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‘400 Mawozo’ Gang Suspected in Kidnapping Among Haiti’s Most Dangerous

The gang that the police say kidnapped 17 missionaries and their family members in Haiti on Saturday is among the country’s most dangerous and one of the first to engage in mass kidnappings.

The gang, known as “400 Mawozo,” controls the area that the missionaries were abducted from in the suburbs of Port-au-Prince, the capital. The group has sown terror for several months in the suburbs, engaging in armed combat with rival gangs and perpetrating the kidnapping of businessmen and police officers.

The gang has also introduced a new type of kidnapping in Haiti — kidnapping en masse. For the first time Haiti began to see entire groups kidnapped while transiting on buses or together on the streets. The gang is also believed to have killed Anderson Belony, a famous sculptor, on Tuesday, according to local news media reports. Mr. Belony had worked to improve his impoverished community.

Croix-des-Bouquets, one of the suburbs now under control by the gang, has become a near ghost town, with many residents fleeing the day-to-day violence. The once bustling area now lacks the poor street vendors who once lined the sidewalks, some of whom had been kidnapped by the gang for what little they had in their pockets or told to sell what few possessions they have at home, including radios or refrigerators, to pay off the ransom. By some estimates, gangs now control about half the capital.

With every new generation of gangs that crop up in Haiti, new lows inch further toward normalization. Gangs have plagued Port-au-Prince over the past two decades, but were often used for political means — such as voter suppression — by powerful politicians. But they have grown into a force that is now seemingly uncontrollable, thriving in the economic malaise and desperation that deepens every year, with independent gangs mushrooming across the capital.

While older, more established gangs trafficked in kidnapping or carrying out the will of their political patrons, newer gangs like “400 Mawozo” are raping women and recruiting children, forcing the youth in their neighborhood to beat up those they captured, training up a newer, more violent generation of members. Churches, once untouchable, are now a frequent target with priests kidnapped mid-sermon.

Locals are fed up with the violence, which prevents them from making a livelihood and prevents their children from attending school. Some started a petition in recent days to protest the region’s rising gang violence, pointing to the “400 Mawozo” gang and calling on the police to take action. The transportation industry has also announced a general strike for Monday and Tuesday in Port-au-Prince to protest the gangs and insecurity. The action may turn into a more general one as calls have gone out to stay home across sectors and storefronts because of insecurity and fuel shortages in the capital.

“The violence suffered by the families has reached a new level in the horror,” the text of the petition reads. “Heavily armed bandits are no longer satisfied with current abuses, racketeering, threats and kidnappings for ransom. At the present time, criminals break into village homes at night, attack families and rape women.”

In April, the “400 Mawozo” gang abducted 10 people in Croix-des-Bouquets, including seven Catholic clergy members, five of them Haitian and two French. The entire group was eventually released by late April. The kidnappers had demanded a $1 million ransom, but it remains unclear if it had been paid.

That kidnapping in Croix-des-Bouquets, a town northeast of the capital, happened when the group was on its way to the installation of a new parish priest.

Michel Briand, a French priest living in Haiti who was part of the group, said the gang had forced their cars to divert from their course before kidnapping them. “If we hadn’t obeyed them — that’s what they told us afterward — they would have shot us,” he said.

The group was then kept by armed men for about 20 days, sleeping on the ground and sometimes out in the open.

“For several months, this group has been acting daily,” Mr. Briand said, adding that the group sought a ransom “to buy weapons and ammunition.”

Mr. Briand said the gang exerted violent control over the area surrounding Croix-des-Bouquets.

“The population complies with their demands because they are armed,” he said. “They have the right to life and death no matter who they meet. They sow terror to ensure their authority,” he said.

Armed groups have become increasingly powerful in Haiti, playing on the political instability and the growing poverty to seize control of large areas of big cities like Port-au-Prince.

“For some time now, we have been witnessing the descent into hell of Haitian society,” said a statement from the archdiocese of Port-au-Prince, released after the April abduction.

A recent upsurge in clashes between rival gangs has resulted in numerous casualties among civilians and extraordinary levels of displacement of people fleeing violence.

A report by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs estimated that more than 13,600 people had fled their homes in Port-au-Prince, which has a population of nearly six million, in the first three weeks of June. That was four times more violence-related displacement in the capital than in the previous nine months, the report said.

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El Chapo’s Wife Sentenced to 3 Years in Prison

Emma Coronel Aispuro, the wife of the notorious Mexican drug lord best known as El Chapo, was sentenced on Tuesday to three years in prison on charges of helping run her husband’s multibillion-dollar criminal empire and playing a role in his escape from custody after he was captured in 2014.

Ms. Coronel, a former beauty queen who married El Chapo — whose real name is Joaquín Guzmán Loera — in 2007, on her 18th birthday, was arrested at Dulles International Airport, near Washington, in February, two years after her husband was convicted at a trial in New York City and sentenced to life in prison.

She had been in the cross-hairs of U.S. authorities for months. She ultimately pleaded guilty in June to helping Mr. Guzmán smuggle drugs across the U.S. border and make his dramatic flight from a high-security Mexican prison, an operation that involved a self-powered rail cart, a watch outfitted with a GPS device and a mile-long tunnel dug into the shower of his cell.

A dual U.S.-Mexican citizen, Ms. Coronel has, like her husband, long been a figure of public fascination, a role that she has often stoked by her lavish lifestyle and her laissez-faire attitude toward paparazzi. At her sentencing hearing in Federal District Court in Washington, she expressed “true regrets” for her crimes and begged Judge Rudolph Contreras to ignore the fact that she was the wife of an infamous drug lord.

“Perhaps because of this, there is reason for you to be harder on me,” Ms. Coronel said. “But I pray that you do not do that.”

While it is unusual for law enforcement to go after the spouses of drug-world figures, prosecutors at Mr. Guzmán’s trial offered substantial evidence that Ms. Coronel, while still in her 20s, was deeply enmeshed in her husband’s criminal business.

They introduced BlackBerry messages, for instance, that made clear that she had helped Mr. Guzmán conduct his illicit operations, sometimes alongside her own father, Inés Coronel Barreras, who was one of her husband’s top lieutenants and was taken into custody in 2013 in Mexico.

Other messages indicated that Ms. Coronel was intimately involved not only in Mr. Guzmán’s famous 2015 tunnel escape from Altiplano prison in Toluca, Mexico, but also in helping him to evade capture by American and Mexican authorities after a botched raid in 2012 in the Mexican resort town Cabo San Lucas.

At Mr. Guzmán’s trial, his onetime chief of staff, Dámaso López Núñez, told the jury that Ms. Coronel had sought to help her husband escape from prison yet again after he was recaptured in 2016 and returned to Altiplano. According to Mr. López, Ms. Coronel hatched a plot to bribe Mexico’s top prison official, but Mr. Guzmán was extradited to the United States to stand trial before the plan could be carried out.

As part of her plea deal with the government, Ms. Coronel agreed to turn over about $1.5 million in illicit proceeds from her husband’s illegal operations. While she admitted to helping him move at least 450 kilograms of cocaine, 90 kilograms of heroin and nearly 90,000 kilograms of marijuana into the United States over the years, she still received a relatively light sentence in part because her role in smuggling even that amount of drugs made her a “minimal participant” in a much larger criminal enterprise, according to her plea deal.

“The defendant was not an organizer, leader, boss or other type of manager,” Anthony J. Nardozzi, a federal prosecutor, told the court. “Rather she was a cog in a very large wheel of a criminal organization.”

In the wake of Ms. Coronel’s arrest, there was widespread speculation that she — like so many of Mr. Guzmán’s former allies — had decided to cooperate with U.S. authorities against other members of the organization he once led, the Sinaloa drug cartel. But in court papers filed this month, prosecutors said she had helped the government only in the prosecution of her own case.

Ms. Coronel’s lawyer, Jeffrey Lichtman, called the allegations that she had cooperated with the government “garbage,” adding that they had put his client’s life in danger. “I don’t know if she can ever go back to her home in Mexico,” Mr. Lichtman said.

The Sinaloa cartel remains one of Mexico’s most powerful criminal mafias, even in Mr. Guzmán’s absence. It is said to be run by an uneasy alliance of his sons, one of his brothers and his longtime partner, Ismael Zambada García, all of whom have been indicted in the United States.

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U.S. Removes Colombia’s FARC Rebel Group From Terrorist List

WASHINGTON — The State Department removed the Revolutionary Forces of Colombia from its list of foreign terrorist organizations on Tuesday, as many of the group’s former commanders have turned to conventional politics after a decades-long conflict.

In a statement, Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken said the group, known as FARC, had “formally dissolved and disarmed” and “no longer exists as a unified organization that engages in terrorism or terrorist activity or has the capability or intent to do so.”

The move, which drew criticism from several prominent Republicans, is a sign of the Biden administration’s support for a fragile peace deal that the Colombian government signed with the FARC in November 2016. The agreement officially ended a five-decade conflict in which the U.S. military backed the government against a left-wing fueled insurgency that was funded by the drug trade. The fighting left more than 220,000 people dead.

Colombia had urged Washington for years to remove the FARC from its official list of terrorist groups, and Mr. Blinken said in his statement that the shift would allow the United States to “better support implementation of the 2016 accord, including by working with demobilized combatants.” Many of the FARC’s former top military commanders are now prominent politicians.

Under the deal, more than 13,000 FARC rebels agreed to lay down their arms in return for more government investment in neglected rural areas. But implementation of the accord has been shaky. Government aid has been slow to materialize in remote areas, and pockets of armed rebels carry on their fight.

After a helicopter carrying Colombia’s president, Iván Duque, was attacked in July, the government arrested 10 former FARC rebels and charged them with attempted assassination and a car bombing at a military base.

Mr. Blinken said two rebel groups formed by former FARC commanders who refused to demobilize were designated terrorist organizations. Segunda Marquetalia and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia — People’s Army, or FARC-EP, are responsible for armed attacks, assassinations and hostage-takings, he said.

The United States also designated several leaders of the two groups as terrorists.

Some Republicans have criticized the Biden administration’s decision to remove the FARC’s terrorist group designation. After the planned action was first reported last week by The Wall Street Journal, the top Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Representative Mike McCaul of Texas, called the move “an exercise in appeasement.”

FARC members “have not exercised remorse or acts of contrition for their ongoing narco-terrorism against innocent Colombians & Americans,” Mr. McCaul wrote on Twitter.

“President Biden’s decision to remove the FARC from the State Department’s list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations will embolden terrorist groups throughout Latin America, empower narco-traffickers and pave the way for Castro-chavismo in Colombia,” Florida’s Republican governor, Ron DeSantis, said in a statement.

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Barbados Drops the Queen and Becomes a Republic

In the early hours of Tuesday, at a ceremony attended by hundreds of masked officials, a prince and at least one pop star, the Caribbean island of Barbados became a republic, cutting ties with Queen Elizabeth II and casting off the last major vestige of its colonial past.

The nation swore in its first president, Sandra Mason, a former governor general who had been appointed by the queen. A 21-gun salute rang out as the national anthem played. The red, yellow and navy blue royal flag was lowered — exactly 55 years after the country gained independence from Britain.

“Today, debate and discourse have become action,” Ms. Mason, 72, told the onlookers gathered in the capital, Bridgetown. “Today, we set our compass to a new direction.”

Ms. Mason received a majority vote in Parliament in October to take on the role. In a speech afterward, Prime Minister Mia Mottley said: “We believe that the time has come for us to claim our full destiny. It is a woman of the soil to whom this honor is being given.”

The island nation, a democracy of about 300,000 people, announced in September that it would remove Queen Elizabeth as head of state, the latest Caribbean island to do so. It joined Guyana, which gained independence in 1966 and became a republic in 1970; Trinidad and Tobago, which became independent in 1962 and a republic in 1976; and Dominica, which gained full independence as a republic in 1978.

Australia, Canada, Jamaica, New Zealand and Papua New Guinea are among the nations that still call the queen their head of state. Barbados will remain part of the Commonwealth, a voluntary association of 54 countries with roots in the British Empire.

On Tuesday, thousands celebrated across Barbados as nearly 400 years of British rule ended.

In the audience to witness the uncoupling in Bridgetown was a representative of Britain: Prince Charles, Elizabeth’s eldest son and heir. He received the Order of Freedom of Barbados.

In a speech, Charles delivered a message from his mother, conveying the “warmest good wishes.” He also congratulated Barbadians and said, “From the darkest days of our past, and the appalling atrocity of slavery, which forever stains our history, the people of this island forged their path with extraordinary fortitude.”

“Tonight you write the next chapter of your nation’s story,” he added. “You are the guardians of your heritage.”

Also among the crowd was the global pop star Rihanna. During the ceremony, the singer, who was born Robyn Rihanna Fenty in Barbados, was declared a national hero.

She received the honor, Prime Minister Mottley said, for commanding “the imagination of the world” with her excellence, creativity, discipline and, “above all else, her extraordinary commitment to the land of her birth.”

“May you continue to shine like a diamond,” Ms. Mottley added.

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