The Price of Sugar (2007)
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With the promise of better pay and quality of life in comparison to their home in Haiti, Haitians are driven by the bus load into a terrible trap, forced labor on a sugar cane field run by the mysterious sugar barons known as the Vicini family who have ties within the Dominican and American governments. They are forced to stay within a labor camp infested with all kinds of dangers and with no way to quit or to walk out without the risk of being shot. But thanks to the work of Father Christopher Hartley, a missionary priest sent to a nearby parish where the Bateyes (slave compound) are located. Through his work, the lives of some of the Haitians do improve but with it come the death threats and riots instigated by the Vicini to oust the priest.
This documentary is important for both Dominicans and for Americans to be educated on a topic that rarely ever makes a blurb in the papers. Slavery should not exist in the twentieth century yet there it is in our own backyard.
I had the opportunity to watch this movie in Atlanta, and I was appalled at the manipulation of facts and images, as well as some blatant falsehoods that appear in this film, which has been promoted as "facts-based." For starters, the Haitian immigration into the Dominican Republic is no different than that of Dominicans to the U.S. It's people who leave their own country looking for a better life. No one forces them to leave; nor are they "recruited" or loaded onto trucks and taken across the border. Believe me, there's no need to that. They want to leave Haiti as, in their own country, they can't even survive! The movie states that Haitians are discriminated against. That is just not true. The Haitians who lived in the bateyes where I grew up received the same treatment as everyone else, including children born of Dominican parents. We were all paid the same.
I can assure you that we were not treated differently that the Haitians. We're all paid in cash, not vouchers as the movie states. That's not to say that conditions in the sugar fields, and in the whole agricultural industry in the Dominican Republic, need not be improved.
Today, there are more than one million Haitians in the Dominican Republic, most of them illegal immigrants. Most of them work in construction, tourism and informal trade, and less than 1% work in the sugar cane fields; however, The Price of Sugar distorts the numbers and says that 30,000 are smuggled annually.
Finally, and as an immigrant that was given an opportunity in this great country, I equate my situation here to that of the Haitians in the DR. When I first came to the U.S., even though I had a Bachelor's degree, I worked two shifts as a dish-washer at a hotel. It wasn't easy work, but I had made that choice in hopes of having a better future. That's the same choice that Haitian immigrants make when they cross the border into the Dominican Republic, be it to work in the sugar fields, construction or whatever else. They've made that choice hoping for a better tomorrow. They're free to move in and out of the bateyes as they wish, and to go back to their country any time they want. However, they choose to stay because, even though the Dominican Republic is a very poor country, they have a better life.
Therefore, I would appreciate it if we can keep the facts straight and call The Price of Sugar a work of fiction instead of a documentary.
The Haitian hate groups should be ashamed of their behavior, but no more than any American-first organization. We live in the same world, we breath the same air, and we share a common DNA. And like the Xenophobic Haitians, you benefit from the labor of immigrants.
The son of an immigrant woman
Newman's participation helped call attention to the plight of undocumented Haitians recruited by the Vicini family in the Dominican Republic to work on their sugar plantations in extraordinarily squalid and pathogenic conditions. Deprived of their identity papers on arrival, and looked down upon by many among the lighter-skinned local population, most sugarcane workers and their families could no longer leave the plantation, let alone the country.
Father Christopher Hartley is a Catholic missionary priest who grew up in a wealthy Spanish family that moved to London about the time he was born. He later worked with Mother Teresa in Calcultta for many years and with Latino immigrants in NYC before beginning his ministry in the Dominican Republic. There he revived a church by developing close ties with the poorest of the poor. Gradually he drew international attention to the exploitation and mistreatment of the Haitians sequestered on vast plantations devoted to growing tall, perennial, sucrose-rich Saccharum grasses.
The film is about Hartley, his campaign to improve the social and working conditions he encountered, his commitment to his parish, and the effect his doggedness had on the forgotten lives of migrant Haitians. He may have a bit too much photogenic chic and ease around camera crews for some tastes suffer the upper-class priest to go unto the cutters and forbid his amour-propre not but indisputably Hartley lived and worked for a decade in places others feared to dread.
If you number among those who tire of seeing religion expropriated for political gain or if you tend to find people who walk the talk against very long odds more noteworthy than various permutations of Idol shows you might appreciate this fleeting glimpse behind the DR's PR: Tropical Island Nation Prospers by Rising to Meet Demand of First-World Neighbors.
If your conscience has the wherewithal to trump comfort, prepare to squirm. The Price of Sugar shows how profiteers knowingly degrade the lives of unseen thousands so that a chunk of the world's largest crop, sugarcane, may wend its way from its raw state to refined American kitchens.