CHESTER NY – A New York woman cried when she heard her cousin’s voice on the phone.
Joel Pineda had just returned to homecoming celebrations in Santo Domingo, after he and two fellow truck drivers were released by Haitian gangs that kidnapped them more than a month ago. He had spent his 30th birthday in captivity, suffering emotional trauma and losing a lot of weight.
During his captivity, the gang members would take him outside and show him a hole, Pineda’s cousin, Ana Patino-Pineda of Chester, said.
“‘If we don’t get what we want, this is where we’ll bury you,'” the gang members would say, according to Patino-Pineda, who quoted her cousin.
Patino-Pineda said the gangs “wanted a trade for food and gas and they wanted to keep the trucks.”
The Dominican government apparently negotiated the release by allowing the kidnappers to keep four trucks that were being used to deliver weekly supplies to Haiti. It’s unclear if any cash was exchanged.
Patino-Pineda said the Dominican National Police brought her cousin back to his father’s home in Santo Domingo.
Cellphone video showed the joyful celebrations. Her cousin was wearing a white polo shirt and sporting a beard and being hugged by friends and relatives.
“They provided him with just one meal a day and gave him rum instead of water to drink,” Patino-Pineda said of her cousin’s time in captivity. “He’s dehydrated and very swollen.”
Patino-Pineda said her cousin told her he was mostly fed rice and “they had their hands tied up, so they couldn’t eat with their hands.”
There’s been a huge spike in kidnappings in Haiti in the last two years. For the first eight months of 2021, 328 people were abducted; 17 Christian missionaries based in Ohio are included in that number. One of the missionaries is Canadian. Tuesday marked one month since the missionaries were seized on a road near Ganthier, Haiti.
The gang blamed for most of the kidnappings is the 400 Mawozo gang, which is a heavily-armed group.
Some of the kidnapped people have been freed after a ransom was paid.
But a deacon was fatally shot outside a church in the capital of Port au Prince and his wife was abducted.
The country has been badly destabilized since the assassination of President Jovenel Moise in the bedroom of his home on July 7.
Then, a month later, a 7.2 magnitude earthquake devastated Haiti, killing more than 2,200 people.
Back on April 11, the 400 Mawozo gang kidnapped 10 people, including five priests and two nuns from France doing ministry in Haiti. They were held three weeks before their release, and it wasn’t clear if any ransom was paid by the Roman Catholic Church to secure their freedom.
Patino-Pineda said her cousin was kept in a house with no windows, and it was difficult to know if it was day or night.
“There were a lot more people there,” Patino-Pineda said, quoting her cousin, “even Haitian people.”
Patino-Pineda said her cousin witnessed people being taken out of the house to be killed.
She is now setting up a GoFundMe for Joel Pineda to assist with his medical expenses and psychological counseling in the future.