A plantation in the Dominican Republic. Bree, Wikipedia Commons

Migrants in a ‘perpetual Good Friday’

  • June 7, 2014

TORONTO - On the sugar cane plantations in the Dominican Republic, life is bitter for the Haitian migrants who farm the land.

Fr. Christopher Hartley, a Spanish missionary who lived and worked for almost a decade in the Dominican Republic, is touring Toronto and surrounding areas to raise awareness of the plight of these people who he describes as living in a perpetual Good Friday.

Men, women and children from Haiti are lured by the promise of a better life and trafficked between the two nations that share the Caribbean island of Hispaniola.

“The border between Haiti and the Dominican Republic is 381 km and it’s through the mountains that they are smuggled into the DR with the complicity of the army, the military, the police, the immigration authorities and of course the sugar industry,” said Hartley.

Smuggled into bateyes, hamlets dispersed through the sugar cane fields, “they will remain there under armed guard until the harvest season ends.” The harvest season runs November to June.

On the plantation, the sugar company is sovereign, he said. The Haitians are unable to gain citizenship. If they leave the plantation, they run the risk of being deported back to Haiti.

Hartley was kicked out of the Dominican Republic in October 2006 for his run-ins with the government and the three “sugar barons.”

“My parish was within the boundaries of these sugar cane fields. (There were) all of these people who had never seen a face of a priest or the police or the rule of law of any kind… Nobody in authority would interfere with the dealings of the private company,” he said.

In December 2011, Hartley filed a public submission to the U.S. government regarding the plantations’ violations of CAFTA-DR, the free trade agreement between the U.S., the Dominican Republic and Central American countries that outlines the conditions by which goods must be produced.

“To my surprise, it was accepted by the United States Department of Labour,” he said. The U.S. government investigated and through a report published in 2013, recommended that the Dominican Republic enforce standards upon the country’s privately owned sugar companies.

In March 2014, Hartley says the U.S. Department of Labour went down to the Dominican again and discovered nothing had changed. In six months they will reassess.

“If nothing happens, it’s very possible the U.S. government will impose sanctions on the Dominican Republic,” he said.

As for the Haitians still stuck in servitude, their “lives are like pages torn of the Passion of Jesus Christ,” said Hartley. “Industrial terrorism is the glue that has sustained this industry.” But, he says, the international attention is helping these plantation workers overcome their fear. And he encourages Canadian consumers to raise concerns with corporations on where they purchase their sugar.

For more information, Hartley recommends the film The Price of Sugar (2007), a documentary that follows him as he organizes the Haitian people on the plantations.

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