Note from BW of Brazil: The story below is a follow up and the latest information involving the brutal stabbing murder of a Haitian immigrant posted yesterday. The findings bring some interesting details but also some problems that we will address later in this post.
Santa Catarina police arrest five suspects in killing of Haitian man
By Camila Rodrigues da Silva of UOL with information from G1
The Civil Police station in the city of Navegantes (112 km from Florianópolis), in Santa Catarina, detained in the early evening of Thursday (21) five suspected of involvement in the assassination of the Haitian naval insulator Fetiere Sterlin, 33, last Saturday night (17) in the municipality. They preventively arrested a 24-year-old man, whose name wasn’t revealed, and four teenagers ages 14, 15, 16 and 17 were apprehended. Police say the oldest minor admitted responsibility for the murder.
In testimony on Wednesday, the 17-year old affirmed that the crime was a “settling of scores” because the Haitian had earlier messed with his woman. “He said that the motivation wasn’t because of racial prejudice,” said the police chief, who initially began investigating the case as a hate crime.
According to testimony, the 17-year old, his girlfriend and a friend were walking down Adolfo Koeler street in the neighborhood of Nossa Senhora das Graças, where the victim was with some friends. Sterlin was said to have “messed with” with the girl.
As they were outnumbered, the three teenagers left the scene and returned some time later with a group, without the girlfriend, according to police. It is believed that the teenager confronted Sterlin, who reacted and attacked the boy. Only then did the minor come down on the Haitian armed with a knife.
The version is contradictory to the story told by the victim’s wife, Vanessa Nery Pantoja, who witnessed the fight. By phone, Fetiere’s wife, the Brazilian Vanessa Nery, said that the version given by the suspect is a lie. “There were three of them, there was no woman with him. How is it that my husband would mess with his woman if she was not there?”, she asked.
Even so, through a spokesperson of the Civil Police, police chief Rodrigo Coronha of Navegantes, says he is assuming the hypothesis of a “crime of passion” and ruled out a hate crime.
The 24 year old man has been detained at the police station and the adolescents were referred to the Court for Children and Youth for preliminary hearing. The Civil Police is awaiting court decisions to complete the process.
After the testimony of more than 10 people, including the suspects and witnesses to crime and post-crime, the police changed the line of investigation.
“We believe in an exchange of insults that generated into this. There’s no xenophobic motivation,” said the delegate. However, only in the end of the investigation will the police confirm the motivation. However, Coronha stated that the investigation will no longer follow in the line of a hate crime.
The sheriff believes that within 10 days the investigation will be complete. The knife used in the crime was not found until late Wednesday.
On Tuesday (20), the Ministry of Justice lamented the death of Haitian in a statement. The Minister José Eduardo Cardozo ordered the Federal Police to take appropriate measures to assist and support the police of Santa Catarina in the investigations.
According to the note, “besides being criminal, the episode offends our historic tradition of welcome and respect for immigrants who come to Brazil to construct their lives and that helped, and help in the socioeconomic development of the country.”
On Wednesday (21), the Government of Santa Catarina and the State Secretariat for International Affairs also issued a note regarding the crime. In it, they affirm that “they reject vehemently the attack that killed the Haitian immigrant Fetiere Sterlin and express their solidarity with the victim’s family and to all Haitian immigrants who have chosen our state as their residence.”
The note, signed by the Secretary of State of International Affairs, Carlos Adauto Virmond, ends with “it is the duty of all Santa Catarina natives to welcome Haitian immigrants and support them in resuming their lives, far from their homeland, the same way they did our ancestors.”
Haitians in Navegantes
According to João Edson Fagundes, director of the Associação de Haitianos de Navegantes (Haitian Association of Navegantes), when the association was established in 2014, about 500 Haitians had chosen Navegantes to live and work. In 2015, the number should have not exceeded 200 people, with the economic crisis and the closure of job opportunities. Fetiere worked in the naval sector.
“In the association received daily complaints of Haitians, whether at work, in the day to day. When passing through the streets they are called in humorous terms, profanity and endure taunts,” he says.
He recalls one of the most emblematic cases so far. “Last year, a Haitian was involved with the wife of a drug dealer and was marked for death, but survived after an attack. There was previously no crime recorded for xenophobia,” said Fagundes.
Fagundes says, on social networks, there are reports of young people from Navegantes saying that Haitians would be taking the job of city inhabitants, but the records didn’t become police reports.
The Haitian Arcanjo Joseph Junior, who has lived four years ago in Navegantes, confirms the episodes of hostility. “If the person knows that I don’t understand, he says another word to insult (me).” Unemployed, he says he’s thinking of leaving Brazil.
Note from BW of Brazil: It’s good to see that police have been able to apprehend some suspects in the brutal murder but their actions and conclusions are still questionable from this writer’s perspective. First, southern states have long stigmatized immigrants even of Brazilians from the northeast of the country migrating to the south. Second, there have been expressions of anti-Haitian sentiments as the above report pointed out, both in Haitian experiences and in social networks. Third, previous comments reported someone saying “Haitians have nothing to do here.”
For me, although we still cannot say conclusively that this qualifies as a hate crime, it is more than a little surprising for police to immediately disregard the possibility of this act being regarded as such. How do they come to this conclusion with the aforementioned points as the investigation hasn’t even concluded? As we know, most Brazilians, 92%, don’t admit to harboring racist views, even though they fully admit that racism exists in Brazil. As such, why would police simply accept a suspect’s words that the crime wasn’t motivated by racial prejudice? As we have seen, Brazil has its own problems with neo-Nazi and Skinhead groups in various states. This is not to say that this attack was motivated by those with such allegiances, but simply to show that the sentiments do in fact exist. Of course, we have to wait for the outcome of this horrific case, but the investigation is already disappointing.
It’s also intriguing that there seems to be a desire to not undermine Brazil’s image as a country that is “welcoming” to immigrants. Similar to the country’s decades long struggle to maintain the image of a ‘racial democracy’ in the face of so much evidence to the contrary, it seems that the justice department is only considering the experiences of whiter-skinned immigrants as various reports have revealed completely different experiences in the view of Haitian and African immigrants. As fate would have it, just a few weeks ago in São Paulo, black Brazilians and recent black immigrants came together to debate this idea of Brazil as a “welcoming” country.
In the end, from how this case is developing thus far, it seems that Brazil continues to be more concerned about its image rather addressing a serious problem that is affecting, and in some cases like this most recent one, claiming the lives of those who come to Brazil in hopes starting a new life. As such, the difference between myth and reality can mean the difference between life and death.