Thursday, Mar 21, 2019
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Go more aggressively after the human traffickers

Haiti is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere and one of the poorest in the world. It has a tragic history.

It fought for its independence from France, becoming the first black republic. This was not accepted by the powers of the day. They feared that enslaved black populations elsewhere would adopt the Haitian revolutionary spirit.

Countries would not recognize a black-led Haiti. France forced ruinous reparations. The United States invaded and occupied the country multiple times in the 20th century. Homegrown dictators did their part to pillage the country, too.

Haitians flee in the tens of thousands each year to find new lives and hope. Thousands come to The Bahamas, brought mostly by human traffickers who charge thousands of dollars per person.

There are regular tragedies along the passage. Another occurred this weekend.

At least 28 are dead after a vessel went down in waters near Abaco on Saturday, the Royal Bahamas Defence Force reported. Seventeen people were rescued.

The Haitians know death is possible on these trips. Many have died. But conditions in Haiti are so poor they take the risk, nonetheless.

As we mourn this latest tragedy, The Bahamas must also do more to punish the people who make money from the suffering of poor, desperate people.

No doubt, this was a human smuggling operation. Someone, or some group, charged money to traffic these people to or through The Bahamas. That person, or those people, should be prosecuted for manslaughter.

Prosecutions for human smuggling in The Bahamas are rare. As a result, smugglers have little to fear plying their brutal trade through our waters.

Haitians tell stories of being forced off boats near the coast at gunpoint. Many do not know how to swim. Some make it; some do not.

Authorities have said repeatedly that it is difficult to bring charges against smugglers. When migrants are captured, no one speaks. They fear for their safety and that of their families in Haiti, if they give up the people involved in this trade.

The difficulty of the problem, however, should not dissuade the government from trying harder. The deaths of these 28 people – and that figure may go up – amount to a mass heinous crime.

We may need to dedicate more police and prosecutorial resources to investigating such crimes. Giving status to migrants and their families who are willing to testify might help, too.

Haitians will continue to come here in large numbers on boats until the circumstances in Haiti improve. They are doing what we would do if our country were in a state of collapse.

We must use the threat of stern punishment to make smugglers question whether it is worth pursuing the trade in The Bahamas.

As a country – a country with a history of slavery – we should not accept that people earn wealth trafficking in the suffering of human beings. We must do our part to protect the vulnerable who simply want better lives.

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