A Hutu gang commander warned Thursday that kidnapped foreigners in Haiti should not trust officials and, if they do, he will kill them.
Months after a foreign-exchange trader was abducted in South Port-au-Prince, kidnappers have netted a missionary couple from Utah, then snatched a Salvadoran peace corps volunteer. They have all been released, except for the Salvadoran, Stephen Key.
Here is what Aristide Chastanet, a captain in the power-crazed Mille Collines of Haiti’s northern hills, told reporters at the Central Police Station of Port-au-Prince:
“If he is not released in the next six hours, all foreigners – especially Americans, Guatemalans, Colombians and the Chávez brothers (Venezuelan President Hugo) – should stop working in Haiti,” he said. “Otherwise, they will suffer.”
Aristide Chastanet blames President Rene Preval for Guatemala’s woes in Haiti.
“I have nothing against humanitarianism. Preval is our president,” Aristide Chastanet said. “But when I say Haiti is above all a nation of men, women and children, I mean everything.
“If a group of groups took you hostage without telling your side of the story,” he added, “how can you expect anyone to help you?”
The kidnapping of Key has also stoked riots in the United States, which relies on foreign aid to rebuild an economy crippled by the devastating 2010 earthquake.
Preval has said he won’t negotiate, although he has called his Haitian-American public liaison officer and offered “every possible assistance,” according to the Miami Herald.
In a bizarre twist, Key was unceremoniously returned to a family in Florida who had unwittingly sponsored him when he served in the Army.
Kathleen Bliss, a missionary with that family, told the newspaper that their plan was never to become missionaries in Haiti, but as a “huge, loving family who were innocent bystanders” in Preval’s hopes for a new era.
“We didn’t anticipate having to face a situation like this,” she said. “I know Stephen was hurt.”
Bliss said in a statement that Keys returned to them “in terrible pain,” and the family offered him “heartfelt condolences” and free medical treatment.
“That kind of kindness and desire to help people be better in the world has caused the center of our lives to go out the window,” she said.
Haiti’s diplomats are trying to get Key released, and OAS leader Jose Miguel Insulza is trying to contact the kidnappers.
Diplomats are also trying to persuade protesters to stop rioting in Florida over the kidnapping. But many of them understand why the family turned to Haiti and have contributed money to help them rebuild.
“Why would people come here, live here, and not feel confident we can protect them?” said Yves Brice-Scott, who immigrated to Miami from Haiti. “Why would anyone come here and stay in a poor country without wealth?”
“I think there’s some dialogue on the ground,” said Carin Diaz from Miami Beach. “What I know is that when the crime scene is that bad, people do not get helped.”
But she was alarmed that Key, the missionary, was brought home without the president telling the family they would not be harmed, only vague promises that aid would be forthcoming.
“I think that’s a really sad thing,” she said. “Some of us brought the young Americans here to see that we had enough in our pocket to help them.”
Mikael Kovago of the Peruvian Embassy said it was implausible that “people from Guatemala or Venezuela or the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela would just target Americans in Haiti. … But that is the way they behave.”
Sol T. Specht contributed to this report.