Tuesday, December 19, 2006
Reporter's notebook: Behind the sugar story


















In this piece, I explain how we got the idea to report on the conditions of sugar production in the Dominican Republic.
Posted By Joe Johns, CNN Correspondent: 10:08 AM ET
  13 Comments
I am a Dominican citizen and it is a fact that Haitians are treated as slaves and third class citizens by most employers and even by local authorities.
The way those poor spouls live and are treated by the majority of my countryman is shameful and unexcusable.
I am thrilled that CNN has at least try and expose the truth, but please do not stop there, send Anderson Cooper and others respetable journalist to go further for in all honesty, you have not seen nothing yet.

The Viccinis are the most powerfull family in DR and perhaps the conditions at their BATEYS are far better than at most other plantations.

Please expose the horrendous crime of having people semi-captive, working for half of nothing and then the foremen sells them daily food rations at triple the price.
Posted By Anonymous Luis Moreno, Hialeah, FL : 11:40 AM ET
Joe - I was very moved by your story. I will (if I can find it) add sugar to the list of "Fair Trade" products that I buy (e.g. cholate and coffee). I only hope that the "Fair Trade" label actually means what it says - perhaps you could do a "keeping them honest" story on that!
Posted By Anonymous Naomi, Ottawa, Canada : 12:55 PM ET
Whether you call it slavery or not does not change the fact that these people are "working" and living in conditions that are unacceptable by any human standards. These people need a voice because, unfortunately, they have none. We as Americans have been known for standing against social injustice; for promoting equal treatment and for giving a voice to the voiceless. These are some of the things that have made us the great country that we are -- a beacon of hope for all. So let's not let the Dominican government intimidate us. If that had been our attitude all along, we would not have propagated democracy in the world like we have -- this world would be a much darker place.
Posted By Anonymous Cherdo, Richmond, VA : 1:17 PM ET
DR wants us to stop interfering? I thought that's what we did best. Or is it just when oil is in the picture? I think the U.S. most certainly should tell the D.R., "Okay we will not interfer, but we will take our business elsewhere until you fix the problem." The owners understand economics. Doesn't matter how much sugar you have if one of your biggest customers won't buy it.
Posted By Anonymous Catherine, Kenosha, WI : 1:50 PM ET
When I saw this report on the CNN website, I honestly have to say I was expecting something different. I'm originally from Barbados, another Caribbean country which depends largely on sugar cane for income. The report showed the same type of life styles that I saw growing up in Barbados and what seems to be the standard for cane cutters and other hard laborers in the Caribbean. The Caribbean is not monetarily rich and there are many poor people there who work very hard doing manual labor jobs like cutting cane (made especially hard but the climate conditions) and yet don't even make enough money to have running water or toilets in their house. The conditions are deplorable but hot buying sugar processed in the Caribbean, as one commenter suggested, is not going to fix the problem -- all that would cause is a drop in the value of sugar, which means these people will have to work harder to cut more cane to make the same small amount of money as before.
I don't have a solution to offer for that problem in particular, but in all the developing Caribbean countries, more money needs to put into the education systems and other income industries for these countries so that their citizens have more options. Haiti in particular is one of the poorest countries in the Caribbean (in my opinion, partly because of contributing factors from the United States) and much needs to be done on the island of Hispaniola in the way of development.
Posted By Anonymous Sheena Gibson, Brooklyn, New York : 1:52 PM ET
If you are really wondering if it's slavery or not, why not get a job there yourself and try it for a day? Then tell the rest of us what you were able to purchase with your 3 pesos.
Posted By Anonymous Nicki, Calgary, Alberta : 2:30 PM ET
Sugar, diamonds... I think anything in a third world country where people have less say and less chances to have good jobs, there is a slave trade. Big compaines don't seem to understand their actions and it is a world problem. Slavery is more behind the scenes today and even with clothes you wonder who made it for you. It is a real problem which may never truly go away until the world cares who is making what and where it is being made. Until then, big compainies have no reason to change when money pours in on cheap labor.
Posted By Anonymous Terra, Rhodes, Michigan : 3:28 PM ET
Guess not much has changed since before the Bay of Pigs. Too bad we let the Peace Corps slide and switched to these trade agreements that put the power back in the wealthiest's hands. So tell me who harvests the sugar cane in Brazil?
Posted By Anonymous linda, bella vista,ar : 3:35 PM ET
Working somewhere with substandard wages does not make it slavery. If a person can make the choice of working there or not it isn't slavery. Even if the alternative is worse. That doesn't diminish the issue of improving the conditions for the workers in the fields but calling it slavery if they are free to leave is wrong. The slaves in the American South were slaves not because of wages but because they had no freedom. They could not choose for themselves to work or not. Same in current times for people forced into situations such as borrowing money to come to America but then never able to pay it off because of "handlers" who change the "agreements" after the fact.
Posted By Anonymous Dan Milwaukee WI : 3:56 PM ET
Great coverage Joe!!

Reminds me of the movie Sugar Cane Alley and the interesting book by Franz Fanon, 'Black Skin White Masks' (I recommend both to everyone!!) which shows the Post-Colonial situation and prejudice in Haiti and other countries similiar to its situation (including D.R.). It's amazing how the scene from this video you posted was EXACTLY the same as that from the movie Sugar Cane Alley (which was made more than 20 years ago!).

I would love to hear more about who owns these sugar cane fields (maybe the history of ownership) and what they are actually doing to "fight" this problem?

"Working somewhere with substandard wages does not make it slavery. If a person can make the choice of working there or not it isn't slavery." Dan Milwaukee WI --I'm sorry, BUT I do not agree with you-

Sometimes you do not have a choice...living how others live, understand their histories (prejudice/racism has A LOT to do with it, but we cannot see it thru one lens), their situations, is a whole different ballpark. My mother losing her job, along with millions of others, to pick up a "temporary" much lower paying job, was not a decision where there were two or more possibilities...there were no other options...

This along with other forms of slavery are happening all over the world. I hope you guys cover this topic more (also trafficking/selling of women and children (parts of Africa, Latin America/India, etc), prostitution amongst children (parts of Burma, India, Thailand, African continent etc.) and the list goes on.
Posted By Anonymous deepa, Buffalo, NY : 6:29 PM ET
I would like to thank Mr. Johns for bringing awareness to this issue. This is a generations -- if not centuries -- old issue. As an American of Haitian descent, this is something I have been hearing about since I was a little girl. It hurts me to see how these poor people are being treated. The debate really is not whether we can call this slavery or not -- because clearly these are unacceptable conditions. Rather, the debate should be, how can we help to cause something to happen that would improve the dire situations that these people live in? I believe that people like Mr. Johns have done their part, which is bringing the issue to everyone's attention.
Posted By Anonymous Nana, Richmond, VA : 9:25 PM ET
There is a conspiracy developing against the Dominican Republic where the so called human rights organizations, France and other nations accuse this nation of abusing the workers from Haiti. Conditions for the average Dominican are very difficul at best. Imagine how it must be for the Haitians. If you take each nation of the world you will find some degree of abuse against foreigners. Even in so called "civilized" European countries like France and England, among others, immigrants have exploded in protest due to abuse and discrimination. Let us not forget the richest nation on earth where immigrants are deported to nations where their lives are put in jeopardy due to totalitarian regimes. Mexicans, etc., are constantly harassed, discriminated and abused when all they want to do is work and make a better future for their families. I would love to see the human rights people show their courage by going to Cuba, North Korea, Iran, Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia,Somalia, etc., to protest against violations by these governments of the rights of murderers, pedophiles, foreigners, etc,etc.
Posted By Anonymous Carlos Contreras, Miami, Florida : 10:55 PM ET
You know what's really sad? There are more comments regarding Mel Gibson than on this story.
Posted By Anonymous Sheryl, Amelia Island, FL : 7:14 AM ET
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