The leader of the Haitian gang that police say is holding 17 members of a kidnapped missionary grouphas threatened to kill them if his demands are not met.
In a video posted on social media on Thursday, Wilson Joseph, the supposed leader of the 400 Mawozo gang, said: “I swear by thunder that if I don’t get what I’m asking for, I will put a bullet in the heads of these Americans.”
Joseph also threatened the prime minister, Ariel Henry, and the chief of Haiti’s national police, Léon Charles, as he spoke in front of coffins that apparently held several members of his gang who were recently killed.
“You guys make me cry. I cry water. But I’m going to make you guys cry blood,” he said.
Earlier this week, authorities said that the gang was demanding $1m per person, although it was not immediately clear that included the five children in the group, among them an eight-month-old baby. Sixteen Americans and one Canadian were abducted, along with their Haitian driver.
Earlier on Thursday, the Ohio-based Christian Aid Ministries, said that the families of those who’d been kidnapped are from Amish, Mennonite and other conservative Anabaptist communities in Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin, Tennessee, Pennsylvania, Oregon and Ontario, Canada.
Weston Showalter, a spokesman for the religious group, read a letter from the hostages’ families, in which they said, “God has given our loved ones the unique opportunity to live out our Lord’s command to love your enemies.”
The group invited people to join them in prayer for the kidnappers as well as those kidnapped and expressed gratitude for help from “people that are knowledgeable and experienced in dealing with” such situations.
“Pray for these families,” Showalter said. “They are in a difficult spot.”
The same day that the missionaries were kidnapped, a gang also abducted a Haiti university professor, according to a statement that Haiti’s ombudsman-like Office of Citizen Protection issued on Tuesday. It also noted that a Haitian pastor abducted earlier this month has not been released despite a ransom being paid.
“The criminals … operate with complete impunity, attacking all members of society,” the organization said.
Meanwhile, hundreds of demonstrators blocked roads and burned tires in Haiti’s capital to decry a severe fuel shortage and a spike in insecurity and to demand that the prime minister step down.
The scattered protest took place across the Delmas neighborhood of Port-au-Prince.
In addition to kidnappings, the gangs also are blamed for blocking gas distribution terminals and hijacking supply trucks, which officials say has led to a shortage of fuel.
Many gas stations now remain closed for days at a time, and the lack of fuel is so dire that the CEO of Digicel Haiti announced on Tuesday that 150 of its 1,500 branches countrywide were out of diesel.
“Nothing works!” complained Davidson Meiuce, who joined Thursday’s protest. “We are suffering a lot.”
Some protesters held up signs including one that read, “Down with the high cost of living.”
Demonstrators clashed with police in some areas, with officers firing teargas that mixed with the heavy black smoke rising from burning tires that served as barricades.
Alexandre Simon, a 34-year-old English and French teacher, said he and others were protesting because Haitians were facing such dire situations.
“There are a lot of people who cannot eat,” he said. “There is no work … There are a lot of things we don’t have.”