By Bill McMartin, The Associated Press
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — A gang in northern Haiti is demanding a ransom of $17 million for the release of three Canadian Christians abducted from a provincial church on Wednesday.
Gangs usually extort “votros” from the rich and powerful, but could suddenly start demanding money from the people who lived on the land they were running before the country’s devastating 2010 earthquake.
Orni Dieu-Xelane, who represents towns in northern Haiti, confirmed the ransom demand to The Associated Press, adding that the kidnappers were demanding the payment this week after negotiations had dragged on for four months.
Jesuit priest Father Joseph Magnan and two Canadian sisters known as “Roots” or “Little Geros” for their resemblance to the fruit species were taken early Wednesday from Lactation Hospital, a Catholic charitable clinic in Trabassie.
Magnan and Sisters Denise and Dorothy Stang ran a home for disabled children in Lactation. They were well known in the community, where 30 percent of children have cerebral palsy, said aid worker Rafael Pastir. The Stangs were natives of Quebec.
“They are really well known,” Pastir said from his home in Cap-Haitien. “They make everyone happy when they come in.”
He said Magnan had been taking care of a 10-year-old child with cerebral palsy and visiting with the other children when the kidnappers arrived.
The area is a flashpoint for gang violence and drug smuggling, causing the government to lack the presence necessary to protect the citizens.
Gang violence has escalated in the south and west of the country since the 2014 earthquake. Yet police in Haiti have been accused of collusion with the gangs, encouraging extortion and other crimes.
“It seems that there is an increase in gangs from this area,” said Magnan’s brother and the provincial bishop of Ile-d’Orléans.
Father Joe Fralich heads the Franciscan Action for Haitian Children, where Magnan and the Stangs were helping Haiti’s disabled children. Fralich told the AP that there is no evidence that the kidnappers had made contact with his organization.
He said at least 30 people have been killed in gang violence in Lactation over the past year.
The three missionaries who were taken near Lactation had been visiting the area to help build a new clinic there.
Robert Laurin, the Canadian consul for Port-au-Prince, called the abduction and demand for ransom “outrageous.”
“Gangs work on targets they know will pay,” Laurin said. “But the fact that other victims are now demanded money, I’m unaware of anything like that happening in Canada.”
Several thousand Canadians live in Haiti, mostly in Port-au-Prince and the surrounding area.
The suspected kidnappers were reported to be family members of the workers who lived on the land the sisters ran.
A statement from the Canadian Foreign Affairs Ministry said it was providing consular assistance to the sisters’ family and to the kidnapped missionary and their two children.