Thursday, October 8, 2015

Jean Laffite, People Smuggler

If you are living in a country that is in turmoil and your friends and neighbors and family are being slaughtered due to the color of their skin or their ethnic origin, of course you will pay very good money to someone who will help you escape from that situation. It is only natural.

My own family went through such a smuggling as refugees from Poland in 1939. They made it safely to Palestine, and there were many people along the way who helped them to escape, some of whom got paid.

My grandmother, father and grandfather, who escaped Poland in 1939
This picture was taken in 1938, when they were on vacation.
You can read more about my family's escape from Poland, but for which I would never have existed, here:

My Grandfather's Voice

There are some people who say we should help refugees, but we should frown on anyone who profits from smuggling them into any country. That does not make any sense. If not for such smugglers, where would we all be?

After the revolution in Saint Domingue or Santo Domingo -- now known as Haiti, Jean Laffite helped French refugees escape from a place where they were likely to be slaughtered and brought them safely to Louisiana. One such refugee was Louise de Lassy who eventually became Edward Livingston's second wife.

An Excerpt from Theodosia and the Pirates: The Battle Against Britain
It is a strange thing when people sympathize with refugees, but not with those who help them. The refugees themselves have different stories to tell.

Excerpt from Theodosia and the Pirates: The Battle Against Britain

Free trade despite embargoes is the only reason many people exist today. It is because some are brave enough to risk the penalties for saving others that anybody ever gets saved. And in case you think that taking an exorbitant fee for saving somebody else's life at the risk of your own is bad, please consider that the more government battleships you send against such rescuers, the higher the fee will go. There is a free market out there that is as inexorable as the tide. It is as much a part of nature as the price of black market eggs in China  in World War II, when Europeans were interned by the Japanese and forbidden to buy any. Chinese farmers risked death -- and several were shot -- so that Europeans could eat. Keep that in mind when you try your next price fixing ploy.


  1. I think we all have ancestors who left their countries of origins due to persecution. Some of my distant Norwegian ancestors married Dutch ancestors, who were originally French. However, they had moved there because they were Protestant and that was not accepted in Catholic France of the 1590's. Also, more recent my great-grandfather left Syria even thought he owned grapefruit and olive orchards there because he said it was easier for Christians to own businesses in America. He was a store owner, actually. Who are we to judge how people come to a country, especially when so many of our ancestors came in various ways.

    1. Hi, Julia. I agree that probably all of us have ancestors who left one country and entered another due to persecution, and many had to leave the country they lived in stealthily through an illegal border crossing. Not everybody remembers or knows about it, though, because family histories are often forgotten. The very fact that it was illegal may make some parents fail to tell their children about it.

      Most people have kindly thoughts toward refugees, but they feel free to censure those who smuggle them in or out of a country for a fee. A regular boat trip costs money. I don't see how a more perilous trip should not cost even more money. That is the nature of reality.

      In the Weihsien concentration camp, the Japanese made buying eggs from the Chinese farmers illegal. When people were caught buying eggs, the buyers were not shot, but the sellers were. The Japanese acted as if the farmers were exploiting the prisoners by charging too much for eggs. But if the penalty for selling was death, it stands to reason that the price would go up. If the Japanese wanted the price of eggs to be lower, they should have made selling eggs legal.