Between the Cane
By: Jamie Costa
BAVARO, Dominican Republic __ Barefoot children of all ages scramble from their colorful houses made of wood and metal to catch a glimpse of the white strangers arriving to their homes.
The sugar cane fields stretch for miles in every direction with a batey in the middle where the families of Haitian workers are kept and held with no way out. A sea of puzzlement and confusion standing between them and the highway.
Originally, a batey was the name of a special area where the native Caribbean Taino Indians built their settlements and sometimes managed disputes. Today – slavery.
With the promise of a better life in the Dominican Republic, Haitian men board busses to cross the border. With the fear of their homeland, they are more inclined to accept the fate of the unknown than surrender to their current living conditions.
With hope comes regret as they leave their families and enter a new country where manual and dangerous labor awaits them.
Starvation. Abuse. Death.
To us, it was a painfully eye-opening experience.
We often forget our privilege, especially our white privilege, in the United States where the smallest things are taken for granted from the shoes on our feet to the sheets on our bed. These are common entities for us but for the people of Batey Verde, their living conditions are entirely different.
Over 100 residents of Haitian decent are forced to share the confined space of 25 houses that are provided by the sugar cane company that employs them for life.
Modern-day slavery in rare form.
Many of the villagers die of hunger – especially the children – while dangerous illnesses and diseases flow through the streets. Many of which can be cued through hydration and antibiotics.
If sick enough, their company of employment will bring them to Santo Domingo – the Capital – for treatment.
I imagine it to be like the Capital in the Hunger Games, but their hunger is real, and the Capital is for the deathly ill. Instead of being invited out of privilege, they are brought there out of fear for their lives and with high hopes of recovery.
To some, like Will Frido, living in community housing and making money for his family of six has been enough to keep him happy. At age 49, Frido continues to work diligently in the fields.
A few miles down the road exists a stark contrast – Casa de Campo.
The idea for this specific area came from the builder’s daughter who went abroad to Italy and came back wanting her own Italian village that her father was happy to build. Today, it is the most expensive place to live in the Dominican Republic and holds homes belonging to Shakira, Beyoncé and many more.
Those living in Casa de Campo pay for exclusion while those living in Batey Verde are forced to live exclusively – from freedom, from prosperity, from the basic health care that any human being should expect.
Barbed wire hangs around the property of Casa de Campo in hopes of keeping out the real Dominican, creating a paradise inside of madness for those who choose to pretend that Haitian slaves do not exist less than 10 miles down the road. An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind but what does that mean for those who give up their sight?
Lidy Vasquez – a native to the Dominican – has worked for Casa de Campo for seven years. Being Dominican, most would expect that she has knowledge of what is hidden behind the cane. After seeing photos, she and another employee had the same thought – there is too much of a difference from what they know to comment on what they have seen.
Vasquez believes that those living in the bateyes arrived by choice through immigration – a common misconception among Dominicans.
Sadly, there is no freedom until death.
Enslaved by Sugar
By Haley Goodrich
SANTO DOMINGO, DOMINICAN REPUBLIC
The transition from modern resort life to vast fields of sugarcane took me back in time. While traveling from one batey to the next, the fields in between were filled with Haitian men using only their bare hands, machetes, and oxen to fill endless sugarcane transport carts. No modern machinery was in sight, except for run down school buses used to bring workers from one hell to the other.
The sugar industry does not lack the funds to add modern technology to the harvesting process, so how could my encounter with this sight of sugarcane collection be similar to an encounter fifty years ago? The sugar companies use their industry as means to exploit, traffic, and oppress the vulnerable populations of Hispaniola. Building on what I had learned while visiting the Bateyes of La Romana, the literature I read lead me to an alternate perspective on human labor in the D.R.
Juan Busch’s Los Amos perfectly depicts what I experienced while observing the condition of human labor in the cane fields. Los Amos tells a story of a man, Cristino, who is fired for falling ill while working on a farm. Once fired, Don Pio, the man’s boss, still expects Cristino to perform duties while he is slowly dying. There is no request to work, just a demand with comments on how ungrateful the worker has been.
With such simple words and simple plot, Juan Busch’s portrayal of the insignificance of human labor in the Dominican Republic from 1933 still rings true in 2018. Human beings are trafficked, put together in pens disguised as bateys, and then worked to death, just like livestock. Words cannot describe the horror I felt when the literature became more than just words and the horrific pictures were live, in front of my eyes.
I believe the sugar companies do not provide their workers with assistive machinery as a strategy of oppression. In order to use machinery, the operator needs some sort of training or education. In my opinion, education comes with more opportunity. The sugar company wants their workers to feel as though they have no other choice. With this mindset, workers will stay longer, work harder for less, and in turn, create more of a profit for the business.
The imagery of hands of a cane worker in Farming of Bones by Edwidge Danticat shows the injury invoked by human labor in 1937. With no access to modern day machinery, it is common to see “palms have lost their lifelines to the machetes that cut the cane” (1) in 2018. Laborious work with machetes comes with injuries. Although it sounds brutal, I think injury and even death comes with the oppression strategies of the sugar industry, as well. If a worker is injured, they are stuck. No jobs are available for those who are broken from hard labor, trapping this human trafficked population.
By: Jamie Costa
PUNTA CANA, Dominican Republic __ Between Punta Cana and Bavaro, a socioeconomic and politically symbolic border stands tall.
The utopia Punta Cana that tourists are familiar with was built to hide the ugly truth of the inequality in the Dominican Republic.
Outside this theoretical wall lies poverty, crime and the cultural Dominican – stretching from Punta Cana to the Haitian border, where human trafficking still exists.
With a vision in mind, the designers of the current Punta Cana hotel strip considered the potential for tourism that would benefit the economy. On their minds was a single thought – how to keep the tourist side of Punta Cana sheltered from the real Punta Cana.
Between a mile and a half of pavement and an extensive security system, Dominican sex workers cannot enter the hotel areas. But just outside of these isolated areas, elegantly dressed women line the streets of Bavaro with a few sheltered men on their tails. Together, they wait for patrons to pull up to the side walk and invite the girls inside. Upon returning, they slip money into the hands of the girls’ pimps as they wait for a second, third, fourth, fifth, car to pull up and take them into the night.
Past Bavaro and an hour away from Punta Cana, Haitian workers are enslaved to sugar cane plants where the workers cut the crop by hand – non-mechanized. With the promise of a new future, Haitians accept jobs in the Dominican with high hopes of bettering their lives. Lied to and taken advantage of, they arrive in the Dominican to work dangerous and high risks jobs for a few dollars a day. Risking their lives and their limbs, the unknown seems more inviting than their living conditions in Haiti.
Faded yellow school buses provide the only shelter from the heat and throughout the thousand acres of land, only a few working tractors are available for use. Cutting the sugar cane is another process entirely. Companies will argue that cane roots need to be cut by hand because otherwise, the roots might be damaged. After the sugar cane has been cut, workers place it by tons in large, metal crates that hold the value of 100 pesos, $2.38, which does not meet minimum wage.
Tied together by their horns and connected via a wooden trunk, bulls are used for their strength to drag the sugar cane to the processing plant where it is readied to be exported out of the fields via train.
During the 17th century, these fields were used for much more after dark. With no lights to guide them and unsupervised conditions, men were forced into the field where they were burned, murdered and forgotten.
Sheltered from the rest of the world, crime goes unnoticed, people dehumanized.
Paid and Oppressive Exclusion outside of La Romana
by Brittany Fulgione
Have you ever felt like you are drowning- dove down too deep, coughed and water rushed into every branch of your lungs, kicking furiously to reach the surface but you can’t tell which way is up or which way is down? Living deep within the sugar cane fields in a batey in the Dominican Republic has the same feeling of breathlessness, abandonment, and loss.
Kilometers deep within the sugar cane fields are communities scattered apart, built by the sugar cane companies. These communities have crumbling structures, most buildings built out of concrete or different tin trimmings, left over from other projects. There is no access to clean running water, very little electricity if any. Within these communities, there is no social mobility. Everyone born here is destined to work in the cane fields, chopping down kilos of sugar during the harvesting season, by hand. Each kilo worth of cane, which is hours of hard manual labor, earns the workers one hundred pesos, equivalent to two American dollars. All cane is cut by hand with large machetes, then carried by person to the large barrels on the outskirts of the fields. In developed countries, all sugar cane harvesting is done by large machinery on a much quicker, and safer scale. Companies here, though, do not want to invest that much capital into getting the technology that a few Haitian workers trafficked here under the false pretenses of a ‘better life’ can do for dollars a day.
A half hour drive away from the cane fields, in La Romana, is a mutually exclusive property where the wealthiest of the world fly into and vacation. This property, Casa de Campo, has more security than the state house, is more difficult to enter than the country. The air in Casa de Campo is lighter, cleaner. The houses are larger and more extravagant than anywhere else in the country. Constructed in the architecture of an Italian villa, this property is propped up alongside a canyon. The air is silent, carrying only faint traces of conversation happening far away.
The beauty of this space is contrasted greatly by its emptiness- how such a large area of land within a highly populated country could be so empty brings up questions of access and exclusion. In the batey, there is no access to the outside world, this community was dropped in the middle of a sea of sugar and are extremely excluded from the outside world. Yet in Casa de Campo, in this mock renaissance village, people have access to anything they could ever need, yet are equally excluded from society. We can use these two models of exclusion- paid and oppressed, to break down some of the economic barriers built in the Dominican to separate the wealthy from the poor. The wealthy, those who have access to resources, want to be separate from the rest of the island and all of its problems. They crave isolation with all of their lavishes and materialistic gains. Yet walking through Casa de Campo, there are barely any people in site. All we are left with, in this space of paid exclusion, are grand buildings, bricks and stones, and nothing else.
The air is heavy in the cane fields, filled with the smell of burning sugar. It is sweet, but thick, a smell that sticks to your skin. The men working in the field breath in, and the smell fills their lungs, taking up as much space as possible. Do they feel the weight of the smell on their body, slowing them down? Does it mix with their sweat, creating a sticky sap on the back of their hands as they wipe it off of their brow? I wonder if the smell seeps into the pores of the people living here, in Batey Palo Bonito. After the crops are harvested, the fields are burned to rejuvenate the soil for the next season. In the era of Trujillo, many people were brought out to the cane fields where they were tortured and murdered if they had acted against the regime in any fashion. I begin to wonder how many bodies were burned here in this field, near La Romana, the intense smell of sugar covering up the reek of burning flesh.
The people lost here were not just political enemies of the state. Many of the workers die under the harsh conditions, living in an area with no access to medical relief. Between parasites, infectious disease, and mosquito borne illnesses these communities stand no chance. I think about how many people have lived and died here, how many people will continue to live here and continue to die here. How many nameless peoples were born in the mud floors under tin roofs; how many people died in puddles under the same tin roofs. How many people have never even left the cane fields, tied to the land. Their professions are not a part of their identity, but are their sole identity. To the companies that own these communities, these people are nothing but an arm of their harvesting- disposable and replaceable.
When we think of these communities, do we think of the individuals that fill these spaces, do we know their names, the way their wrinkles curve upwards when they smile, how sunbeams gleam off of their cheek bones creating a patch of whiteness. These are all people, with daily lives- they eat, sleep, talk with friends. They are a network of communication, of storytelling, of narratives of their histories in the batey. Entering this community with the idea to tell their story is a misleading task- whose story are we telling, what part of that story? How can we condense the entirety of a person, of their happiness and their suffering, into a single story. How do you ask someone to give their story, when they are still living it. We leave, and we take with us a part of their narrative, but the rest is lost- as the wind blows over the sugar cane plants, swaying back and forth, so do the stories of the lives of these people.
Los Bateyes, los Niños, Maribel, y la Caña de Azúcar
By: Marina Kydes
Punta Cana, Dominican Republic
We are leaving our comfort zone today. I think I am ready but do not know what to expect within these next few hours. This will be my first time experiencing such culture shock. On the bus, we go, from the rich part of Punta Cana, to the less privileged.
Our first stop is a small, less fortunate batey, Batey Verde. We arrive on our big bus and Wellington, our Dominican tour guide who works for the Punta Cana Foundation, steps out first.
He asks the people of the batey if it is alright for us to come through their batey and take pictures. They say yes and we all file out, one by one, with our light skin and big cameras.
In this moment, I feel beyond intrusive, but also in control. I feel uncomfortable being so intrusive and quite guilty for feeling in control. I do not know why I feel like I have such power over these people because I really do not.
Nonetheless, I shuffle my way into the batey. The first thing I see are the children.
Being an education major, my heart, and camera, are drawn to the children. I wish it was just my heart, but I have never seen children in this setting before so I felt the need to photograph them. I ask them, “un photo?” and they all say yes.
I did not want to make them feel like spectacles at all, it just broke my heart. In this moment, I became very overwhelmed and started to cry. By the looks on their faces, these children were so genuinely happy to see us.
It broke my heart because these children had barely anything. The clothes they were wearing looked dirty and ragged, their faces dry with dirt, and some not even wearing shoes. They had some toys, those looking old and ragged. Their homes were jagged and dilapidated, pictured below. Yet, these children still had the biggest smiles on their faces.
I start to feel guilty again. I realize how privileged I am compared to these people. I have always known how lucky I am to possess the things and experiences that I have, but this experience has removed my blinders completely.
I look at the homes within the batey, rusty and dilapidated, my heart breaking with each step further.
As we leave Batey Verde, the children follow us to the bus and the adults continue to stare in the distance. I wonder what is going on within their minds as we leave their batey.
As we make our way to the second batey, we pass through the dirt roads surrounded by sugar cane fields on both sides. The workers throughout the fields are working so hard, again my heart breaking for them.
As we enter the second batey, the people of the batey approach our bus like it is a foreign object. We ask for permission once again and make our way in. Most of the people within this batey speak Haitian Creole.
Going into this batey, my goal is to interview someone who lives within. I step out and my classmate and I, Rosalvens, are met with a group of people looking very curiously at us.
Since Rosalvens is the only one on the trip that speaks Haitian Creole, he helps me interview by translating.
I decide to interview a young woman named Maribel, pictured below.
Maribel is from the south of Haiti and has been living in different bateyes since she was two-years-old. Her job is cooking and cleaning throughout the house and taking care of her four sons. Her husband’s job is driving a tractor throughout the sugar cane fields. She says that her husband brought her to the Dominican Republic because of his job but she does not mind living here.
Maribel calls her husband, Cato, over and I start to interview him as well. Cato says that he drives his tractor throughout the fields, plants the sugar cane, and cuts it too. He says he is paid 187 pesos per tandela, bundle of sugar cane, he cuts.
He explains the process of planting the sugar cane next. He says that he plants one sugar cane plant every fifteen years. He lets the plant grow for fifteen years and cuts it every six months. This process is very interesting to me since I knew nothing about the planting and handling of sugar cane prior to this interview.
As I reflect on the day, I realize that we had access to these bateyes because of privilege. I did not realize this in the moment, but as I reflect, I wonder if that was really fair, not just to us but to the people of the batey as well.
I thought I was aware of my surroundings during the time we were there, but I do not think I was in the moment.
For example, I thought that everyone was happy for us to be there in the moment, but after reflecting, I realized that not everyone was happy for us to be in their space.
I feel I learned quite a lot from these two different batey experiences, but I wish I was more hyperaware of what was going on around me at that time and place.
I have to keep in mind that I am interviewing them but critiquing my version of their story.
As a group, we thought of what we could offer to the people of the bateyes when entering their homes instead of just intruding. After our group discussion, we came to the consensus of maybe entering the batey with a nurse next time. Instead of just ourselves, next time we could offer something of need to these people within their homes.