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If you have the same contempt for the ruling classes as I have,then this documentary (shot on video)is for you. It has to do with Haitians, who are forced to work in the Dominican Republic,cutting sugar cane for slave wages,who are treated like human cattle by brutal overseers, all for the wealthy sugar cane plantation owners (does the word exploitation strike a familiar chord here?). The documentary is largely centered on a Catholic Priest,who out of concern for these people,acts as a spokesman for their well being (while all the time making an enemy out of himself for the more xenophobic Dominicans). I generally walked out of this one at the end feeling sadness & pity for the downtrodden workers who are constantly being exploited,and burning disgust for the perps who should know better. The doc is narrated by the great Paul Newman (never once seen on camera,but his voice is in plentiful supply). This is a documentary that is a "must see" for human rights advocates,and just about anyone with a human heart.
I'm a Dominican immigrant who, since 10 years ago, calls the U.S. home.
I'm the descendant of Jamaican immigrants who was born in a Dominican
batey a "sugar baby," if you will. I lived and worked hand-in-hand
with many Haitian immigrants who, faced with extremely deplorable
economic and living conditions in their homeland, cross the border to
find opportunities for them and their families.
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.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I had heard some time ago a story about how modern day Haitians were
going through some form of slavery in the fields of Dominican Republic.
That's all I heard and never heard anything more on the topic. However,
being of Dominican origin, the relationship between Dominican Republic
and Haiti had always interested me. Many studies have been published
about this but are typically aimed at anthropologists thereby making
this topic unknown to the general public, that is, until now.
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 have worked in these sugarcane fields, helping the people working there. I have seen and been told things that "researching" will not tell you. Of course living in the Dominican and getting attached to the Haitians you are going to have a bias especially if you're making a documentary. These people at times are forced into going to the Dominican. There are Dominican officials that there job is to find Haitians and bring them over. They are told that they are getting a good paying, decent job and then they are brought to the fields and aren't allowed to leave. There are guards with guns or machetes stopping them from leaving. How is that not slavery? Maybe before you go after a film you should visit and live in the culture and situation that is being filmed.
Paul Newman's narration of The Price of Sugar occurred after he had
moved from acting roles to voice roles and narration. It was the
second-to-last film in which he had direct involvement before his death
in 2008. The film made it onto the Academy's documentary feature
shortlist for the Oscars.
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.
I recommend this film for all people who are fearful of immigrants. I
am sure that you will find the absurdity in the fear the Dominicans
feel for Haitians. These two groups resemble one another that it boggle
the mind that they fail to see that they have many attributes in
common. If you come away with this same observation then asked yourself
what sets you apart from any immigrant group. They want what you want,
and they have the same needs. The differences between them and US
citizens will evaporate in a single generation.
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
I haven't seen the movie. But I will. A free market doesn't rely on hundreds of millions of dollars of annual subsidies to prop up a business, as the sugar industry does. In fact, the sugar industry in the U.S. has contributed significantly to Florida's environmental degradation. They have horribly disfigured our democracy and they have influenced greatly our foreign policy towards Cuba, completely counter to American public opinion. A previous commenter must have some personal interest in the sugar industry, or they are completely ignorant as to the realities of what a true free market is. If the previous commenter who bashes the movie was honest and had some integrity they would turn their venom towards the sugar industry in Florida from which our citizens suffer the pollution of our democracy and the defiling of our environment. The history and truth is right there for anyone to read. See the movie.
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