10 / 2007
The first sugarcane plantations were introduced in the Dominican Republic by the Spanish colonizers in the beginning of the 16th century. Currently, agriculture is one of the most important sectors of the national economy, as sugarcane is the principal agricultural product of the country. The industry is concentrated in three businesses that control 75% of the sugarcane plantations: the State Sugar Board (CEA), which controls 50% of production, Casa Vicini, a national company, and Central Romana, a foreign company. The majority of production is found in the Southeast of the country.
Over the course of many years, there were disputes between Haiti and Dominican Republic over borders that were defined through a treaty signed in January 1929. As a result, thousands of Haitians remained in Dominican territory, the majority of whom served as a labor force in the sugarcane fields.
To this day, the sector depends fundamentally on Haitian migrants, who represent 90% of the labor force in sugarcane cutting. The estimates of the number of Haitian migrants in Dominican Republic vary from 500 thousand to 1 million. The Dominican government has stimulated Haitian migration many times as a way to take advantage of cheap labor costs in the sugarcane fields. However, immigrants have no access to basic rights and are frequently deported after their labor potential is exploited.
One of the main problems for these migrants is that they have no legal recognition within the state. They are known as “citizens without a country,” since they have no kind of legal citizenship. Many Haitians arrive to the Dominican Republic without legal documents and stay in the country this way. The children of these immigrants, born in the Dominican Republic, are not recognized as citizens and do not receive birth certificates.
Haitian migrant communities are called Bateyes. The living conditions of these communities are extremely poor, and immigrants generally live in impoverished barracks that have no electricity, no basic sewage services, and no potable water. There are no health services, recreational spaces, or schools.
The word Batey originates from the indigenous Taínos, the original inhabitants of the region who were converted into slaves during Spanish colonization. Currently, working conditions for sugarcane workers could be characterized as analogous to slavery.
The workers face very difficult labor conditions. They work on average 12 hours per day, and face the threat of deportation when they attempt to organize to obtain basic rights. Many do not speak Spanish, which makes their organizing process even more difficult.
Accidents in the sugarcane fields are frequent and leave many workers mutilated. When they stop working, sugarcane workers have no right to retirement or benefits. Wages are extremely low and based on the quantity of cane that is cut, not on hours worked. Workers have no control over the weight of their production, and many times have no idea how much they will receive in compensation per ton of sugarcane they cut.
This file « Agroenergy: Myths and Impacts in Latin America » is the result of a seminar about the expansion of sugarcane plantations in Latin America, which took place in São Paulo, Brazil, from February 26-28, 2007.
Petrolina Urena, Seminário sobre a Expansão da Indústria da Cana na América Latina, 26 a 28 de fevereiro em São Paulo.