Haitian workers gather by a company-owned house that was destroyed in November. Photo by Pedro Farias-Nardi for Mother Jones.

The Central Romana Corporation destroyed a workers’ encampment in the Dominican Republic in November, two months after damning reports on conditions for Haitian cane cutters were published by Homelands’ Sandy Tolan. Residents say the destruction of houses and their forced removal were unannounced, according to an update by Tolan that appeared in Mother Jones in December.

The settlement, known to residents as Batey Hoyo de Puerco, or Pig Hole, was home to an estimated 230 Haitian workers and their families. Representatives of the company admit to having “eliminated” the encampment and relocating workers to newer housing. Some residents say they were not given time to recover their belongings before the demolition began.

In an hour-long program for the public radio program and podcast Reveal and a feature story in Mother Jones, Tolan described worker camps without plumbing, electricity, or other basic services. Both pieces were co-reported by Haitian-Dominican journalist Euclides Cordero Nuel.

The reports, coupled with an investigation of Central Romana by a team of reporters from The Washington Post, prompted the chairman of the U.S. House Ways and Means Subcommittee on Trade to call for a “swift and thorough investigation” into the labor practices of large sugar producers in the Dominican Republic in a statement and press conference on October 25.

Bitate, a young indigenous leader, has risked his life to defend the rainforest in northern Brazil. The government has encouraged illegal land invasions of his people’s territory.

The Territory, a documentary feature film that provides an up-close look at the fight for the Brazilian Amazon, has been accepted in competition at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival in the World Cinema Documentary category, festival organizers have announced. The film will premiere at the festival and online on January 22. Homelands has served as the project’s nonprofit fiscal sponsor.

The Territory documents a conflict between the indigenous Uru-eu-wau-wau people and a group of land invaders. It was co-produced by a team of international filmmakers and the Uru-eu-wau-wau community. Competition for a slot at Sundance is always extremely high, and 2022 was reportedly the most selective year in the festival’s history.

The Uru-eu-wau-wau have seen their population dwindle and their culture threatened since coming into contact with non-Native Brazilians. Though promised dominion over their own rainforest territory, they have faced illegal incursions from environmentally destructive logging and mining, and, most recently, land-grabbing invasions spurred on by right-wing politicians like President Jair Bolsonaro. With deforestation escalating as a result, the stakes have become global.

With unprecedented access, The Territory drops the audience into the center of this conflict. Young indigenous leaders like Bitate and Ari, along with their mentor, environmental activist Neidinha, risk their very lives to defend the rainforest. On the other side, Sergio leads an association of indigent farmers eager to establish a settlement, while others like Martin, impatient and entitled, strike out on their own, clearcutting the forest to establish a homestead. With the government unwilling to stop this brazen encroachment, the Uru-eu-wau-wau set up their own media team, using technology to expose the truth and fight back.

Sundance 2022 will be both in person and online, so you can join in from anywhere in the U.S. from January 20-30. Ticket packages go on sale December 17 at festival.sundance.org.

In a reported essay in The Atlantic, Ruxandra Guidi explores the often-ignored relationship between ad-fueled notions of masculinity and American attitudes toward environmental responsibility.

Concern about the climate is associated with femininity, she observes, while the “sounds, smells, and sights” of gas-guzzling pickups and monster trucks “evoke the peculiarly American ideal of rural life: self-sufficiency sustained by unbridled male power.”

She wonders if super-charged electric trucks might be a good way to break down resistance. “If climate consciousness can’t be manly, can it coexist with manliness?” she asks.

You can read the article here.

The Chairman of the U.S. House Ways and Means Subcommittee on Trade has called for a “swift and thorough investigation” into the labor practices of large sugar producers in the Dominican Republic in response to reporting by Homelands’ Sandy Tolan and others.

In an October 25 press release, Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) wrote that “Disturbing news reports have recently detailed appalling conditions under which sugarcane workers of Haitian-Dominican descent continue to live and labor to produce sugar in the Dominican Republic for U.S. consumption.”

The links direct readers to Tolan’s September 17 investigative article in Mother Jones and a separate investigation by Zoeann MurphyDebbie Cenziper, Will Fitzgibbon, Whitney Shefte, and Salwan Georges in The Washington Post.

Tolan worked with Haitian-Dominican journalist Euclides Cordero Nuel on “The High Human Cost of America’s Sugar Habit,” an in-depth report about conditions in the Dominican sugar industry, with a particular focus on Central Romana Corporation. The two also collaborated on “The Bitter Work Behind Sugar,” an hour-long episode of Reveal, the podcast and radio show produced by the Center for Investigative Reporting.

The Post piece, which also focused on Central Romana, drew heavily on documents uncovered in the release of the Panama Papers, and details tax evasion strategies by the company’s owners and executives.

Tolan had returned to the Dominican Republic 30 years after filing a report for NPR with coproducer Alan Weisman about the near-slavery conditions on Dominican plantations, particularly for Haitian-born and Haitian-Dominican workers. The U.S. government has called for improvements in the past, and according to Tolan, conditions have improved somewhat. But housing, pay, contract terms, and other issues remain deeply problematical.

Paul Hancock, Hannah Wilkinson, and Victor Chavez in front of The Loft in St. Johns, Arizona. Photo by Amy Martin.

In the 1980s, local governments across America braced — and built — for an expected surge in juvenile “super-predators.” But the surge never came, and many communities were left with expensive, nearly empty buildings that cost millions to maintain.

For the youth who were detained in them, the facilities often served as introductions to a harsh and punitive criminal justice system.

In a half-hour episode for the “70 Million” podcast and a companion article in High Country News, Homelands producer Ruxandra Guidi takes us to rural St. Johns, Arizona, where county officials have transformed their local detention center into a place where teens can play pool, make music, and receive mentoring instead of going to jail.

The success of The Loft Legacy Teen Center is leading many across the state to rethink local government’s approach to youth who come into contact with the law enforcement system.

Ithaca sustainability director Luis Aguirre-Torres (second to left) meets with college students, scientists, and artists at the Soil Factory maker space in Ithaca, NY.

In “The Little Town that Would Transform the World,” Homelands senior producer Jonathan Miller reports from Ithaca, New York, whose ambitious Green New Deal seeks to deliver drastic cuts in greenhouse gas emissions and major benefits for the community’s most vulnerable members. It’s a hometown story with implications for hometowns everywhere.

The half-hour piece is the latest episode of Living Downstream, a podcast about environmental justice produced by Steve Mencher of Mensch Media and distributed by Northern California Public Media.

Miller introduces us to Ithaca’s sustainability director, Luis Aguirre-Torres, a Mexican engineer (his Ph.D. research was on entropy) with a global vision and an activist’s passion for disruption. Aguirre-Torres is both an insider and an outsider, a veteran of international climate policymaking but new to Ithaca. Since he arrived this spring, he has sought to broaden the climate conversation to include social change agents and people whose lives are likely to be most affected by climate change — and by climate policies.

We also meet Richard Rivera, an outreach worker at Ithaca’s sprawling homeless encampment, who deserves a podcast of his own, and civil rights activist and organizational consultant Laura Branca. Both know how hard social change can be, but both are hopeful that progress is possible. Both also appreciate a local government that doesn’t just see the connections between social justice and climate change, but pushes hard to bring the two together.

Special thanks to Jimmy Jordan, Felix Teitelbaum, Esther Racoosin, and Fred Balfour from WRFI, community radio for Ithaca and Watkins Glen.

You can listen to the episode on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, Audible, NPR, or wherever you get your podcasts. And if you like it, please write a review and spread the word!

Inside a house in a batey (work camp) owned by the Central Romana sugar company. Photo by Pedro Farias-Nardi.
Inside a house in a batey (work camp) owned by the Central Romana sugar company. Photo by Pedro Farias-Nardi.

In 1991, Homelands cofounders Sandy Tolan and Alan Weisman reported a story for the Vanishing Homelands series from the sugar plantations of the Dominican Republic. “Sugar and Sorrow in Hispaniola” documented the difficulties faced by Haitian migrant workers who lived in squalid state- and company-owned camps without sanitation or electricity. Many had been captured and transported there by human traffickers. They had no formal status and no access to health care or other protections.

For 30 years, Sandy was unable to get the story of one of those workers out of his mind. Lulu Pierre had been kidnaped as a teenager and forced to work in the cane fields. Desperately lonely, he had just quit when Sandy and Alan met him. Sandy decided to return to find out what had become of him.

He reports what he found in two powerful pieces of narrative journalism, both produced with Dominican journalist Euclides Cordero Nuel. One is “The Bitter Work Behind Sugar,” an hour-long episode of Reveal, the podcast and radio show produced by the Center for Investigative Reporting. The other is “The High Human Cost of America’s Sugar Habit,” an in-depth feature in Mother Jones. Both tell how the Central Romana Corporation, whose billionaire owners live in the United States, continues to exploit its workers despite its claims to the contrary.

“Sugar and Sorrow in Hispaniola” was featured in an NPR story in May 2021 as part of the network’s 50th anniversary celebration. A listener in Boston said he hadn’t expected to be so affected by the story, and he still remembered it 30 years later.

Angélica M. Casas

The Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University and the National Association of Hispanic Journalists will present Angélica M. Casas with the 2021 Cecilia Vaisman Award at a virtual ceremony and conversation on September 30, 2021, at 6:30 p.m. EDT. Please register here.

The award honors the legacy of Homelands co-founder Cecilia Vaisman, an extraordinary reporter, producer, and teacher who inspired countless students to pursue careers in audio and video journalism. Ceci died in 2015.

Here is Angélica’s bio courtesy of our friends at Medill:

Angélica M. Casas is a bilingual journalist telling visual stories for BBC News. She travels throughout the US and Latin America reporting on the effects of policy on underrepresented communities, the coronavirus pandemic, fronteras and immigration. As a “one-woman band,” she produces, films, animates, and edits her own videos and short documentaries. In front of the camera, you can catch her presenting explainer videos, hosting the BBC’s Facebook Watch show “Cut Through the Noise,” or reporting for World News America or World Service Radio.

Her English and Spanish work has also appeared in PBS Newshour, AJ+, KQED, the San Francisco Chronicle, and the San Antonio Express-News.