Constitution enterprise thrives as US-expelled Haitians flee Haiti



SANTIAGO, Chile — 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 don’t seem to be concentrating on vacationers.

As a substitute, they’re touts for a thriving, little-known shadow trade that’s making the most of 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. Lots of the clients are Haitians who had been dwelling in Chile and Brazil earlier than they made their method to the Texas border in September, solely to be expelled by the Biden administration and prevented from searching for 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 the US.

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

The airways and journey companies say they work inside the authorized norms of the international locations 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 Middle and its Investigative Reporting Program.


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


Haitians sick of the deprivations of their island dwelling 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 method 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 underneath the Biden administration, that blocks migrants from requesting asylum.

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

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

The flights from Haiti grew to become a profitable enterprise as restrictions aimed toward controlling the unfold of the coronavirus decimated tourism, in accordance with the journey brokers. Planes arrive empty to Haiti however return to South America full.

From November 2020 till this Might, a minimum of 128 charters had been rented by journey companies in Chile and Brazil for flights from Haiti, in accordance with flight monitoring data, on-line ads 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 all the 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 information utilizing the Swedish service Flightradar24, it’s clear that the charters have grow to be a serious 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 by way of Central America and Mexico and that finally result in the US, in accordance with immigration attorneys, advocates and interviews with dozens of Haitians.

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

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

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

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 the US 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 stated. “Nonetheless, 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, stated 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’s quite a lot of demand,” she stated.

Journey companies in Brazil and Chile stated 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. Underneath the contract obtained by the AP and Berkeley, the service should full a minimum of 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, stated Haiti will not be the one place in disaster that gives a pretty marketplace for the constitution flight enterprise.

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

“Sadly, we’ve got had many passengers who haven’t been in a position to 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 and so they began charging, saying ‘You aren’t on the record, sir, however for $250 you may be added,’ after which they allow them to enter the airport,” Spode stated.

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

However would-be passengers courageous all that. “It’s powerful to promote tickets from Santiago to Port-au-Prince. The airplane leaves often virtually empty,” Spode stated. “However we all know that on the return journey it’s going to be full, actually, like individuals virtually hanging from the airplane, 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. At the least 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, stated he isn’t shocked to listen to Haitians expelled from the U.S. are making their approach again to South America, and that companies are lining as much as assist them.

“Till the basis causes of instability are actually attacked in a affected person, systematic, holistic approach, it’s going to maintain going,″ Foote stated.

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

Aeroregional’s managing director, Luis Manuel Rodriguez, stated in an announcement through LinkedIn that the airline’s position is solely to move individuals. He stated that the immigration standing of its passengers is checked by immigration authorities of the international locations concerned.

Azul confirmed by electronic mail that it has supplied constitution flights between Haiti and Brazil, however stated 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, stated in an announcement that the corporate presents secure, authorized transportation “for whoever desires it and desires it.” She stated 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 stated the flights run 4 instances month-to-month on common and symbolize a minuscule a part of SKY’s enterprise.

“The act of offering secure and authorized transportation is a assure to keep away from the opportunity of abuses,” Serrat stated. “It’s necessary to level out that in SKY we function inside the established norms for coming into a rustic and all the time in coordination and underneath the supervision of immigration authorities.”


At the least one journey company is open about providing to assist those that hope to achieve the US.

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 the way 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 totally 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 digicam 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 software to draw clients in want of flights to South America who meant to then take the migrant route north.

Alta Tour Turismo began with a video on Fb firstly 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 achieved by way of WhatsApp. The company’s social media accounts have practically 40,000 followers; they promote journey from Haiti to such international locations as Brazil, Guyana, Suriname, Chile and Mexico.

Ezechias Revanget stated he began the company with three different Haitian immigrants in Chile to hire planes so fellow Haitians in Chile may return dwelling 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 — reminiscent of Chileans, Bolivians, Dominicans, anybody, any nationality should purchase tickets at our company,” he stated.

Alta Tour Turismo additionally marketed flights to Suriname. In an April 2021 submit, 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 if you happen to arrive in Suriname you’ll be able to 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,” stated Carolina Rudnick Vizcarra, an legal professional and director of LIBERA, a Santiago-based nonprofit combatting human trafficking. “And by now, everybody is aware of that Haitians are weak — they don’t have the cash” or locations to remain.

U.S. officers informed the AP they had been unaware of the constitution flights from Haiti. Some South American nations have taken motion to forestall their use by migrants and smugglers. Final yr, Suriname stopped constitution flights from Haiti and issuing visas to Haitians, in accordance with Suriname’s Ministry of International Affairs.

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

“What was unusual was that in the course of a pandemic, so many flights had 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 informed 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 out a visa, contending the nation was getting used as a vacation spot for human smugglers who had been taking migrants into neighboring Brazil the place they might 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, stated the United Nations company discovered about constitution flights from Haiti to Chile in interviews with migrants who had been despatched again from the US and Mexico.

“We tried to search out out extra, however we don’t have the means to research these flights,” he wrote in an electronic mail to the AP on April 22. “Our assumption was that from Chile they transfer on to different international locations heading (to) the Mexican-USA border, if not straight away, after a while. Most likely once they have collected sufficient cash and knowledge 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 also 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 information 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, in accordance with a doc from the Brazilian ambassador in Haiti obtained by AP and Berkeley.

Jean Robert Jean Baptiste, 49, stated 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 middle following his arrest on a DUI cost. Again in Haiti, he stated an enemy threatened to kill him and had the backing of the police.

He stated 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 method to the US in 2016 and settled in Alabama.

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

All informed, he stated it price him about $7,000 to return to Tijuana, the place he was looking for a approach again to the U.S. He’s pushed, he stated, 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 had been on SKY. The Paulmanns run one among Latin America’s largest retail firms, Cencosud, and have a web price of $3.3 billion, in accordance with Forbes journal. SKY constitution planes additionally flew three flights between Haiti and Brazil in 2021.

Etienne Ilienses stated 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 stated. Nonetheless, she didn’t dismiss the opportunity of doing it once more “as a result of Haiti presents nothing to its kids. We’re compelled to endure humiliations, affronts all over the 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 had been despatched again to Haiti inside hours of touchdown.

SKY’s Serrat stated the airline works intently with immigration officers to keep away from that state of affairs, 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 had been later expelled.)

Theleon Marckenson, 31, was despatched again to Haiti from Texas final fall. He stated 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 informed him the appliance 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 extra money,” Marckenson stated by cellphone 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’s solely starvation. There is no such thing as a life.”


Gisela Perez de Acha is a supervisory reporter for Berkeley’s Human Rights Middle 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 Middle Investigations Lab director Stephanie Croft.

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