Venice nonprofit’s plane burned by Haitian rioters; staffers stranded

A plane owned by Venice-based Agape Flights burns after being set on fire by demonstrators...
A plane owned by Venice-based Agape Flights burns after being set on fire by demonstrators protesting increasing violence at the Antoine Simon Des Cayes airport in Les Cayes, Haiti, Tuesday, March 29, 2022. The protest coincides with the 35th anniversary of Haiti’s 1987 Constitution and follows other protests and strikes in recent weeks in the middle of a spike in gang-related kidnappings. (AP Photo/John Cadafy Noel)(Associated Press)
Published: Mar. 30, 2022 at 10:46 AM EDT
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VENICE, Fla. (WWSB) - Several members of a Venice nonprofit that supports missionaries in the Caribbean are trapped in Haiti after rioters burned their aircraft Tuesday, the organization said.

Agape Flights, which transports supplies to Christian missionaries in Haiti, the Dominican Republic and the Bahamas, told ABC7 Wednesday that six members of their organization were in Les Cayes, on the nation’s southern coast, when rioting broke out.

The organization operates aircraft out of Venice Municipal Airport.

One of Agape’s aircraft, a Piper Chieftain, was burned by rioters at the airport at Les Cayes, according to Agape’s website.

Agape’s communications manager, Abby Duncan, told ABC7 that the team is safe with missionary partners on the ground in Haiti. “Plans are in place to get them out safely.” Duncan would not identify which staff members or pilots were involved.

A statement on the nonprofit’s website said concerns for safety for staff and affiliated missionaries has prompted them to cancel this week’s supply run to Haiti.

On its website, Agape Flights quoted an unnamed missionary about details of the unrest. “People are mad that the roads are blocked by gangs, and the only way to travel to the Southern part of the country is via air. They assume the airlines control the gangs and are profiting off of the insecurities. Agape’s plane, happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.”

“We are also hearing that they thought it was a politician’s plane,” the website said.

The Associated Press is reporting that Haitians took to the streets Tuesday to protest rising insecurity, with demonstrations turning violent. At least one person died and five others were injured, including four police officers, in the confrontation between protesters and authorities in Les Cayes, said Gedeon Chery, a National Police inspector assigned to the city’s airport.

Chery told The Associated Press the person killed was a protester who was shot, but he didn’t say whether police were responsible.

A second small plane was burned at the local airport of the city of Jacmel, but it wasn’t clear if it was also part of an attack by some protesters, said Garry Desrosiers, the National Police spokesman. The aircraft was nonoperational and had been stationed there for a while, he added.

The protests coincided with the 35th anniversary of Haiti’s 1987 Constitution and follow other protests and strikes in recent weeks amid a spike in gang-related kidnappings and complaints about Prime Minister Ariel Henry’s inability to confront gangs. On his Twitter account, Henry condemned the violence in Les Cayes and said he has ordered authorities to look for the people behind it.

Chery, the police inspector, said a group of people had gotten onto the terminal’s tarmac, attacked the plane and set it on fire.

A video posted in social media showed some people on the plane’s fuselage while the red-and-white aircraft was moving on the tarmac, and others running alongside it. Chery said he didn’t know why they attacked it.

People also protested in Haiti’s capital of Port-au-Prince, where some burned tires. Protesters also criticized how Henry has not been able to control insecurity.

“He has nothing left to offer but words and more baseless words,” said Marie-Andre Michelle, one of the people who marched in Port-au-Prince.

Violence has increased over the past year despite the prime minister’s pledges to crack down on insecurity.

Kidnappings in Haiti increased 180% in 2021, with 655 of them reported to police, according to mid-February report by the U.N. Security Council. Authorities believe the number could be higher since many kidnappings go unreported.

Along with violence, Haiti has been also dealing with the ongoing sluggish investigation of President Jovenel Moïse’s killing last July 7, and a magnitude-7.2 earthquake that killed over 2,200 people in the country’s south last August.

Les Cayes is a city on Haiti's southwestern coast.
Les Cayes is a city on Haiti's southwestern coast.(CIA World Factbook)

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