By Gilberto Maringoni
The administration of the daughter of Bulgarian immigrant Pedro Rousseff, who arrived here in the late 1930s in search of a better life, has just placed restrictions on the entry of immigrants into Brazil.
Last Friday, the National Council on Immigration, an agency tied to the Ministry of Labor, decided that it would halt the annual entry of more than 1,200 Haitians who come to the country in search of better luck. This is a matter of a perverse version of the policy of racial quotas, promoted by several sectors of Brazilian society as a means of providing those of African descent with access to universities and public offices. Now they are quotas to prohibit and not to facilitate.
Although there was pressure against taking in the Chinese in the 19th century and the Jews in the Estado Novo years [during the authoritarian regime of Getúlio Donelles Vargas, from 1937 to 1945], never before in the history of this country has there been an official ruling erecting barriers to foreigners, even during the military dictatorship.
The regulation comes after alarmist press accounts that call attention to uncontrolled entry by Haitians across the Peruvian border at Acre. According to these reports, the illegals are connected with international drug trafficking. Meanwhile, no convincing proof has been offered in this respect.
Since the Haitians who are looking for work in Brazil are all black and poor, the government has just introduced into national life, even if unintentionally, two dangerous elements: xenophobia and racism. These characteristics have stood out as essential in the accelerated march to the right in western European countries like Italy, Spain and England. Caught up in a very serious economic crisis, hatred of the immigrant, penniless and usually dark-skinned – with persecution, the burning of homes, prison and deportation – has served as catharsis to satisfy populations pressured by unemployment and by the lack of prospects. Conservative parties, with the help of the media, never tire of pointing to foreigners as competitors in the search for ever scarcer jobs.
None of this is occurring or has ever occurred in Brazil. On the contrary. Although the plight of immigrants in our country has never been rosy, official policies since the end of the 19th century have encouraged the immigration of foreigners as workers, in industry as well as in agriculture.
It is certainly true that the first wave of European immigration, beginning in the final years of slavery, had the purpose not only of replacing the slave work force but of “whitening” the country, as theoreticians like Silvio Romero and Nina Rodrigues argued.
The government directive, which for its approval enjoyed the support of Itamaraty [the Foreign Ministry] and of the Ministry of Justice, demonstrates the total failure of the controversial UN peace mission, MINUSTAH, led by Brazil, which has occupied the Caribbean country militarily since 2004. The government’s justification at the time was to aid in the reconstruction of the poorest country in Latin America in an essentially humanitarian initiative.
It is worthwhile to examine what kind of humanitarianism this is.
On August 15, 2008, the journal Valor Econômico, in an article entitled “Missão de paz abre oportunidades para empresas brasileiras no Haiti,” [“Peace Mission Opens Up Opportunites for Brazilian Businesses in Haiti”] stated the following:
“Brazil is a recognized collaborator in the process of rescuing Haiti. The country has the right to argue for preferential treatment,” Josué Gomes da Silva, president of Coteminas [Brazil’s largest textile producer] and son of vice president José Alencar, told Valor. The businessman had already been in Haiti personally and had spoken to local producers in search of partners…
Despite institutional confusion, Haiti has important advantages to offer a textile company: proximity and preferential access to the largest market in the world, the US, and a cheap labor force. A seamstress in the capital of Port-au-Prince gets US$0.50 an hour. That is less than the US$3.27 paid in Brazil and much less than the US$16.92 in the US, according to the Werner consultants. The rate is even less than the US$0.85 paid on the China coast and comes close to the US$0.46 of Vietnam and the US$0.28 of Bangladesh.
The Coteminas plan is to export fabric from Brazil, assemble the clothing in Haiti, and sell it at zero tariff in the United States, covered by the Free Trade Agreement.
Like Coteminas, other Brazilian businesses have gone to Haiti in search of good deals.
The plan, apparently, is not working and now Haitians are seeking refuge in the country that promised them a better life, with the right to soldiers, soccer games and pretty speeches thrown in. The government of this supportive country says this is not okay.
The federal government has a ministry called Special Secretariat for Policies on Racial Equality. To date the ministry has not spoken out on the subject. Nor has the president’s Special Secretariat on Human Rights taken a position.
It is good to remember
Finally, a valuable memory. A few weeks ago, the Italian priest Vito Miracapillo returned to Brazil. He had been expelled from Brazil in 1981, during the dictatorship, based on the notorious Law on Foreigners, enacted in 1980. That law embarrassed the country by making it possible to expel any non-Brazilian “considered injurious to public order or national interests.”
It would be best for the government not to continue this history in another form. Especially when the foreigners in question find themselves on the weakest side of the society.