Haitian Migration From Brazil: An Overview of Contributing Factors, Part Two

By Alexandra Smith

The migration of Hatians out of Brazil and to the United States has been the result of multiple factors, among them being, a changing political and economic landscape in Brazil, an economic collapse and subsequent social and political unrest in Venezuela, and finally an inability to integrate into local Brazilian communities. The story of Hatian migration through Brazil, and subsequently to the United States, cannot be told without understanding one of the other major countries involved, and its precipitous internal economic decline.

In the decade between 2000 and 2010, Venezuela benefited from a rise in the price of oil, and that economic boon was utilized by president Hugo Chavez to implement populist policies and increase social programs (1). Those recent positive trends in quality of life and economy led many Haitians to see Venezuela as a destination for migration in the early 2010s. Though these policies helped in the 2000s, they became ineffective when the price of oil dropped dramatically in international markets. The next president, Nicholas Maduro, continued with the same populist policies as his predecessor with the majority of funding from the exportation of oil. This culminated in one of the worst economic disasters in the modern world, with in 2019, up to 97% of Venezuelans living in poverty. The effects of this massive economic downturn, in addition to social unrest, was a mass exodus of Venezuela refugees, in addition to the Haitians who previously settled there. These Haitians, already on the mainland and working in Venezuela, saw better potential opportunities in the United States, leading to an increased number of Haitians recently detained at the US-Mexican border.

The events in Venezuela also reverberated throughout Central and South America, and in particular, Brazil. In 2017, the Brazilian National Parliament attempted to pass a bill reforming the previous statute from 1980 in which treated immigrants as “a threat to national security” (2). Through political maneuvering, the bill was transformed to reinforce, rather than remove the status of immigrants as “threats to national security” (3). For Haitians in Venezuela, Brazil became a less attractive option for migration as the Venezuelan economy failed, thus leading to an overland migration pattern to the US-Mexican border.

Finally, as a result of the changing ideology of Brazilian government to migrants in the latter portion of the decade, the immigrants from Haiti already in Brazil, began to face challenges integrating into local Brazilian communities. Already in 2016, one migrant noted that, “The government is promoting a foreign policy to bring more Haitians to Brazil, but there is no public policy for Haitians here” (4). Despite the acceptance of avenues of legal migration to Brazil, Haitians often experienced instances of “racism in everyday situations” as well as a lack of language training programs, cultural integration, and general public policy initiatives aimed at migrants. In other words, the lives of Haitians when they finally arrived in Brazil were those of outsiders, and despite Brazil’s historical legacy of racial and ethnic diversity, Haitians found hostile communities rather than livable conditions. This inability to be accepted into local communities once they arrived in Brazil in conjunction with a shrinking of labor markets, and stricter government attitudes to migration, undoubtedly led Haitians already living in Brazil to other countries in search of employment and settlement.

In the case of Haitians already living in Brazil, or in the case of Haitians finding refuge in other South American countries such as Venezuela, it was not beneficial to attempt a return to Haiti in order to emigrate to the United States, and thus began choosing overland routes through Central America and Mexico, explaining the recent increase of Haitians appearing at the US-Mexican border. Undoubtedly there are other factors in play forcing Haitians to the border at this time, but this has been a sketch of the more recent developments in Central and South America that have led Haitians to move to and from Brazil to the United States.

1 Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, Democracy and Human Rights in Venezuela, February 24, 2010, http://www.cidh.oas.org/Comunicados/English/2010/20V-10eng.htm

2 Jeffery Lesser and Shari Wejsa, “Migration in Brazil: The Making of a Multicultural Society,” Migration Policy Center, 29 March, 2018, https://www.migrationpolicy.org/article/migration-brazil-making-multicultural-society

3 Though this bill received nearly unanimous support in the Congress, president Michel Temer vetoed portions of the bill to the point where the amended bill that was passed resembled a return to the “national security threat,” ideology in relation to migrants. In the context of mass migration from Venezuela in the decade from 2010 to 2020, this shift of policy was part of an effort to curb the amount of refugees and migrants coming into Brazil. The influx of migrants from Venezuela, coupled with an internal economic downturn in Brazil in the latter portion of the decade, made Brazil a less welcoming destination for refugees and migrants in recent years.

4. Gabrlela Bazzo, “Hatian Migrants Pouring in to Brazil Don’t Find a Warm Welcome,” Huf ington Post – Huf ington Post Brazil, August 22, 2016 https://www.huffpost.com/entry/haitians-migrants-brazil_n_56b4ca40e4b08069c7a6efe7?guccounter=1&guce_r eferrer=aHR0cHM6Ly93d3cuZ29vZ2xlLmNvbS8&guce_referrer_sig=AQAAAAKTvJa6BFkdAUh0CjobW6X dJTihgH7BY0dTD-CnPTgObrz3D3CqE3eShZM2zhHNVXi7yWlKk_jiGviws8lzPTf-Lv06NlEPsCkY7PAFEqJ ViW4jpFlQHhOW_7jxHhG7gGtfiHrOGBqsNAXaiYw0Wcf5iH6tTBc3FVawQJCPTM_1

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