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The hidden junk economy on the Miami River

May 10, 2019
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Wilson Simon sorts through used mattresses for resale in Port-de-Paix, Haiti. A mattress is one of the most sought after commodities in the underground, break-bulk shipping industry between Miami and Haiti and is considered to be “gold” among vendors.
Rowan Moore Gerety

If you travel down to the Miami River in Florida, you might come across a micro-economy that centers around “break-bulk” shipping, a labor-intensive system where cargo is moved piece by piece, by people, instead of in giant metal crates and automated equipment.

It’s also a system that runs on orderly chaos — there are no set quotas; people who use the break-bulk system are usually sending thrift store junk; and prices for shipping said junk can be haggled over as they would at a flea market.

Stevedores atop the ship Magestic unload cargo at Port-de-Paix in Haiti. The items sent from Miami range from rice to old cars.

But despite its lack of order, it works. It’s also a shipping system that many people in the local Haitian diaspora rely on to send goods to their families and businesses back in Haiti.

Marketplace’s Sabri Ben-Achour spoke to journalist and author Rowan Moore Gerety about his recent reporting dive into the Miami River break-bulk shipping system. They discuss how it worked, how it ties into the Haitian economy and the role cocaine smuggling plays in the system.

Click on the player above to hear their conversation

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