting out of hand.
"How much damage does it take to rack up $3,000 U.S. and a lot more? At that
point our objective was basically to get them out of here," he said.
In a neighborhood of Port-au-Prince called Bolosse, UFM's 10-foot,
barbed-wire-capped walls separate its green foliage and orange butterflies
from two warring gangs. During the summer, a turf war left more than a dozen
small concrete homes, just outside the compound walls, burned.
Muchmore said tension began to mount again in January, when a member of the
gang on the bottom of the hill traveled up the hill for a funeral. Members
of the up-hill gang felt threatened and believed they needed weapons, he
So one member decided to gather a small band and shake down the Americans.
Muchmore said the ringleader was taking drugs that day and had been to the
missionary compound in the past, on friendly terms, as a part-time
construction worker.
Brown's father died the next day in Indiana. So he and his wife returned
home to be with family. A group of eight to 10 fellow Indianans he was
leading on a local project returned home, too. Brown could not be reached
for comment. Boggs said Brown doesn't want to recount the incident anymore.
Other missionaries said they have policies against paying ransoms, because
it sets a bad precedent. "That's easy to say, because he's not pointing a
gun at me," said Gordon Wallace, manager of Ormiso guest house, a hotel for
visiting missionaries in Port-au-Prince.
Jim Evans, a Royal Palm Beach man who runs an organization called Grace
Mission Inc., said one of his groups was held up on the side of the road in
late October. The group's Haitian pastor told the carjackers he understood
they were desperate and asked the members of his mission to give an
"offering" so they wouldn't be directly giving in to the men's demands.
"They gave us our keys back, and we were free to go," said Bill Kitch, a
46-year-old Pennsylvania carpenter who traveled with the group that day.
Exact numbers of American missionaries in Haiti are hard to come by. But the
two services that fly most of their mail -- Missionary Flights International
out of West Palm Beach and Agape Flights out of Sarasota -- say they serve
about 1,000 missionary families between them. There are probably others, in
addition to groups that come to the country for days or weeks at a time to
build church roofs or to dispense medicines.
The heads of Agape and MFI say they've had a lot more e-mail correspondence
about crimes against missionaries in recent months, because robbers and
kidnappers believe the missionaries, mostly white foreigners, have more
money than most Haitian people. But overall, American victims represent a
tiny slice of the problem.
President announces several arrests
The same men who grabbed Duane Brown on Jan. 9 threatened an adjacent
Haitian orphanage, run by a Haitian psychologist who teaches at UFM.
"People who live here, they live daily in the shadow of the valley of
death," said the psychologist, Jacob Bernard.
They threatened to burn the orphanage, home to 90 children, if they didn't
receive $15,000.
"They will not get a dime from me," said Bernard, who also teaches at UFM
and owns a travel agency. "There is no ransom from me, and they will burn
the orphanage over my dead body."
For several days in January, Bernard slept in the orphanage. The
extortionists have not returned.
Almost as galling as the crime is the lack of police action, Bernard says.
He reported two men -- Clotaire Doirin and Wilbert Antoine -- as the
culprits in the UFM and orphanage incidents, but said they continue to walk
the neighborhood with impunity. Police and a government spokeswoman
confirmed that Doirin and Antoine are lead suspects.
President Jean Bertrand Aristide has been sensitive to such criticism. Last
month, officials publicly announced the arrests of 15 alleged kidnappers.
And last weekend, police arrested 13 opposition activists and a journalist
and charged them with belonging to a kidnapping ring, according to The
Associated Press. At least six businessmen or members of their families have
been kidnapped and held for ransom in the past two months, the AP said.
There were initial reports that the 14 most recently charged were detained
on suspicion of planning to disrupt carnival festivities this month, and
their supporters say the arrests were politically motivated.
"If you're listening to the press, you'll think Haiti is a country where
each corner there is somebody shot," said a high-ranking officer in the
police department's kidnapping unit who requested anonymity.
The officer said his department has nabbed more than 30 kidnappers. But he
acknowledges others remain free. "There is so much kidnapping. They target
everybody," he said.
Until a few weeks ago, one or two people a day in Port-au-Prince were being
abducted, about 70 percent of them women, he said.
Two of the men responsible for harassing Bernard and the UFM mission have
been arrested, said the high-level police officer. But the officer
acknowledged the ringleaders identified by Bernard -- Doirin and Antoine --
have not faced charges.
The men are neighborhood leaders, he said, a status that brings them local
popularity. Such people protect their neighborhoods in an unofficial
leadership role but might also be gang members, he explained.
"Sometimes, it's very difficult to distinguish between their status as a
community leader and the crime they do," he said. Arresting such men can
bring the neighborhood's wrath, he said.
Nonetheless, he said he's hoping to charge Doirin and Antoine once his two
investigators complete their report. Michelle Karshan, Aristide's foreign
press liaison, said the police are also pursuing a third man, known only as
Muchmore blames desperation rather than malice for the UFM incident. Haiti's
estimated unemployment rate is 70 percent. Most residents survive on the
Since 2000's flawed parliamentary elections and a presidential election
boycott, the United States has withheld hundreds of millions of dollars in
aid and loan guarantees to the Haitian government. The United States still
sends millions to Haiti through non-governmental organizations.
America's official involvement in Haitian affairs has all but disappeared
since the 1994 invasion that restored Aristide's elected government to
power. Critics say America crippled the country with the embargo that
preceded the invasion, the quick bailout or a combination of the two.
Haitians and their crumbling infrastructure and fledgling democracy were
left to fend for themselves.
Leaders hope OAS will mediate solution
Aristide's government faces mounting problems, including the resignation of
his party's prime minister last month and a disputed coup attempt and
retaliatory violence that left 10 dead in December. Karshan concedes the
country has a crime and corruption problem but insists the president wants
to root it out.
Aristide has been hoping the Organization of American States will broker a
peace between him and his opposition that would restore international aid --
cut off in 2000. But OAS won't help if security remains a problem.
Karshan said it's a vicious cycle: Without international investment, the
country falls deeper into decline and the crime gets worse.
Opponents, who will generally not speak on the record, say Aristide has done
little to break that cycle and has even encouraged it among his supporters.
As much as the recent crime wave has terrorized American visitors, its
primary victims have been Haitians. Anyone perceived to have money -- and it
takes far less to create that perception in Haiti than in America -- is a
potential target.
"It's something that happened to many families from October to January,"
said the Rev. Domace Bonome, a Haitian evangelist.
Bonome owns no fancy car and employs no body guards to protect his family.
He lives off a rocky road, with a view of the mountains, in the suburb
called La Plaine, about an hour from Port-au-Prince.
A tiny spec of gold between his front teeth flashes light as he sits in
front of his small convenience store, calmly recounting the details of his
22-year-old daughter's abduction.
He last saw his daughter Nov. 12, on her way into medical school at
Port-au-Prince's Notre Dame. Classmates saw her get into a taxi later that
afternoon, but they don't know why or with whom. "In that car, my daughter
disappeared," he said.
Bonome went into debt and delivered a $2,000 ransom but never saw his
daughter. Since then, he's recited the facts to officers at half a dozen
police stations. Another man claimed in December to have his daughter,
demanding $500,000 for her return. "I don't even have 500,000 rocks," he
None of the callers can produce his daughter's voice.
"I still hope to recover my daughter one day," he said. "If she's not dead."