Céline Anaya Gautier, Slaves in Paradise, from PRIVATE 45 – Development. An Ecological Question
In the Dominican Republic the story of Uncle Tom has never ended. Not far from the luxury tourist beaches, hidden behind an impenetrable curtain of sugar cane, unsanitary wooden barracks are assembled to form “bateys”. These ghettos, without water or electricity, are home to the “braceros”, the sugar cane plantation slaves, and their families, who have come from Haiti. It is estimated that around 500,000 women, men and children are prisoners on sugar cane plantations in the Dominican Republic. Attracted by seasonal work that they are told is well-paid, they find themselves enslaved to the few “grand” families of the local sugar cane industry. Stripped of their papers, they are unable to escape. Some have been there for generations. Once past the entry gates of the bateys, there is no escape from this hell: the men work to exhaustion in the plantations, the women try to ensure the survival of their families, the children born to Haitian parents, unrecognised by both countries and condemned to become slaves in turn…
Every year, more than 20 000 Haitians cross the border of the Dominican Republic to work during the zafra season, harvesting sugar cane. These crossings occur outside of any legal framework and are the result of an organised process, known to the authorities, perpetrated under the watchful eyes of immigration officials and the Dominican police. In exchange for this work force, the Dominican Sugar Cane Companies pay €30 per worker to the Haitian government. Recruited by the «buscones» (beaters), the braceros find their papers replaced by a worker’s notebook delivered by the State Council of sugar. In the absence of a legal framework, the only law in the sugar cane fields is the one dictated by the “capataces”, the superintendents of the sugar companies. Although they suffer inhumane working conditions and poor treatment, the braceros rarely try to run away. That’s because terrorised by their wardens and deprived of their papers or any means of communication, they are quickly reduced to silence and resignation. Those who do try to escape are quickly recaptured by the guards and beaten with machete knives.
Many mysteriously disappear following such attempts. Many others have forgotten what it was like to be free.