Haiti Gets New National Police Head as Hundreds Protest Following Missionary Kidnappings

Amidst the kidnapping of 17 missionaries and widespread protests, Haiti's Head of National Police resigned, replaced by Frantz Elbé on Thursday night.

Prime Minister Ariel Henry announced the new National Police head after Léon Charles' resignation. "We would like for public peace to be restored, that we return to normal life and that we regain our way to democracy," Henry said.

The change in authority comes after hundreds of protesters gathered in Haiti's capital, Port-au-Prince, shutting down a neighborhood as they pleaded for action against the country's worsening insecurity and lack of fuel—some even demanding Henry resign.

A Friday protest included hundreds of supporters of the leader of "G9 Family and Allies," Jimmy Cherizier, who spoke out against the kidnapping.

The leader of the 400 Mawozo gang, who police believe is holding 17 missionaries from a U.S. religious organization, Christian Aid Ministries, hostage has now said he will kill them if his $1 million ransom per person is not met.

"You may wonder why our workers chose to live in a difficult and dangerous context, despite the apparent risks. Before leaving for Haiti, our workers who are now being held hostage expressed a desire to faithfully serve God in Haiti," Christian Aid Ministries said.

According to UNICEF, 71 women and 30 children have been kidnapped this year.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

Haiti Protests
Amidst 17 missionary kidnappings and hundreds protesting, Haiti’s Head of National Police resigned, replaced by Frantz Elbé on Thursday night. Above, demonstrators protest against gas shortages in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, on October 21, 2021. Joseph Odelyn/Associated Press

The FBI is helping Haitian authorities recover the 16 Americans and one Canadian. A local human rights group said their Haitian driver also was kidnapped.

"Pray that their commitment to God could become even stronger during this difficult experience," Christian Aid Ministries said.

At the White House on Friday, U.S. press secretary Jen Psaki sidestepped questions about whether the Biden administration would look to halt deportations of Haitians to their home country or consider adding a U.S. military presence on the ground in response to the missionaries' kidnappings.

"We are working around the clock to bring these people home," she said. "They are U.S. citizens, and there has been targeting over the course of the last few years of U.S. citizens in Haiti and other countries too...for kidnapping for ransom. That is one of the reasons that the State Department issued the warning they did in August about the risk of kidnapping for ransom."

The streets of Port-au-Prince were largely quiet and empty on Friday, although hundreds of supporters of Jimmy Cherizier, leader of "G9 Family and Allies," a federation of nine gangs, marched through the seaside slum of Cité Soleil.

"We are not involved in kidnapping. We will never be involved in kidnapping," Cherizier, known as Barbecue, claimed during a speech to supporters.

As they marched, the supporters sang and chanted that G9 is not involved in kidnappings. Some of them were carrying high-caliber automatic weapons.

"This is the way they are running the country," Cherizier, who is implicated in several massacres, said as he pointed to trash lining the streets with his assault weapon.

Weston Showalter, the spokesman for the religious group, has said the families of those kidnapped are from Amish, Mennonite, and other conservative Anabaptist communities in Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin, Tennessee, Pennsylvania, Oregon and Ontario, Canada. He read a letter from the families, who weren't identified by name, 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 organization later issued a statement saying it would not comment on the video.

The gang leader's death threat added to the already intense concern in and around Holmes County, Ohio, where Christian Aid Ministries is based and which has one of the nation's largest concentrations of Amish, conservative Mennonite and related groups. Many members of those groups have supported the organization through donations or by volunteering at its warehouse.

Haiti Protests
Haitian Prime Minister Ariel Henry announced Frantz Elbé's as National Police head on Thursday. Above, people protest for the release of kidnapped missionaries in Titanyen, north of Port-au-Prince, Haiti, on October 19, 2021. Joseph Odelyn/Associated Press