Once upon a time, the DR could make a lot of money selling sugar all over the world.  But it needed more workers, so they imported Haitians by the thousands.  But they didn’t ant the Haitians to stick around, so during the dead season they were kicked out.  And on and on it has gone for decades: importing Haitians to do the work Dominicans won’t, and kicking them out as soon as they’ve served their purpose.  They also massacred Haitians by the thousands, in 1937–except for those working on the all-important cane plantations.

If you’re born in a batey and your parents don’t have papers, that means you can never become Dominican.  You can never get a high school diploma, even if you attend every class and get straight A’s.  You aren’t entitled to health care, and you can’t own land.  You can be deported at any time for really any reason at all.  It’s likely you can only make money on odd jobs, cane cutting or re-selling clothes, since Dominicans don’t trust Haitians to cook food properly, and you can’t complete the requisite education to be a doctor, lawyer or something other profession.  And with cane wages low and us purchase orders falling fast, even the soul-crushing work that is cane cutting is hard to come by.

Living in a batey is another challenge altogether.  You may have electricity, but that certainly wont be all the time.  You may have a toilet that you cant put toilet paper in, the kind that needs a bucket of water to flush.  If you’re lucky.  But you probably just have a latrine.  You most likely live in a rural area, far from paved roads.  If there is public transit near you, it will likely take a full day and several bus changes to get to the capital.  You may live in the old cement barracks built decades ago by the CEA, the sugar ministry of the Dominican government.  If you’re not packed into an over-crowded cement room, your house is probably made of wood, with tin on the roof if you’re doing well.  You don’t own your home, or the land it sits on.  You can farm if you want, or even raise animals, but you know that at any moment all of that hard work can be taken away from you.

Police force?  Health care?  Paved roads?  Potable water?  What planet are you from?

Lest you think this problem is solely the creation of the Dominican government, remember the massive role the US gov has played in the sugar industry.  Setting price ceilings, placing massive orders for years only to set extreme restrictions suddenly, and of course invading Haiti and the DR to boot.  Not to mention largely ignoring everything that has been going on in the bateyes in order to product US sugar industry and stay out of the limelight.

If you want to learn more about life on bateyes, something that has been largely out of the public eye, check out the films The Price of Sugar and The Sugar Babies.

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