April 4 (Reuters) – At least 389 kidnappings were registered in Haiti in the first three months of this year, rights group CARDH said on Tuesday, marking a three-fold increase from the last quarter of 2022 as gangs look to recoup losses from international sanctions.
The kidnappings seen between January and March are more than triple the 127 CARDH recorded in the previous quarter, and a 72% increase from the same period a year earlier.
The human rights research group based in the capital Port-au-Prince said in a report the “exponential increase” may be due to the need to compensate from losses caused by international sanctions launched late last year.
Countries such as the United States and Canada have sanctioned a slate of high-profile politicians and businessmen believed to be helping fund and bring weapons to heavily armed gangs who are now estimated to control most of the country.
CARDH said the increase could also be caused by new alliances forged between gangs as they grow their territory, expanding the “kidnapping industry” into new markets.
The group also cited the prospect of upcoming elections and the rise of civilian defense groups protecting communities from gangs, in lieu of an under-gunned police force, driving retaliation from gangs.
“Gangs use extreme violence (all forms of torture) to force parents and families to pay large sums of U.S. money that they do not have,” it said, citing severe burns, gang rapes and hangings.
Relatives are systematically asked for multiple ransom payments, it added.
Of the 389 kidnappings recorded by CARDH, 29 victims were from foreign countries. The U.S. State Department has said it is in contact with Haitian authorities over the March 18 kidnapping of a Florida couple who traveled to visit family.
CARDH counted 857 kidnappings over 2022, a decrease from the 1,009 it recorded in 2021, the year President Jovenel Moise was assassinated leaving a power vacuum that prompted gangs to expand their territory.