PORT-AU-PRINCE — A couple weekends back, I heard on local radio about the attempted kidnapping of a man that turned deadly in the neighborhood of Delmas. The victim was trying to escape his would-be kidnappers when he was shot as he sat behind the wheel of his car.
The killing was just one more piece of bad news. Only one of several kidnapping cases that filled the airwaves that morning.
Kidnappings have become so common a part of daily life here in Haiti’s capital that many people have become numb to them. Whenever they are publicized, people usually say, with some resignation, ‘oh, another one.’
The fact is everyone has been touched by this rampant crime in some way. If not victims themselves, then somehow indirectly.
It happened to me.
On December 2, I was in Rue Pavée in downtown Port-au-Prince when I witnessed a very swift carjacking-kidnapping. I had made my way there to the Banque Nationale de Crédit (BNC) downtown to withdraw some funds.
For weeks prior, there had been long lines stretched outside the entrance of bank branches around the country. This means customers have to get up very early to be among the first in line. This way, they can be served as quickly as possible, then move on to carry out their daily activities.
I followed this logical routine as I wanted to pay for my little sister’s school fees and leave there as fast as possible. Nowadays, as has been for quite a while, being on the streets very early on requires a lot of courage or resignation to brace the danger since anything can happen.
That day, it was my time to show such courage. By 7:00 a.m, I was already dressed, ready to get on the road.
At the curb on the main road, I waited for a tap tap running between Route de Delmas and Portail Leogane. The price of the trip has just increased from 50 gourdes to 75 gourdes, $0.32 to $0.48.
I got off at the four crossroads known as Poste Marchand — once a bustling intersection with street vendors that made traffic impossible to cut through. I had to walk a few more minutes along Rue Lamarre to get to the bank on Rue Pavée.
Some people had advised me to go to that branch because the service is faster and there are fewer people in line waiting for the signal of the branch security guards to go to the cashier’s counters.
But on that day, it was not the easy atmosphere people had described to me.
Already, there was a group of people walking about to their activities. As we walked, we came to a sudden halt every now and then to cross over mounds of trash in the middle of the road. It was like playing hopscocth to get to the bank.
But, as we got a few blocks closer to the bank, I could already see the line of people, more than 50, waiting outside the bank. I also noticed that the crowds of street vendors who usually hawked their goods on the sidewalks were no longer there. With every step I took, it seemed the street became more and more deserted.
I was exactly at Rue Pavée and Rue Montalais when the kidnapping unfolded.
I heard a car honking, so I stepped aside.
A white car passed me and continued on its way.
Two blocks down, I saw three heavily-armed young men emerge out of nowhere. I am no weapons expert, but they were well equipped. They signaled for the car’s occupants to stop.
I stood still, frozen. I watched the scene without making a move, so as not to draw the attention of these gentlemen to me.
I can’t tell if they’d been waiting around, because everything appeared calm.
The people in line outside the bank stood on alert. Like me, they were ready to flee if the situation were to degenerate.
At first, the driver seemed unwilling to stop. One of the goons fired into the air — to pressure the victims, no doubt. Right after, the car stopped moving.
The men got into the car and ordered the two people inside to drive. They all then disappeared in the white car, heading toward Rue du Peuple, further downtown.
During those minutes, the police were absent. Officers with the Haitian National Police force (PNH) are almost always absent in this area.
In the moments after, the few people in the area resumed their activities. They continued going about their chores, with no outward indication that the spectacular movie-style kidnapping we’d witnessed hadn’t happened.
No one said a word to each other. No one called the police.
It’s as if the surreal scene was already behind them. People in the long line continued to fight to get inside the bank to complete their transactions. I too took a spot in line to pay for my little sister’s school tuition.
Kidnapping-for-ransom has become a staple of daily life around the country’s capital over the last few years. Street gangs all around the capital have either been suspected or claimed responsibility for the snatching of people from all walks of life, as a way to draw cash.
Hundreds, such as the one in Delmas some weeks back, have been reported. In fact, the latest United Nations report said 1,359 people have been kidnapped in 2022. Others, such as the one I witnessed, likely go unreported. None is forgotten.
As for myself, a journalist in this country, it seems that kidnapping news passes like a letter in the mail. That is, it’s become so common as to not have any import or impact. That’s one way it feels sometimes.
But I also know that it does impact us all. At a minimum, it makes going about your daily life something that requires forethought and planning, to see if the risk of being kidnapped – or worse – is worth it.
It’s a difficult question to answer for sure and a tougher position to live in. But faced with doing nothing at all, what else can one do?
This article is part of our ongoing State of Haiti series that looks at the conditions many Haitians endure to carry on from day to day, despite alarming statistics about the country’s governance, crime and severe humanitarian crises. Read more on our State of Haiti special report page.