Like many human traffickers, Benavil describes his work in euphemistic, even humanitarian terms. He claims that what he does helps the children. "Because the child can't eat" while they're in the countryside; "because there are people of good faith that will help them." He claims to tell clients, "Life is something spiritual, it's not something in a store you can buy." "I don't sell children," he says without prompting, "although it would seem like it." He "places" them.
But, Benavil admits, "you have people that mistreat" the children he doesn't sell. When he drops children off, he notes they often will be forced to sleep on the floor with any other domestic animals the client has.
It's time to buy a slave. Your negotiation might sound a bit like the following exchange.
"How quickly do you think it would be possible to bring a child in? Somebody who could clean and cook?" you ask. You don't want to stay in Haiti too long. "I don't have a very big place; I have a small apartment. But I'm wondering how much that would cost? And how quickly?"
"Three days," Benavil says.
"And you could bring the child here? Or are there children here already?"
"I don't have any here in Port-au-Prince right now," says Benavil, his eyes widening at the thought of a foreign client. "I would go out to the countryside."
"Would I have to pay for transportation?"
"Bon," says Benavil. "Would you come out as well?"
"Yeah, perhaps. Yes, I would if it's possible."
"A hundred U.S."
"And that's just for transportation?" you ask, smelling a rip-off.
"Transportation would be about a hundred Haitian," says Benavil, or around $13, "because you'd have to get out there. Plus food on the trip. Five hundred gourdes." You'll be traveling some distance, to La Vallée. A private car, Benavil explains, would be faster but pricier. You'll have to pay for gas, and that will cost as much as $40. Plus hotel and food.
"Okay, five hundred Haitian," you say. Now the big question: "And what would your fee be?"
You just asked the price of the child. This is the moment of truth, and Benavil's eyes narrow as he determines how much he can milk from you.
"A hundred. American."
"A hundred U.S.!" you shout. Emote here -- a sense of outrage, but with a smile so as not to kill the deal.
"Eight hundred Haitian."
"That seems like a lot," you say. "How much would you charge a Haitian?"
"A Haitian? A Haitian?" Benavil asks, his voice rising with feigned indignation to match your own. "A hundred dollars. This is a major effort."
"Could you bring down your fee to fifty U.S.?" you ask.
Benavil pauses. But only for effect -- he knows he's got you for way more than a Haitian would pay for a child. "Oui," he finally says with a smile. The deal isn't done.
"Let me talk it over. It's a lot of money, but I understand that you're the best," you say.
He gives you his number, and, as he's left his business cards at the office, writes down his name for you as well. Benavil leans in close and whispers: "This is a rather delicate question. Is this someone you want as just a worker? Or also someone who will be a 'partner.' You understand what I mean? Or is it someone you just really want to work?"
Briefed as you are on the "la-pou-sa-a" phenomenon, you don't blink at being asked if you want the child for sex as well as housework.
"I mean, is it possible to have someone that could be both?" you ask.
"Oui!" Benavil responds enthusiastically.
"I think probably a girl would be better."
"Just one?" Benavil asks, hopefully.
Copyright © 2008 by E. Benjamin Skinner
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
- PW Starred Review
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