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Gangs abduct 2 doctors treating earthquake victims in Haiti, including a surgeon

A group of people, one in a wheelchair, wait for treatment outside a hospital in Haiti.
People wait for treatment outside a hospital in Les Cayes, Haiti.
(Fernando Llano / Associated Press)

Two doctors at hospitals treating earthquake victims in Haiti’s capital have been kidnapped, driving one of the institutions to a declare a two-day shutdown in protest, officials said Thursday.

The abductions Tuesday and Wednesday dealt a major blow to attempts to control criminal violence that has threatened disaster response efforts in Port-au-Prince.

For the record:

5:23 p.m. Aug. 19, 2021This article has been edited to correct the spelling of the prime minister’s last name. It’s Henry, not Henri.

Dr. Workens Alexandre, who was seized, was among the country’s few orthopedic surgeons, desperately needed for quake victims with broken limbs. An official at the Bernard Mevs Hospital said 45 of the 48 quake victims being treated at the facility needed orthopedic surgery.

Gangs in the rough Martissant neighborhood on the capital’s outskirts had announced a truce earlier in the week to allow aid efforts through to the southwestern part of Haiti, which was hit hardest by Saturday’s earthquake.

It was unclear whether those gangs were involved in the latest abductions, but the founder of the DASH network of affordable hospitals, Dr. Ronald La Roche, said criminals have engaged in kidnappings far beyond Martissant.

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The escalation of gang violence in Haiti threatens to complicate efforts to recover from last week’s brazen slaying of President Jovenel Moise.

The Tuesday kidnapping of another doctor, an obstetrician who was on his way to perform an emergency caesarean delivery, occurred in Petionville, long considered one of the safer and wealthier areas of the capital. The doctor’s patient and her child died because of the delay in treatment.

“We are furious at these people,” La Roche said of the kidnappers. “They are responsible for the death of this woman and her child.”

Of the supposed truce with gangs in Martissant, he said “we cannot depend on that.”

“We feel that the gangsters are getting more daring. They are working now in Petionville, the center of the city,” said La Roche, whose network of eight hospital and clinics will close to nonemergency cases to protest the kidnapping.

The DASH hospitals are treating 27 earthquake victims, and they — and any emergency cases — will continue to receive care.

Kidnappers have contacted the families of both doctors, but there is no information on ransom demands.

The official at the Bernard Mevs Hospital, who asked not to be identified because of safety concerns, said the problem has gotten so bad that a program has been set up so that doctors can stay in hospital rooms for two or three days to avoid the risk of travel.

The quake killed nearly 2,200 people and injured over 12,000. The abductions in Port-au-Prince directly affect the transfer of patients from overwhelmed hospitals in the quake zone.

Prime Minister Ariel Henry, himself the former head of neurosurgery at Bernard Mevs Hospital, had already recognized that the government cannot depend on the gang truce.

“I have already given orders that for traveling from Port-au-Prince to the south, security be provided on the route from Martissant to the worst hit areas,” he said Wednesday.

Meanwhile, a group of 18 Colombian volunteer search-and-rescue workers had to be escorted out of the quake-damaged city of Jeremie under police protection after a rumor circulated that they had been involved in the July 7 assassination of President Jovenel Moise.

That killing, which is still unsolved, is suspected of having been carried out by a group of Colombian mercenaries.

The Colombian rescuers had arrived only a day before. Local media reported that a Jeremie city council member went on a radio station and incited people to go after the Colombian team, who had patches on their uniforms with the colors of the country’s flag. The rescuers took refuge at a civil defense office.

They were later taken to the local airport under police protection, said Wadson Montisino Cledanon, head of the Jeremie civil protection office.


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