On Thursday 22nd. April, 1971, Haitians across The Bahamas were taking to the streets to celebrate the death of Haitian dictator, Francois Duvalier. They cheered and danced. Tens of thousands of Haitian immigrants, fled to the Bahamas during the 14 year regime. The Haitian Government did nothing to stop the immigration.
Their labour was at first welcomed. Haitians started doing all the unskilled jobs Bahamians no longer wanted to do. Employers were happy to pay lower wages, knowing Haitians in their thousands, were looking for any kind of work available. The churches supported the continued migration, as they saw it as a way of expanding membership. Bahamians on the whole, turned a blind eye.
(The American, Friday April 23, 1971)
For the Bahamas, though, the pattern for illegal immigration between Haiti and the country, was now Alea iacta est, Latin for “The die is cast,” just like words uttered by Julius Caesar, as he led his army across Europe.
A pattern had been set.
Smugglers were making too much money from trafficking. Employers got accustomed to fresh bodies to work in construction, gardening, and all types of domestic service. The numbers grew so large that when 30,000 illegals living in the country was first uttered, nobody could scarcely believe it. More were coming everyday.
In November 1969, an attempt to deport hundreds, ended with a riot and mutiny on a ship of 500 being repatriated back home.
Two people were killed.
(The Miami News, Wednesday 05 November 1969)
Alea iacta est (“The die is cast”)
What was expected was that after the death of Duvalier, refugee migrants would begin making their way back home.
This did not happen.
By the end of 1971 and moving into 1974, the Bahamas government was powerless to stop the influx. As patrol boats came across human smuggling boats, some chose to try to swim to land.
For the Bahamas, nothing was ever going to be the same again.
An attempt at Registration and Repatriation
It was a growing increase in crime, the pressure on housing, and jobs, and the perfect storm of a slowed tourist economy, which spurred the PLP government to action.
1968 – A Haitian political Assassination on Bahamian soil changes everything
In July 1968, a Haitian political assassination happened in Freeport, Grand Bahama. By January 18, 1969, the four responsible, including the nephew of a former president of Haiti, Paul Magliore, had been sentenced to death for the assassination of Haitian Vice-Consul Antonine Dorce.
This assassination on Bahamian soil sent shockwaves through diplomatic circles. A real fear of Haitian political violence, being visited on the Bahamas, suddenly became a reality.
(The Miami News Wednesday 09 November 1969)
The Bahamas having announced a mass expulsion of tens of thousands of illegal immigrants, began a voluntary registration process for Haitians, to get a free ride back home to rebuild their country.
By Saturday, August 10, 1974, some 13,500 illegal immigrants had voluntarily registered for repatriation.
How the government proposed to repatriate 13,500 people had not been completely thought through. If by plane, with one flight a week, consisting of 75 illegals, it would have taken almost 4 years to send them all back. The cost of this exercise was eye-watering for the PLP as they struggled to cope with the flagging tourist economy.
Some illegals came with more luggage than the plane could take. The PLP began to consider another option: repatriation by boat, once again.
The PLP Government soon found the exercise to be almost fruitless.
As more were called up to go, the less people came.
As more were repatriated, the more people came.
It was, Alea iacta est, the die had already been cast.