Once a relatively small criminal operation that operated in the countryside and trafficked in stolen cars, the gang expand its criminal activities in the chaotic months following the president’s assassination, said Mr. Jean, the human rights group director. By forging alliances with other armed groups, it was able to control an area stretching from the east of Port-au-Prince to the border with the Dominican Republic — a territory so vast that the police are unable to pursue gang members.
Three Recent Crises Gripping Haiti
The abduction of U.S. missionaries. Seventeen people, including five children, associated with an American Christian aid group were kidnapped on Oct. 16 by a Haitian gang as they visited an orphanage. The brazenness of the abductions has shocked officials. The whereabouts and identities of the hostages remain unknown.
“The police are in a situation of powerlessness,” Mr. Jean said.
The 400 Mawozo gang accounted for 60 percent of the kidnappings from July to September, Mr. Jean said. They are held responsible for kidnapping five priests and two nuns this year, and are also believed to have killed Anderson Belony, a well-known sculptor who had worked to improve his community, according to local news reports.
Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken said the State Department was working with the F.B.I., the Haitian national police, churches and other groups to get the hostages released. But he noted that the kidnappings were “also indicative of a larger problem, and that is a security situation that is, quite simply, unsustainable.”
Mr. Blinken said the United States would continue to support the Haitian police and community programs in their efforts to stem gang violence. “But it’s a very challenging, and long-term process,” he said.
Gangs have gained so much power that they have taken on a nearly institutional role in some communities, said Mr. Vorbe, the political party leader, substituting for the police or providing basic services like road cleaning.
“They have stepped in for the state,” he said.
The growing gang presence, and now the attack on a group of missionaries, have cast a pall over other aid organizations and projects in the country.
In Fond Parisien, about 20 minutes from where the kidnapping took place, is another mission project called Redeemed Vocational School, which teaches trades like auto mechanics, sewing, and computer skills. The group had been planning to build a larger school building, but the violence has made it harder to travel and get supplies, said Kenlyn Miller, 46, the chairman of the school’s board in Gambier, Ohio.