Kidnapping of U.S. Citizens in Haiti Highlights Ongoing Violence
SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico — Nikese Toussaint was at church, so she didn’t see the text message from her sister.
All she knew at that point was that their brother and his wife, who live in the U.S., had landed safely in Haiti to visit ailing relatives and prepare for Rara, a colorful and boisterous festival born out of the dark days of slavery.
The Kidnapping Incident
It wasn’t until Toussaint got home and her sister followed up with an unread text with phone call did Nikese learn about what happened: Her brother Jean-Dickens Touissant; his wife Abigail Michael-Touissiant; along with another person were kidnapped off public transportation amid gang-related kidnappings on March 18th. The couple’s family is now being demanded $200K each by gangs as ransom money which they cannot afford to pay.
“How are we ever going to come up with that money?” said Nikese during an interview conducted over-the-phone Monday from within US borders.
The kidnapping occurred while Jean-Dickens & Abigail were on their way to Jean-Dickens’ hometown of Leogane, which is known for organizing the country’s best Rara festival. The couple was excited about resuming his role as “colonel” after three pandemic years had gone by since he last led a Rara band through those streets.
What Is Rara?
Rara is similar to carnival with drums, bamboo instruments and metal horns accompanying singers as they parade through town behind band leaders like Toussaint in an homage to the slave revolution that led Haiti becoming world’s first Black republic
The Gangs & Their Demands
p class= “Ekqk yuUalqtktT jI XagJ v”>The gangs apparently noticed suitcases belonging to tourists aboard public transportation crossing Martissant – considered ground zero for ongoing violence worsened post-July 2021 assassination of President Jovenel Moïse- and targeted them along with another person who accompanied them during this trip.
Nikese said her family paid someone $6K whom they trusted but it vanished without any trace. It isn’t unusual for Haitian kidnappers not releasing victims even when ransom money has been paid however Nikese believes it might have been scam.
“That’s when we said ‘Uh oh! We need help.’ We didn’t know what else could be done at that point,” she recalled adding how FBI are now involved in helping out her family.
To all these gang members demanding such high amount from families already struggling financially due COVID19 crisis worldwide: “To the gangs I want say we want our family back.We’re not rich over here,” pleaded Nikese Toussaint.
US State Department Statement
A statement from the U.S. State Department said that they were aware of reports regarding two US citizens being kidnapped and are in regular contact with Haitian authorities.
Violence In Haiti
The Toussaints’ kidnapping is just one among many incidents targeting not only wealthy business owners but also humble street vendors, most victims however remain to be Haitians themselves.
In first 15 days of March alone there have been at least 101 kidnappings reported along with another 208 people killed during gang clashes according UN report.
This ongoing violence has displaced over160K individuals as warring gangs set fire to neighborhoods while trying control more territory.
The Family’s Struggle
“We’re Trying To Smile”
Nikese says it’s now been over week since her brother & sister-in-law got abducted by these unknown assailants who haven’t made any demands yet except for ransom money which family cannot afford right now due COVID19 crisis worldwide affecting their finances too badly already.
However Nikese adds how she tries staying strong because couple has son turning two on Tuesday whom they video call often so he doesn’t forget his parents’ faces or voices even if this means putting up brave face despite pain inside:
We’re trying to smile,” Nikese Toussaint said of their video calls with the boy. “We have to smile with him, and give him love, and at the same time we get a little smile (from him), and that’s when the pain gets a little harder.”