The Power of Sugar Cane: Immigration Policy in the Dominican Republic

Charlotte Frank, `14
Charlotte Frank, `14

By: Charlotte Frank , `14

How would you feel if you were in jeopardy of losing your identity? How would you feel if your fundamental beliefs were questioned? Nearly two hundred thousand people in the Dominican Republic suffer with these feelings at this very moment. The Dominican Republic is threatening to not grant any Haitian descendent their identification papers even if they were born in the Dominican. This discrimination can be traced back to colonial times when these tensions began within the enthralling island of Hispaniola.

I have, through service organizations, first hand knowledge of working with Haitian Migrants in the Dominican Republic. From this experience, I greater understand now the day-to-day struggles these people have living in the Bateyes, or sugar cane communities. The Bateyes and the working conditions they foster are seen as modern day slavery. A slavery from which the Haitian works cannot seem to escape. Haitian workers make $2 per ton of sugar cane they produce. In addition, the Haitians are not paid in dollars but mostly in coupons. These coupons, called vales, can only be used in the Bateyes, which furthers the exclusion of the Haitian workers from outside the Bateyes. It is estimated that 15,000 to 20,000 Haitians come and go at the seasonal cane cutting season and many end up staying full time.Another problem is that many times when a Haitian comes to the Bateyes, they do not have immigration papers. Without these papers, the workers cannot travel outside of the Bateyes.

The sad part is that the sugar cane companies know about the abuse in the sugar cane fields yet do nothing to stop it. The government seems to turn a blind eye as well and they benefit from the addition to the economy that the sugar cane trade and these workers provide. Not until the recent court decision has their been any true dialogue about the treatment of the Haitians. The Haitian migrants because of their exile to the Bateyes are excluded from the same lifestyle that most Dominicans live. The impression is that Dominicans and Haitians have tried to unite as one island but many have concluded that this forced geographical union may be what actually has driven them so far apart.

My presentation aims to examine the racial relations between Haitians and Dominicans and how the relations affect these groups both socially and governmentally. My presentation will explore both current and potential consequences related to the relationship between these two groups. Social tensions between Haiti and the Dominican Republic date back to colonization and linger through many pivotal political points. Both the history of the creation of the sugar cane fields in the Dominican Republic and the way the Dominicans use migrant workers, has aided in the creation of superiority complex between two nations who share one island. To frame the research within the issues of the sugar cane communities, the paper’s research question is, “how has sugar cane influenced racial relations in the Dominican Republic?” This quickly leads to the governmental aspect and the fact that there is institutional racism demonstrated by things such as Trujillo’s rule over the Dominican Republic to the now infamous Dominican Court Decision 0168-13. In connecting both aspects, it appears that the sugar cane companies, which started the idea of racial order, have now aided institutional racism and, as a result, ultimately the revoking of nationality and citizenship. The method of study in my presentation was qualitative analysis and also a small amount of statistical analysis in comparing the two countries’ demographics, economics, and current situations. The sugar cane trade has always been the source of challenges on the island of Hispaniola whether it was being privately owned or government controlled. The main analysis and data collection of my presentation refers back to the court decision decided in September of 2013 that will take around 18 months to fully be implemented. This court decision is a clear violation of human rights and showcases discrimination and prejudice becoming the primary voice of the Dominican Republic.

The Power of Sugar Cane: Immigration Policy in the Dominican Republic

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