On his second voyage to the New World, Christopher Columbus brought sugar cane to the Caribbean island of Hispaniola. Sugar is now the biggest industry in the Dominican Republic, which shares the island with its impoverished neighbor, Haiti.
Early in the 20th century, and American company began importing Haitian field hands to work its Dominican sugar holdings. Every since, the backbreaking task of cutting cane in the Dominican Republic has belonged to migrant Haitians and their descendants.
The cane cutters live in hundreds of rural ghettos known as bateys. The living conditions of these permanent labor camps are considered to be among the worst in the hemisphere.
Recently, reports by human rights groups denouncing treatment of the cane cutters prompted the United States to review trade relations with the Dominican Republic. The U.S. concluded that workers’ conditions are improving and decided not to impose economic sanctions, thus preserving the Dominican Republic’s broad duty-free access to U.S. markets.
But, in much of the country, little has changed.
Narration is by Edward James Olmos, who hosted a series of 13 half-hour Vanishing Homelands specials.