Constitution enterprise thrives as US-expelled Haitians flee Haiti

SANTIAGO, Chile (AP) — With jokes, upbeat Caribbean music and trip scenes of sun-kissed seashores and palm timber, Haitian influencers on YouTube and TikTok promote constitution flights to South America.

However they aren’t concentrating on vacationers.

As an alternative, they’re touts for a thriving, little-known shadow trade that’s cashing in on the U.S. authorities sending individuals again to Haiti, a rustic besieged by gang violence.

Greater than a dozen South American journey companies have rented planes from low-budget Latin American airways — a few of them as giant as 238-seat Airbuses — after which bought tickets at premium costs. Most of the prospects are Haitians who had been dwelling in Chile and Brazil earlier than they made their option to the Texas border in September, solely to be expelled by the Biden administration and prevented from in search of asylum. They’re utilizing the constitution flights to flee Haiti once more and return to South America.

Some, clearly, plan to make one other attempt to enter america.

Rodolfo Noriega of the Nationwide Coordinator of Immigrants in Chile mentioned Haitians are being exploited by companies making the most of their desperation. They “are on the finish of a sequence of highly effective companies getting cash from this circuit of Haitian migration,” he mentioned.

The airways and journey companies say they work throughout the authorized norms of the nations the place they’re working from and are merely offering a service to the Haitian diaspora in South America.

The thriving enterprise mannequin was revealed in an eight-month investigation by The Related Press in partnership with the College of California, Berkeley’s Human Rights Heart and its Investigative Reporting Program.


This story is a part of an ongoing Related Press collection, “Migration Inc,” which investigates people and firms that revenue from the motion of people that flee violence and civil strife of their homelands.


Haitians sick of the deprivations of their island residence resettled in Chile or Brazil, many after Haiti’s catastrophic 2010 earthquake. Then, final fall, struggling because the pandemic hit native economies and beset by racism, hundreds determined to make their option to the Texas border city of Del Rio. There, they ran afoul of a public well being order, invoked by the Trump administration and continued beneath the Biden administration, that blocks migrants from requesting asylum.

Authorities returned them to not South America, the place a few of their kids have been born, however to their unique homeland — Haiti.

Some interviewed by the AP mentioned they feared for his or her lives there and wished to return to South America. However airways had stopped direct business flights from Haiti to Chile and Brazil in the course of the pandemic; their remaining choice was the charters.

The flights from Haiti turned a profitable enterprise as restrictions aimed toward controlling the unfold of the coronavirus decimated tourism, based on the journey brokers. Planes arrive empty to Haiti however return to South America full.

From November 2020 till this Might, no less than 128 charters have been rented by journey companies in Chile and Brazil for flights from Haiti, based on flight monitoring data, on-line commercials matching the flights to companies and different unbiased verification by the AP and Berkeley.

Since taking workplace in January 2021, the Biden administration has despatched greater than 25,000 Haitians again to Haiti regardless of warnings from human rights teams that the expulsions would solely contribute to Haiti’s travails and feed extra Haitian migration to Latin America and the U.S.

Not the entire passengers on the charters had tried to immigrate to the U.S., however primarily based on interviews with dozens of journey brokers, Haitian migrants and advocates, and an evaluation of flight knowledge utilizing the Swedish service Flightradar24, it’s clear that the charters have turn out to be a significant means to flee Haiti.

Some who took constitution flights again to South America have headed north once more on the community of underground routes that wind via Central America and Mexico and that in the end result in america, based on immigration attorneys, advocates and interviews with dozens of Haitians.

Most of the Haitians return to Chile and Brazil, moderately than locations near the U.S. like Mexico, as a result of they’ve visas and different authorized paperwork to get into these nations. And having lived there, they will discover jobs shortly to earn cash for the journey north.

Some, like Amstrong Jean-Baptiste, even have kids who have been born in South America. The 33-year-old father of two mentioned he spent $6,000 on a harrowing journey from Chile to Texas, solely to be despatched again to Haiti.

He mentioned he had knives pulled on him, solid rivers that carried others away to their deaths and encountered freeway robbers. In the long run, he mentioned the Haitians have been handcuffed and “handled like animals” by U.S. immigration authorities. He mentioned his son caught pneumonia within the immigration detention heart.

As he waited in Port-au-Prince for a constitution flight again to Santiago, information from northern Chile underscored why he wished to go to america within the first place: An indication in opposition to immigrants drew hundreds of protesters who turned violent and destroyed the belongings of migrants dwelling in a camp.

Would he attempt to go to the U.S. once more? He didn’t rule it out.

“The dangers are so quite a few that this shouldn’t be an expertise to repeat,” he mentioned. “Nevertheless, one ought to by no means say by no means.”


Ana Darcelin, a journey agent with Journey VIP, a Santiago-based company that rents planes for flights from Haiti to Chile, mentioned Haitians who migrated north from the South American nation, solely to be despatched again to Haiti, are scrambling to depart Haiti and get again to Chile once more.

“Everyone seems to be providing constitution flights. There may be plenty of demand,” she mentioned.

Journey companies in Brazil and Chile mentioned in interviews that they pay anyplace from $100,000 to $200,000 to hire an plane. At that fee, the three airways that rented planes for 128 constitution flights between Haiti and both Brazil or Chile would have been paid a complete of anyplace from $12 million to $25 million. In the meantime, some costs for one-way tickets from Haiti to Chile have greater than doubled in eight months, from $625 to greater than $1,600.

In Brazil, many companies providing flights from Haiti rented from the low-cost Azul S.A. airways, which was began by JetBlue founder David Neeleman.

Many of the charters to Chile are on planes rented from SKY Airline, owned by the Chilean Paulmann household, which is price billions.

Neither Neeleman nor Holger Paulmann, chairman of SKY, responded to emails and LinkedIn messages requesting remark.

SKY additionally signed a $1.8 million contract in April with the earlier administration of Chilean President Sebastián Piñera to fly Latin American immigrants, largely Venezuelans and Colombians expelled from Chile, again to their homelands. SKY earned about $670 for every expelled immigrant it flies to Central and South America. Below the contract obtained by the AP and Berkeley, the provider should full no less than 15 flights carrying 180 passengers every.

John Paul Spode, who has labored 35 years within the journey trade and manages NewStilo, which rents planes from SKY for the flights, mentioned Haiti is just not the one place in disaster that gives a lovely marketplace for the constitution flight enterprise.

His company additionally gives constitution flights between Venezuela and Chile. However there are few locations with the demand for constitution flights like Haiti, although he mentioned it’s not a simple place to do enterprise. In March, protesters stormed the tarmac at an airport within the countryside and set a small aircraft on hearth. Gangs additionally function in and across the airport, he mentioned.

“Sadly, we’ve had many passengers who haven’t been capable of board as a result of there are individuals who stand exterior (the airport) with some type of an inventory and a few type of uniform they usually began charging, saying ‘You aren’t on the listing, sir, however for $250 you might be added,’ after which they allow them to enter the airport,” Spode mentioned.

Some passengers mentioned as soon as contained in the airport they have been blocked once more by so-called airport enterprise staff and advised that their names have been nonetheless not on the listing, they usually should pay once more, Spode mentioned. Many do earlier than they attain the ticket counter the place they lastly are checked in by a official worker with the flight.

However would-be passengers courageous all that. “It’s powerful to promote tickets from Santiago to Port-au-Prince. The aircraft leaves normally nearly empty,” Spode mentioned. “However we all know that on the return journey it’s going to be full, actually, like individuals virtually hanging from the aircraft, so to talk.”

The demand has been so nice {that a} second low-cost airline primarily based in Ecuador, Aeroregional, entered the Chilean marketplace for the primary time and began providing constitution flights from Haiti to Chile. A minimum of 11 Aeroregional charters have arrived from Haiti to Chile since December.

Dan Foote, a former U.S. envoy to Haiti who resigned over the Biden administration’s dealing with of Haitians on the Texas border, mentioned he’s not shocked to listen to Haitians expelled from the U.S. are making their method again to South America, and that companies are lining as much as assist them.

“Till the foundation causes of instability are really attacked in a affected person, systematic, holistic method, it’s going to maintain going,″ Foote mentioned.

The journey companies and airways denied they’re facilitating Haitian migration.

Aeroregional’s managing director, Luis Manuel Rodriguez, mentioned in an announcement by way of LinkedIn that the airline’s function is just to move individuals. He mentioned that the immigration standing of its passengers is checked by immigration authorities of the nations concerned.

Azul confirmed by e-mail that it has supplied constitution flights between Haiti and Brazil, however mentioned these contracts have confidentiality clauses. The corporate didn’t reply to a follow-up request for extra data.

Carmen Gloria Serrat, the enterprise supervisor of SKY, mentioned in an announcement that the corporate gives secure, authorized transportation “for whoever desires it and wishes it.” She mentioned airways are chargeable for validating the paperwork of passengers and should eat the prices of returning anybody who’s denied entry to a rustic.

She mentioned the flights run 4 instances month-to-month on common and signify a minuscule a part of SKY’s enterprise.

“The act of offering secure and authorized transportation is a assure to keep away from the potential for abuses,” Serrat mentioned. “It’s essential to level out that in SKY we function throughout the established norms for getting into a rustic and at all times in coordination and beneath the supervision of immigration authorities.”


A minimum of one journey company is open about providing to assist those that hope to achieve america.

Alta Tour Turismo Journey Company rents planes for constitution flights between Haiti and Chile.

A TikTok account with the deal with @altatourtravelagency posted a video on June 14, 2021, discussing find out how to keep away from the Darien Hole, a treacherous, roadless space of thick jungle between Colombia and Panama traversed by migrants from South America heading north.

Within the video, two males are speaking about completely different routes north as they present an enormous boat at sea.

“Contemplating the extent of mistreatment Haitians endured from the Colombians within the jungle, I’ll by no means undergo the jungle,” says one because the digital camera zooms in on the boat on the horizon.

It was unclear if the video was meant to attach individuals to boats or was a advertising and marketing device to draw prospects in want of flights to South America who supposed to then take the migrant route north.

Alta Tour Turismo began with a video on Fb at first of 2021 that knowledgeable viewers that Bolivia was not deporting individuals. The company integrated a month later.

The slogan of the Santiago-based company is “journey with pleasure.” Reservations for flights are largely carried out via WhatsApp. The company’s social media accounts have almost 40,000 followers; they promote journey from Haiti to such nations as Brazil, Guyana, Suriname, Chile and Mexico.

Ezechias Revanget mentioned he began the company with three different Haitian immigrants in Chile to hire planes so fellow Haitians in Chile might return residence to see household. His company has leased 186-seat Airbus planes from SKY airways.

“Our goal is to work with our compatriots, and there are additionally different individuals — similar to Chileans, Bolivians, Dominicans, anybody, any nationality can purchase tickets at our company,” he mentioned.

Alta Tour Turismo additionally marketed flights to Suriname. In an April 2021 put up, the company posted on its Fb web page that Haitians who had solely a passport and wished to depart Haiti shouldn’t miss this chance, asserting: “you recognize when you arrive in Suriname you possibly can go to different locations too,” adopted by three smiling emoji and the company’s numbers.

Revanget, who additionally makes use of the identify Dave Elmyr, refused to reply extra questions.

“They need to be investigating these flights — they need to,” mentioned Carolina Rudnick Vizcarra, an lawyer and director of LIBERA, a Santiago-based nonprofit combatting human trafficking. “And by now, everybody is aware of that Haitians are susceptible — they don’t have the cash” or locations to remain.

U.S. officers advised the AP they have been unaware of the constitution flights from Haiti. Some South American nations have taken motion to stop their use by migrants and smugglers. Final 12 months, Suriname stopped constitution flights from Haiti and issuing visas to Haitians, based on Suriname’s Ministry of International Affairs.

That very same 12 months, neighboring French Guiana complained about Haitians coming throughout its border.

“What was unusual was that in the course of a pandemic, so many flights have been arriving from Haiti … there have been unaccompanied minors on the flight, in addition to a number of Haitians with out visas,” Antoine Joly, the previous French ambassador in Suriname advised the French Guiana TV station, Guyane la 1ere in a video posted Might 4.

Shortly after that, Guyana, which additionally borders Suriname, canceled an earlier order permitting Haitians in with no visa, contending the nation was getting used as a vacation spot for human smugglers who have been taking migrants into neighboring Brazil the place they’d keep briefly earlier than heading north to Mexico and the U.S.

Giuseppe Loprete, chief of mission in Haiti of the Worldwide Group of Migration, mentioned the United Nations company realized about constitution flights from Haiti to Chile in interviews with migrants who had been despatched again from america and Mexico.

“We tried to search out out extra, however we don’t have the means to analyze these flights,” he wrote in an e-mail to the AP on April 22. “Our assumption was that from Chile they transfer on to different nations heading (to) the Mexican-USA border, if not immediately, after a while. In all probability after they have collected sufficient cash and data to maneuver ahead.”


The Azul constitution flights began on Nov. 14, 2020, from Port-au-Prince to Manaus, Brazil. Town of two.2 million boasts one among Brazil’s largest airports, is the capital of the Amazon area with a Haitian immigrant inhabitants and can be a widely known jumping-off level for Haitian migrants who journey by boats from there alongside a river connecting the Colombian, Peruvian and Guyanese borders earlier than persevering with north.

Flight knowledge confirmed that 54 Azul planes flew constitution flights from Port-au-Prince to Manaus. The flights stopped in October. That very same month, the Brazilian embassy in Haiti stopped issuing all visas to Haitians, based on a doc from the Brazilian ambassador in Haiti obtained by AP and Berkeley.

Jean Robert Jean Baptiste, 49, mentioned he purchased a $1,400 ticket for an Azul flight in December 2020 to Brazil. He spent a month in Haiti after he was deported from Louisiana, the place he was held at an immigration detention heart following his arrest on a DUI cost. Again in Haiti, he mentioned an enemy threatened to kill him and had the backing of the police.

He mentioned he determined to fly to Brazil as a result of he had a visa to get into the nation after dwelling there from 2011 to 2012 earlier than making his option to america in 2016 and settled in Alabama.

In 2021, he made his method from Brazil by bus and on foot. He walked for per week, most of it within the rain, via the Darien Hole, the place he mentioned he noticed useless our bodies of those that didn’t make it. He mentioned he needed to pay bandits who blocked his path; robbers stole his telephone and $500 from him.

All advised, he mentioned it price him about $7,000 to return to Tijuana, the place he was looking for a method again to the U.S. He’s pushed, he mentioned, by a dedication to “have life” for his kids.

The Paulmann household’s SKY, in the meantime, is the constitution of selection between Haiti and Chile; of 71 such flights since 2020 that AP and Berkeley tracked, 60 have been on SKY. The Paulmanns run one among Latin America’s largest retail corporations, Cencosud, and have a web price of $3.3 billion, based on Forbes journal. SKY constitution planes additionally flew three flights between Haiti and Brazil in 2021.

Etienne Ilienses mentioned she was despatched again to Haiti from Texas on Dec. 14. She talked to the AP earlier than flying to Santiago along with her three kids on a Jan. 30 constitution flight on SKY. “To get to the USA, I braved hell,” she mentioned. Nonetheless, she didn’t dismiss the potential for doing it once more “as a result of Haiti gives nothing to its kids. We’re compelled to undergo humiliations, affronts in every single place.”

However simply because Haitians fly to Chile, it doesn’t imply they will keep. Dozens have been held by immigration officers after arriving in Santiago in current months. One group spent weeks sleeping on the airport earlier than Chile’s Supreme Court docket on Jan. 31 ordered police to launch them and permit them to request asylum.

Others have been despatched again to Haiti inside hours of touchdown.

SKY’s Serrat mentioned the airline works intently with immigration officers to keep away from that scenario, whereas the advertising and marketing aimed toward passengers is the accountability of the journey operators. (Aeroregional’s supervisor didn’t reply to questions on flying in Haitians who have been later expelled.)

Theleon Marckenson, 31, was despatched again to Haiti from Texas final fall. He mentioned he spent $1,650 for a constitution flight on Aeroregional to return to Chile, the place he had lived since 2017.

After Marckenson landed in Santiago, Chilean authorities advised him the applying he had submitted for everlasting residency earlier than he left for the U.S. border had expired. Hours later he was placed on one other Aeroregional flight to Haiti with six others.

“I don’t have any more cash,” Marckenson mentioned by telephone after touchdown again in Port-au-Prince. “I don’t know what I’m going to do. However I can’t keep right here. There may be solely starvation. There is no such thing as a life.”


Gisela Perez de Acha is a supervisory reporter for Berkeley’s Human Rights Heart and its Investigative Reporting Program. Katie Licari is a current Berkeley graduate journalism alum.


Watson reported from San Diego, Daniel from New York. Related Press writers Elliot Spagat in San Diego; Evens Sanon in Port-au-Prince, Haiti; Adriana Gomez Licon in Miami; and Gonzalo Solano in Quito, Ecuador; additionally contributed to this report. College of California college students Zhe Wu, Mar Segura, Grace Luo, Gergana Georgieva, José Fernando Rengifo, Pamela Estrada, Freddy Brewster, Sabrina Kharrazi, Jocelyn Tabancay, Imran Ali Malik reported from Berkeley, together with Human Rights Heart Investigations Lab director Stephanie Croft.

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