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MCC staff person carjacked in Haiti

Tim Shenk
April 15, 2008

AKRON, Pa. – Joseph Saingelus, a Haitian staff person of Mennonite Central Committee (MCC), was carjacked by armed men on April 8 in Port-au-Prince, Haiti's capital, and was later released uninjured.

The carjacking took place during several days of public unrest surrounding demonstrations against high food prices in Port-au-Prince. Saingelus was driving home in an MCC Land Cruiser when armed men seized the vehicle and forced him to lie in the back, according to Charity Coffey, MCC's Haiti representative.

The men used the Land Cruiser to kidnap another woman and rob her before releasing Saingelus with the vehicle, Coffey said. MCC has filed a police report.

Several MCC workers observed the demonstrations in their neighborhoods of Port-au-Prince. Marylynn Steckley, an MCC policy analyst from Waterloo, Ontario, said protesters took to the street in front of her third-floor apartment on April 8 and 9.

Steckley said that some protesters demonstrated peacefully, singing and dancing, while others threw rocks at storefronts and looted shops.

"I think everybody is protesting the cost of food, and some are doing that in a violent way because they're hungry, the food is too expensive, and they feel like they have no other way of communicating with the government or of their voices being heard," Steckley said.

Steckley said she believes Haiti's high food prices are caused by a global rise in food prices and by Haiti's heavy reliance on imported foods. She and her husband Joshua Steckley are working on an MCC-supported project to promote Haitian agriculture.

The project, called Support Local Production, creates and airs advertisements on Haitian radio and TV stations promoting Haitian agricultural products. MCC also supports agricultural development work in rural Haiti.

Steckley said that Haiti's farmers are growing less – and often migrating to the cities – as urban Haitians purchase rice, beans and corn meal from the United States.

"As people migrate to the cities, they can't find jobs, they become frustrated ..." Steckley says. "I definitely think it's a national problem."