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Kidnappings in Haiti Surge As Country Plunges Deeper Into Political Turmoil

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Over the weekend, five priests and two nuns were kidnapped in Haiti. Their captors are demanding a million-dollar ransom for the Catholic clergy members. Now kidnappings have surged recently in Haiti, targeting just about anyone - from church leaders to bus drivers - during a wave of political unrest. Well, with us now is Miami Herald reporter Jacqueline Charles. She's been covering this.

Welcome.

JACQUELINE CHARLES: Hi. Thanks for having me.

KELLY: So I learned from your reporting Haiti is seeing a 200% increase in kidnappings over the past year - 200%. Why? Do we know?

CHARLES: It's a number of reasons. I mean, and it is an incredible number. I mean, right now, you have a country that is dealing with a huge issue of insecurity. And in terms of kidnapping, no one is immune. Haiti has a gang problem. It's a fairly new problem in the last couple of years. And what we have seen is an explosion of gangs - over a hundred gangs that are not just in the capital, but they are outside of the capital. And a lot of these kidnappings have been tied to these gangs, where they are asking for large sums of money. And most of the cases, if not all, people are being freed because they pay, not because the police officers are going in and rescuing people, even though they know where some of these, quote, unquote, "kidnapping lairs" are located.

KELLY: So some ransoms are being paid. Some people are being released. That suggests that the government's either willingness or ability to control this situation is lower than it should be.

CHARLES: Oh, I mean, it's almost non-existent. I mean, the government just has not been able to curb this problem or to address this problem. And what has happened is we learn about kidnapping mostly through word of mouth or social media because people have very little confidence in the police or in the government. There have been reports of captors being dressed in police uniforms or they are in vehicles that have official government tags. Are these actual officials or are these people who somehow got a hold of these vehicles and these uniforms? You know, it varies, but that right there creates a doubt, you know...

KELLY: Yeah.

CHARLES: ...In the society where people just aren't sure who to turn to because you don't know who's behind it.

KELLY: In the 30 seconds or so we have left, Jacqueline, what are the implications for people? Because you're reporting it's so bad that people are avoiding traveling within the country.

CHARLES: People are - yes, there's a huge economic implication because you're talking about a country that's already poor. You're talking about people who don't have money because these are merchants on the streets. And now, they're falling deeper and deeper into poverty because they have to borrow money in order to pay these ransom amounts. I mean, at the end of the day, that's the biggest implication is, you know, the economic impact and the fact that people cannot get out of poverty and are falling deeper into it because of the insecurity.

KELLY: That is Jacqueline Charles with The Miami Herald.

Thank you.

CHARLES: Thanks. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.