The Dominican Republic is pressing Haiti to launch an “immediate investigation” into the “apparent” kidnapping of one of its diplomats in a neighborhood east of Port-au-Prince that has been wrecked by violent armed gangs that are increasingly tightening their grip on the country.
Castillo called for the “safe and sound” release of Guillén Tatis, an agricultural adviser in the Dominican embassy in Port-au-Prince. Officials said Castillo sent screenshots of the last calls from Guillén Tatis’s phone to Haitian authorities at their request.
A spokeswoman for the Dominican Foreign Ministry declined to elaborate beyond the statement.
With the Haitian government rent by disarray and division after the assassination in July of President Jovenel Moïse, violent gangs have stepped in to fill a power vacuum. They control large swaths of the country and have orchestrated a wave of kidnappings for ransom that has deepened insecurity and alarmed its neighbors.
No group has been immune from abduction. Priests delivering sermons, entire busloads of Haitians, foreigners and even police officers have been swept up. Analysts say those police who aren’t compromised by the gangs are increasingly outmatched and outgunned by them.
“The efforts … of the police in recent months are obvious, but unfortunately, they don’t have the human, material, technological and other means to fulfill their mission,” the Center for Analysis and Research in Human Rights reported in March. “Haiti is on the brink of an unprecedented human catastrophe if nothing is done.”
Croix-des-Bouquets, the neighborhood east of Port-au-Prince where Guillén Tatis is believed to have gone missing, is a stronghold of 400 Mawozo, a gang infamous for mass abductions, including of foreigners. It held French clergy members, as well as American and Canadian missionaries with an Ohio-based charity, last year.
All eventually were released.
400 Mawozo had threatened to “put a bullet” in the 17 missionaries with Christian Aid Ministries if its demand for $1 million ransom for each victim wasn’t met. Members of the group, which included several young children, were released in groups last year.
A ransom was paid to free some of the members, the Associated Press reported.
Yohan Doñé, Guillén Tatis’s nephew, told the Dominican newspaper Listin Diario that he left Port-au-Prince for the Dominican Republic on Friday and that contact was lost with him on the way. He was traveling with another person who was detained and later released, family members told the newspaper.
“They have told us that he is fine, that we should be calm,” Doñé said.
Recent weeks have seen the outbreak of armed conflict between 400 Mawozo and a rival gang, Chen Mechan.
Haiti’s civil protection agency said last week that at least 20 civilians have been killed in the worsening violence. They included a family of eight and three young children. A dozen homes were torched. Hundreds of people have been displaced and businesses and schools were closed. A stray bullet hit a United Nations helicopter.
The agency said it had distributed food and sanitary kits to some 100 displaced families.
Violent gangs have taken control of a key artery leading from Port-au-Prince to southern Haiti, effectively cutting off a region still reeling from a devastating earthquake last year that killed more than 2,000 people and injured scores more.
Analysts fear that the latest gang violence will compromise access to the main roads leading to northern Haiti, further isolating the capital.
Coletta reported from Toronto. Ana Vanessa Herrero in Caracas contributed to this report.