The Haitian gang, which kidnapped 16 Americans and a Canadian while they were visiting an orphanage in the country, has demanded a ransom of $17 million (over Rs 127 crore) for their release.
Five children are among those kidnapped by the notorious 400 Mazowo gang. Media reports the kidnapping victims were part of an Ohio-based missionary organisation Christian Aid Ministries.
The missionary group was reportedly leaving after providing food, shelter and clothes to Haitian children at an orphanage when the 400 Mazowo gang struck. The youngest of kidnapping victims in the group, which is considered to be one of the most dangerous in Haiti, is a two-year-old.
The US Federal Bureau of Investigation team is coordinating with diplomatic officials in Haiti to negotiate for a peaceful resolution of the situation. According to Haitian Justice Minister Liszt Quitel, the hostages are being kept at a Port-au-Prince suburb called Croix-des-Bouquets which is under the control of the 400 Mazowo gang.
The White House had on Monday said that it was doing its best to resolve the standoff and secure the safe release of the kidnapped American citizens. Press Secretary Jen Psaki said that US President Joe Biden had been receiving updates from the FBI and State Department with regard to the progress in the negotiations. She also confirmed that local Haitian officials were also offering their assistance.
Kidnappings and extortion are the order of the day in Haiti. Political instability coupled with extreme poverty has aggravated the situation in the country and given rise to several armed gangs. Some estimates suggest that this year alone, there have been at least 628 incidents of abduction.
Meanwhile, the Vatican has called upon global leaders to take note of the suffering of the people of Haiti. Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, president of the Pontifical Academy for Life, who wound up his visit to Haiti said that kidnapping had become one of the key sources of income for a number of Haitians. He also noted the grim situation faced by women in Haiti wherein many of them are subjected to exploitation on a daily basis.