Haitian Immigration and the International Racial System
Over the following weeks, we will be covering immigration and border control in South and Central America, with posts on Chile, Colombia, Venezuela, Haiti, Trinidad and Tobago, Curacao and Mexico, as well as the complex relationship between these countries. This new themed ongoing series has been organised by Ana Aliverti, Rimple Mehta and Andriani Fili, facilitated by Ritika Goyal, as part of their continuing work in expanding Border Criminologies in the Global South and building new networks and partnerships. While the issues highlighted in the posts affect millions of people, most discussions of border control focus upon realities in the Global North. This ongoing series attempts to fill this gap by presenting a view from the Global South. Do get in touch with us if you want to contribute a blog post in English or in Spanish.
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Guest post by Jade Alcântara Lôbo. Jade is a PhD student in Social Anthropology at the Federal University of Santa Catarina, scholarship student at the Afro-Latin American Research Institute at Harvard University (Certificado en Estudios Afrolatinoamericanos), researcher at Afro-Latin American Studies Center - UNILA and at Africa-Brazil Research Group, associated with the Brazilian Association of Negros Researchers. Graduated in Anthropology - Latin American Cultural Diversity from the Federal University of Latin American Integration (2017) and a master's degree in Anthropology from the Federal University of Bahia (2020). Jade Lôbo has experience in the area of Anthropology of Afro-Brazilian Populations, working mainly on the following themes: Black Motherhood, Afroperspectivism, Counter-Colonization, Afro-indigenous Confluences and Gender Inequality. Jade is the author of the book: Beyond Haitian Immigration: Racism and Patriarchy as an International System and a Chief Editor of "Odù: Contracolinialidade e Oralitura'' Magazine.
Thinking about borders has been a great challenge in my academic trajectory, one that I tried to analyze in my book, “Beyond Haitian Immigration: Racism and Patriarchy as an International System”. The book focuses on the relations between Brazil and Haiti. In it, I trace a historical line from the Haitian revolution until the presence of the United Nations Mission for Stabilization in Haiti (MINUSTAH), led by the Brazilian military from 2004 to 2017. In doing so, I analyze the policies adopted by Brazil and their impact on immigration from Haiti. Through an ethnographic account and interviews with Haitian nationals, I also immerse myself in the reality of their lives in the state of Paraná, Brazil, especially in the cities of Foz do Iguaçu— on the triple border between Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay — and Cascavel, in which Haitian nationals are submitted to work in slavery-like conditions at large industrial farms. The triple border, known as a field of ethnic plurality in its official discourse, invisibilises the black presence. The state of Paraná is currently the third state in the southern region of the country with the largest concentration of black people (28.5%), whileFoz do Iguaçu stands out with 36% of their population being black. However, this does not appear in the city's official speech available at the city hall page, which aims to attract tourist attention to the city with multi-ethnic and cosmopolitan discourse.
Haitian history is fundamental to understanding its emigration processes. The country has undergone 34 coups d’État and has had 23 constitutions. Its economic instability is directly linked to the country’s violent social segregation. Nearly 83% of its population doesn’t have access to basic sanitation, there is 50% illiteracy and 80% unemployment. The first truly free nation in the Americas, since it not only secured independence from France but also abolished slavery, was severely punished by the international community for its “boldness” as pointed out by Eduardo Galeano in “The history of Haiti is the history of racism”. The country was devastated during the war of independence and was forced to pay a huge debt to France, which was imposed on the peasant and impoverished population.
In this context, MINUSTAH was unable to “pacify” a country that was actually undergoing a process towards democratization. The Mission in Haiti was titled "one of the worst peacekeeping missions in UN history" by Ricardo Seitenfus, a scholar in International Relations and representative of the Secretary-General of the Organization American States (OAS) in Haiti between 2009 and 2011, and author of the book “Haiti: International Dilemmas and Failures” (2014). In fact, the United Nations Mission for Stabilization in Haiti is remembered for the numerous human rights violations such as the rape of children and systematic sexual violence as was pointed out by journalist Igor Patrick in his book "Aquilo que Resta de Nós". According to Patrick, some NGOs claim that there have been more than 500 cases of violations but very few have been taken to justice. According to Haitian researchers, like the sociologists Michaëlle Desrosiers and Franck Seguy, MINUSTAH used prostitution of minors and the “exchange” of food for hallucinogenic or illicit products to justify their presence in the “peace operation” in Haiti.
But, how could a country also affected by colonialism/coloniality, like Brazil, be in charge of a UN military mission in another country? In my work, I seek to expand the approach of the traditional answer to this question, such as sub-imperialism, by analyzing the history of both countries pointing to the racism and patriarchy that structures the international system. Thus, the same country that genocides its black population (every 23 minutes a young black man is murdered in Brazil), led a “peace army” that made the life of blacks in Haiti more precarious by international whiteness agreements. Analyzing the classed and racialized aspects in the international system, I observe racism operating as a fundamental vector of intra/international relations through the internal coloniality in each country. In this sense, whiteness is a place of systematic privilege that is maintained and globalized, generated by colonialism, the process of enslavement and imperialism. Western whiteness establishes international alliances in order to maintain its privileges and domination.
Since the Haitian independence in the 18th Century, its population has been emigrating, making remittances sent back home a considerable part of the country's GDP. The search for opportunities was the main reason for Haitian immigration to Brazil, which was confirmed by my ethnographic work presented in the book. This migration route was driven by the presence of MINUSTAH and Brazilian propaganda as an emerging power on the international stage. In the mid-2000’s, this propaganda achieved what was considered a triumph in foreign policy: the country emerged in the international landscape as the 5th biggest economy and it was chosen as the host for the FIFA World Cup and the Olympic Games; thus, the idea of Brazil as a friendly country softening the presence of troops in Haiti.
By 2012, trying to prevent exploitation from criminal human trafficking networks, the Brazilian government started offering humanitarian visas to Haitian immigrants. In Paraná, the Haitian population settled with the intention to study at the Federal University of Latin-American Integration (UNILA), a Brazilian institution of higher learning. Meanwhile, the population residing in the cities of Cascavel and Toledo looked for employment in agribusinesses. By 2017, the state of Paraná had officially registered more than 14,673 Haitians. Most of my interviewees were very critical of MINUSTAH. As one of them astutely said “for me there is no United Nations organization, only an army of great powers to ensure imperialist interests.”
When Brazil decided to act in Haiti, it inserted itself in a circuit of imperialism. However the Brazilian geopolitical position in the international system is not the same as that of some NGOs, small international elites and other countries of the white Western center of power. Brazilian actions were clearly marked by epiperiferism, as pointed out by Franck Seguy in his doctoral thesis "The catastrophe of January 2010, the “Community International” and the recolonization of Haiti". This complex process presents vectors that intersect: race, both countries have a majority black population but under the control of white elites - in the case of Haiti mainly offshore; class/geopolitics, both are developing countries; colonialism/coloniality, both countries were colonized by European countries that design/have designed imperialist actions to maximize their power; patriarchy, the policy designed in the international system and which has inter/intrastate reflexes is headed mainly by white men in favor of white men.
Therefore, I believe that the concept of sub-imperialism, being tied in structural and socioeconomic aspects, cannot explain the complexity of the cooperation between peripheral countries with a majority black population. This is the scenario between Brazil and Haiti: countries that have their inequality internally and internationally marked by the aspect of race; that is not a mere aftermath of capitalism.
How to cite this blog post (Harvard style)
Alcântara Lôbo, J. (2021). Haitian Immigration and the International Racial System. Available at: https://www.law.ox.ac.uk/research-subject-groups/centre-criminology/centreborder-criminologies/blog/2021/04/haitian [date]