Chile-Haiti : The networks that El Poli built in Chile to traffic Haitian immigrants
Posted on Monday 22 October 2012
By: Gustavo Villarrubia and Juan Pablo Figueroa 
Translated by : Robert Shaw for AlterPresse
If it hadn’t been for the wrong move that Dominican Luis Ramirez took in the airport – while ‘Viviana Rodriguez’, a Chilean police officer was tracking him for months on end – the group that was trafficking Haitian citizens to Chile wouldn’t have been detected. ‘Viviana’ became an undercover agent while a specialized team followed her every move.
Over the course of the last eight months, Ciperchile shows how 17 Haitians were brought to Chile with promises of jobs in exchange for money, only to be left abandoned in the capital. Ramirez, who claimed to be a former policeman – and used his badge to prove it - and his deputy, who pretended to be an evangelical pastor, are now in custody.
It is hard to understand why El Poli called ‘Viviana Rodriguez’ from his cell phone. This happened at the end of December 2011, and he had just caught a glance of her once at the international airport in Santiago. It is even harder to understand why he continued to call her over the course of several months to convince her that they get together to talk. And beyond everything, taking into account that he knew that she was a police officer. Those who know him know that he is a friendly, but wary and suspicious person. That he never uses the same route to get to his house at the Central Station. That he sometimes takes a taxi, just to get off at a random corner and take the metro and then, without any obvious reason, gets off at another metro stop – always a different one – and gets on a bus, whichever one happens to be at the bus stop. That when he thinks that he is being followed, he stops in front of a window to see the reflection of everything around him. His neighbors always thought that he was paranoid. But he had reasons to feel followed and since he emigrated from the Dominican Republic and legally established himself in Chile in December 2010 his business has been to traffic immigrants.
El Poli’s real name is Luis Ramirez. He is a heavy-set, dark skinned 31-year-old with a story that he has told everyone that he has known in Chile: that in his country he was part of the police force and that he worked in the border town of Dajabon. In fact, he sports a badge with his name on it and enjoys showing it to everyone while he tells them that he fled the Dominican Republic because of all the enemies he made while fighting the trafficking ‘mafias’. He said that these mafias even infiltrated his ‘colleagues’ in the police force. That is why they call him El Poli.
CIPER has followed his trail for months because he is the leader of a group dedicated to bringing Haitians into Chile. His name, or rather his nickname, first came up when we were investigating a "prostitution trafficking" network that operated for nine years in the heart of the Golf neighborhood in Santiago. And it kept coming up when we were reporting on the mechanisms that are used in Chile to smuggle sexual and labour migrants into the country. When he was arrested with his two henchmen on Thursday night, October 4th, we published the third part of a series that shows that "coyotes" are already operating in Chile. This is the story of the Dominican who for three months brought 17 people into the country, and after having charged them at least $ 1,000 USD each, then kept them one night at his house and left them stranded in Santiago.
THE WOMAN AT THE AIRPORT
"Viviana Rodriguez" is not her real name. We changed the name for this story because after meeting El Poli, she became an undercover police officer. The first time they met was at the end of last year, at the Arturo Merino Benitez Airport. There, Rodriguez was part of the staff of the Department of Immigration of the Investigative Police (PDI) and was in charge of profiling passengers when customs officials found something strange in their document, such as a false visa or a falsified passport. Lately, she has witnessed how the numbers of human trafficking victims had increased. This is an offense under Law 20,507 and consists of someone entering a person into the country for profit. Many of them come from Haiti, the continent’s poorest country.
Between 2009 and 2011, according to a study by a group of analysts at the PDI, 3427 migratory ‘movements’ by Haitian tourists were registered. Of these, 2681 consisted of entries. Only 746 left the country. According to Emiliano Arias, the chief prosecutor of Pudahuel, the increase in the Haitian migratory flow "is unusual and unjustified, because the vast majority of them do not fill the requirements for tourism in Chile and obviously come with the idea of working ". If Haitian citizens, or any other nationality, arrived with a visa that would enable them to work, there would be no problem. But as many arrived as tourists, they can only be in the country for three months and are forbidden to work.
The number reached its peak in 2011. Then, of the 1,369 Haitians that arrived, 1,056 remained in the country, most without regularizing their situation. That same year, 50.7% of all the visas that were issued were given to Haitians from the last three years.. This increase caused the heightening of immigration controls at the airport. "Viviana Rodriguez" was part of that process. Many Haitian immigrants have been deported for not having documents proving reasonable cause to visit the country. Others have admitted – following an interrogation – that they were brought by a person who charged them for bringing them into the country promising good jobs and good pay, that they couldn’t find in their home country. All the while, several others, like the person of that afternoon in late December 2011, managed to avoid the controls.
Mixed in here is the story of A.R.S. She entered Chile on the 22nd of May this year, after selling her house in Haiti to pay El Poli. He had promised her a job in Chile so that she would be able to feed her children in Haiti. One night after her arrival, she was abandoned in the same Central Station.
A POLICEMAN DOING BUSINESS
- (Luis Ramirez (the head of the organization), in a small restaurant in Central Station)
It was almost the end of the year when Rodriguez had to review the papers of a Haitian immigrant who claimed to come to Chile as a tourist. He said that a relative was waiting outside. The man was nervous. The woman asked where he would stay as she looked at his passport. He said that he would stay with his relative. She then asked him the name of the relative and where he lived. He hesitated for a moment and didn’t know what to say. The man was sweating and his voice seemed to tremble. For Rodriguez, like other specialized PDI staff that work at the airport, these were clear signs that the man was hiding something. She let him pass, but she accompanied him to the airport exit. There was Luis Ramirez, El Poli. It was the first time the two had met.
El Poli introduced himself with his Dominican accent and told Rodriguez that he was a Central American police officer based in Chile and that the man who had been escorted to the exit was really his friend. He also showed her some papers that seemed to be in order, and even his badge from the National Police, so Rodríguez let them go. Apparently, she had been wrong and the man was really a tourist.
Days later, the PDI police officer received a call. It was El Poli and he told her he wanted to talk to her. "Viviana Rodriguez" asked what about, but got no response. All he said was that he wanted to talk. For days, weeks and months, Rodriguez continued to receive calls from him asking her to talk, but she avoided him. CIPER could not determine if they met at some point or not, but the calls from the alleged Dominican policeman got more and more frequent and intense. To the PDI officer, this had become a problem, especially the insistence of meeting up. Eventually El Poli said he wanted to meet her outside the airport. Again she asked why. But this time – it is hard to understand why - he replied that he wanted to ask her for help to bring more Haitians into Chile. And he offered her a part of the business: $400 each.
THE POLICE AND THE PASTOR
This last contact sealed the fate of both the Dominican and the airport police. Rodriguez spoke with her supervisor and on March 14th, they pressed charges against him through the Attorney General for possible trafficking (with the Prosecutor Emiliano Arias). El Poli became the subject of an investigation by the specialized team from the Police Investigation on Human Trafficking. This division of PDI was created in September 2010 after a network of Pakistani citizens dealing with human trafficking was discovered in Chile. This criminal act ended in a conviction and the deportation of the Pakistani criminals.
- (Members of the network for trafficking Haitians)
"Viviana Rodriguez" received a clear order from her superior officers: that day she should meet El Poli and accept his offer. Since then (March), Rodriguez became an undercover agent in El Poli’s network. During these eight months, she received U.S. $400 per Haitian that she illegaly brought into the country. In total, she received $ 6,400.
The first "shipment" of two Haitians commissioned by El Poli and coordinated at the airport by Rodriguez, arrived on March 15, a day after the PDI began investigating. One of the passengers was a woman with the initials G.S.L. The other was Cedanus Dorvil, ‘The Pastor’, a dark-skinned 34-year-old with a heavy-set body given he was only 1.65 meters tall. Both were waved through customs control, but Rodriguez was only paid for one; the woman.
At first, Rodriguez did not know why. They were two people and she only got $ 400, half of what was agreed. But the explanation was simple: Dorvil was a pastor of an evangelical church in Haiti and had papers in order to enter Chile. That’s why they call him the Pastor. Moreover, he was not just any immigrant: just after he had arrived and settled in a house in Pedro Aguirre Cerda, he joined the lucrative business of importing immigrants from his native country (Haiti).
The role of the Pastor in the trafficking structure set up by Luis Ramirez was to send the invitations so those immigrants could enter without problems. He did it with a stamp of the evangelical church of Santiago, although sources consulted by CIPER at the Evangelical Church in Chile indicate that no one there knew him.
Five days later, another man came from Haiti with an invitation to stay at a house in Cerrillos. On March 29th, it was the turn of a Haitian woman to stay at the house in Central Station. The following month saw the arrival of four flights with seven new immigrants: four men and three women. For each of them, Rodriguez received her pay, always paid in U.S. dollars.
Among the people that the Dominican and the Pastor brought in April, there was a woman who came with a small child. It was the first mistake of the supposed Dominican policeman, which earned him a reprimand from Rodriguez.
‘On that occasion the woman and the child were forbidden from entering. The documents seemed to indicate that the woman was the mother of the child, but there was no way of proving it. The two were deported to their home country’, Inspector Maurice Luque, in charge of dismantling the network of El Poli, told CIPER
But the PDI did allow the entry of one minor. Two women entering on April 28th were identified as mother and daughter. The latter was just 17 years old. According to Luque, they let her pass as part of the investigation, "given that it had not yet been determined with certainty how many people were involved and what was the purpose of these entries. Nor if it could be a child trafficking case".
A THIRD PERSON IN THE GANG
In May, El Poli and the Pastor brought in three more people, two women and a man. And June saw another four: three men and a woman. Like those who arrived before, they all went through the same ritual: when they passed customs they presented the document with the invitation they had received from various people in Chile to stay in different homes, and, once out of the airport, they met with El Poli and gave him the $1,000 that had been agreed. The money was put in an envelope marked "Tenth" and bore the logo of an evangelical church in the Dominican Republic.
That done, the Dominican and the newcomers got into a car with the number plate YS4331 and left for the Dominican’s house in Central Station. There they spent their first night in the country. After getting up, they had to leave and were abandoned somewhere in the city. Without speaking the language, not knowing for sure where they were and now penniless, they were left to their own devices. They were no longer El Poli’s problem.
In the shipment that was admitted on June 4th, when a Haitian citizen with the initials B.M arrived, a third man appeared in the organization: Jean Blendy Mahotiere, also from Haiti and with a house in Pedro Aguirre Cerda. His inclusion as bodyguard and the strong-arm of the gang was the result of a negotiation: if not included, he would go to the police and report the two original members.
THE FALL OF THE TRAFFICKERS OF HAITIANS
In total, there were 17 people that El Poli managed to bring into the country during eight months. But that’s just what the police border control detected at the Santiago International Airport. Actually, there are reasons to believe that at the northern border, the same group of smugglers was doing bringing more immigrants into the country with false work contracts. During all this time, the PDI investigations showed how the gang operated, enabling them to issue arrest warrants against the three involved. The initial operation to arrest them was planned for Sunday, October 2, when he was scheduled to bring in immigrant number 18 into Chile. Everything was ready, but this time, strangely, El Poli did not arrive to the airport. The operation had to be canceled.
According to CIPER’s investigation, the only thing out of the ordinary that took place on October 2nd was a visit to the Dominican Republic’s consulate in Santiago to ask for background information that they had on the Dominican citizen Luis Ramirez.
By then, the PDI had already identified the whereabouts of the three members of the trafficking network and of those that managed to enter the country. Some are working at fairs and the majority in domestic services. Fearing that the Dominican Luis Ramirez (El Poli) had been warned of his impending arrest, the police decided to rush the operation. In simultaneous raids of five homes - two in Central Station, two in Pedro Aguirre Cerda and the last one in San Bernardo, two of the ringleaders of the group and three illegal immigrants: a Haitian, a Peruvian and a Colombian were arrested. But as concerns the boss, not a trace was found.
- (Emiliano Arias, Chief Prosecutor of the Western Division)
Hours later, Luis Ramirez was found in the street, at the intersection of Amerigo Vespucci and Vicuña Mackenna. He was arrested and the police found in his possession identity documents of several Chilean and Dominican citizens and his famous badge that identified him as a Dominican police and, by the way, was false. At his home the police seized several COPA airline tickets that were ready to be used.
On Friday, October 5th, Luis Ramirez (El Poli), Cedanus Dorvil (the Pastor) and Jean Blendy Mahotiere, were remanded in custody. The judge granted the prosecutor Emiliano Arias 60 days to complete the investigation. With the new law in Chile that penalizes the crime of human trafficking for profit, the trio risks a sentence ranging from three years and one day to 10 years.
In the coming days, the prosecution will request for the Haitians who came illegally into Chile to be regularized and to be asked if they want to stay in Chile. "These are people in a situation of extreme psychological and economic vulnerability. It is shocking what they did to them," said prosecutor Emiliano Arias.