Fugitive Freedoms and Multidirectional Mobilities in the Caribbean

Fabio Santos


Maritime mobilities in different directions have shaped the Greater Caribbean like no other region. They are, historically and at present, oftentimes motivated by quests for sheer survival: individuals and groups take dangerous detours and crisscross the maritime space in different directions in search of freedoms that are fugitive and require wayward imaginations and practices rarely documented and written about. An instance of connected histories and sociologies, my project retrieves these resistant histories and experiences from the Caribbean, reinscribing them into a more inclusive, pluralized theory and historiography of mobility and migration.

This larger unified research program consists of two empirical lines of inquiry. In the first, I analyze the outsourcing of – and resistance against – refugee detention and deportation, a strategy employed by the US government in its colony, Puerto Rico, at the height of the so-called Haitian Refugee Crisis in the early 1980s: it turned the Fort Allen military base into a makeshift refugee camp serving as a blueprint for later carceral mobilities in the region. This analysis is based on the connection of archival sources as different as legal documents, newspaper clippings, private letters, and photographs with ethnographic observations and conversations with relevant actors. In the second line of inquiry, I explore the connection between faith, fugitivity, and freedom, tracing the trajectories of and at San Mateo de Cangrejos, a spiritual sanctuary for maritime refugees in Puerto Rico. Founded by a self-emancipated Black community in the eighteenth century, the area and a subsequently built church have remained a haven for fugitives to this date. I reconstruct the history and present of the space through an ethnographic mapping of historical readings, local memories, and present struggles.