Haitians have been entering Brazil illegally from Bolivia and Peru. Somehow they are traveling from the Caribbean to the other side of South America and then somehow making their way hundreds of kilometers inland in order to come into Brazil through Acre, the country’s most western state.
Therefore it is not surprising that the Acre secretary of Justice and Human Rights, Nilson Mourão, says most of them arrive exhausted and psychologically wrecked by the long voyage.
Mourão says the Haitians are being exploited (physically, financially and even sexually) in Bolivia and Peru by the people responsible for this illegal underground railroad (known as coyotes – “coiotes”).
The secretary says he has documented evidence of abuses but can do nothing as it happens in another country. Reportedly the Haitians pay between US$ 1,000 and US$ 1,500 to be taken to the border with Acre. Most of them arrive in the Bolivian city of Cobija and cross into the Brazilian city of Brasileia.
At the moment there are officially 1,250 illegal Haitians in the border town of Brasileia.
“Psychologically they arrive as basket cases,” says secretary Mourão, “and many are sick with disease, as well.”
The state simply does not have the necessary resources to deal with so many people with such dire problems, says the secretary. Mourão observes slyly that there are now more illegal Haitians in his state than there are Brazilian soldiers in Haiti as part of the UN stabilization mission.
Haiti was hit by a devastating earthquake two years ago, January 2010. Just another setback in a very long tragic history that made it into the history books with the arrival of Columbus in 1492.
Within 25 years the native Taino Amerindian population had been decimated. In 1697, the Spanish ceded the French the western third of the island of Hispaniola that later became Haiti.
With an economy based exclusively on slave labor and mindless exploitation of natural resources, Haiti became the richest colony in history, producing half the world’s coffee and a third of its sugar.
But this was possible only by harshly exploiting human resources as well, as the planter-rulers preferred to work their slaves to death (which happened in ten to fifteen years) and buy new ones as it was cheaper.
The result was history’s largest slave rebellion beginning in 1791 and finally ending in Haitian independence in 1804. At a terrible price.
Haiti had to fight to stay independent three times: first, against the planter-rulers and French soldiers, armed by the United States, where George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, president and secretary of state, respectively, and both slave-owners, were appalled by the slave revolution.
Second, against the British who were trying to take advantage of momentary French disadvantage to gain control of the rich colony, its fertile lands and slave labor force; finally, the Haitians faced Napoleon, eager to recapture the colony and restore slavery.
Gaining independence cost Haiti around half of its population – many died, of course, but many fled the country as well – and left the economy (fields, mills and towns) in ruins.
The United States and the European powers were deeply disturbed by the successful slave revolt in Haiti. The specter of free slaves haunted them so much that the United States only recognized Haiti in 1854.
Before that, in 1825, the French made the Haitians pay for the freedom they had won on the battlefield: payments that for years gobbled up close to 30% of the new government’s revenues.
It is not surprising that the 200 years of Haitian independence have been marked by violence, with most governments operating on the principle of military force. And so it is not surprising that some Haitians are so desperate they are arriving in Brazil via Acre.