This morning, we woke up at 6:00 AM. We then walked to Rosaura’s, ate breakfast there, and had a mental warm up where we learned about the sugarcane industry and poverty in the Dominican Republic. After, we had a one hour bus ride to Plataforma Vida, where we talked to community members.
At least 1.8 billion people in developing countries have inadequate access to water, and close to 1.5 million people die each year from diarrheal disease. The most vulnerable population in the Dominican Republic are the Dominicans of Haitian descent who live in Bateyes, communities created near sugarcane plantations, (which we visited today). The community we visited, Bateye 6, looked as united as many of the communities we had seen. As we sat in a circle, we listened to the people explain their experiences working for the Central Sugar Consortium, S.A. (C.A.C.) in Barahona. We learned that the C.A.C. sprays pesticides and burns sugarcane in order to cut it more easily. Both of these processes cause health problems within the community. We also heard members say they made as little as 80 pesos per day, or a little over $1 per day. We were given a tour of the Bateye and as we walked down the streets we saw people under the shade of trees, because it was incredibly hot. Many of the people lacked the basics such as clothing, footwear and clean water. The homes were very worn down, they were made of anything they could get their hands on such as metal, wood, blocks, and wire. In truth, they looked more like shacks. After the tours ee ended our time by sharing a meal with some of the community members.
The second part of the day gave us two very different perspectives on a billion dollar industry. After seeing the realities of life in a Bateye for ourselves, we had the chance to tour a sugarcane plantation and factory. However, what we saw didn’t always correlate with what we were told.
We first spoke with Pablo, a representative of the C.A.C. In Barahona, located about an hour south of San Juan de la Maguana, he led us through one of the C.A.C.’s sugarcane plantations, explaining the sugarcane growth, harvest, and refinement process while answering our many questions. The vast majority of our questions were centered around the labor and living conditions of the braceros, or workers who cut sugarcane. As we drilled Pablo, our conversations with him seemed to be going in circles. The answers to some questions kept changing, while others were completely avoided.
We encountered the same situation upon speaking with Rafael Nazario, president of the C.A.C. He soon grew frustrated and defensive amidst a bus full of people demanding answers to the company’s tolerance of unjust working conditions. Though we gained more insight on the realities of the sugarcane industry, we have yet to discover the entire truth of conditions for braceros today.