Sugar, exploited Haitian workers, and free speech

This video is a trailer for the film The Price Of Sugar.

By Matt Waller:

The Price of Sugar: Horrifying conditions exposed—and a legal counterattack

8 May 2008

Directed by Bill Haney, written by Haney and Peter Rhodes

A film exposing some of the predatory practices of the US-supported sugar industry in the Dominican Republic has itself become the subject of an attack campaign by the entrenched sugar powers.

The Price of Sugar, a documentary by Bill Haney portraying the near-slavery conditions facing Haitian cane-cutters on Dominican sugar plantations, has prompted a defamation lawsuit by the Dominican sugar corporation highlighted in the film, accompanied by a cease-and-desist order aimed at preventing the showing of the film.

Narrated by Paul Newman and made for just $750,000, the documentary—Haney’s fourth film—is well paced and skillfully directed. It follows the efforts of a Catholic priest, Christopher Hartley, to relieve the conditions of the immigrant Haitian workers in his parish, a 600-square-mile region consisting mostly of vast plantations owned by the Vicini family, second largest of the wealthy Dominican sugar barons. In the process Hartley incurs the wrath of the Vicinis, who launch a concerted and ugly smear campaign against him.

The heart of the film is its exposure of the systematic exploitation of Haitian workers by the sugar industry. We see how the Dominican companies use promises of a better life to lure busloads of impoverished Haitians over the border in mass illegal crossings, while the government and military turn a blind eye.

Once in the Dominican Republic, the workers find themselves confined to the bateyes (plantation shantytowns), forced to perform the backbreaking and dangerous labor of cutting cane with machetes, while living in unspeakable squalor. Crowded into tiny metal-roofed shacks without plumbing, they have no access to proper health care and often lack even clean water. Incidences of AIDS, dengue fever and malaria in the bateyes are reported to be among the highest in the world.

The workers cut cane for up to 14 hours a day, and at one point we see a typical cutter who is forced to work barefoot on the sharp stubble of the cut stalks, unable to afford shoes. The pay is less than a dollar a day, delivered not in cash but in vouchers redeemable at the company store for merchandise at highly inflated prices. According to the film most workers cannot afford adequate food, and meet their daily calorie needs only by chewing the sugarcane.

1 thought on “Sugar, exploited Haitian workers, and free speech

  1. * wrote:*

    > *The Complicity of “Development & Peace” in Haiti’s 2004 Regime Change
    > The Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace played a very central role among the CIDA-funded, quasi-governmental organizations (QGO) that pushed for the 2004 regime change in Haiti, supported the coup-installed Latortue dictatorship and then covered up the resulting human rights disaster.
    > In some ways, Development and Peace (D&P) can be seen as a ringleader among the Canadian QGOs that helped oust President Aristide’s democratically-elected government.
    > I have examined the pivotal role played by D&P in a lengthy article that appears in the latest issue of Press for Conversion! (Issue # 62)
    > What appears below is a 1600-word excerpt from that 5100-word article. If you want to access a pdf file of the whole article — as it appears in Press for Conversion! complete with graphics, Haitian proverbs and 63 footnotes — you can do so here:
    > You will see at the above URL that the complete article on D&P is divided into five sections:
    > * Government Financing and Close Collaboration
    > * On the International Front
    > * Building anti-Aristide Partnerships in Haiti
    > * Propaganda and Influence in Canada
    > * “The Aristide Paradox”
    > The excerpted section that is reprinted below is called “Building anti-Aristide Partnerships in Haiti.”
    > To learn more about the latest issue of Press for Conversion! and how you can get a copy, click here:
    > (You may even be able to get a free sample copy mailed to you. See above link.)
    > Please subscribe, renew, order copies and donate to COAT to ensure that this research can continue. Your support is also requested to spread this information around the internet. Thanks for anything you can do to help get it posted to relevant listserves and websites. Please include the links I’ve provided so people can connect to the many other articles.
    > cheers
    > Richard Sanders
    > Fuelling the War of Words against Aristide
    > By Richard Sanders, Editor, Press for Conversion!
    > Most Canadians probably imagine that CIDA programs provide for basic human needs, especially in the world’s poorest countries. Although D&P did do much-needed hurricane-disaster relief work in Haiti, its primary and ongoing focus there has been of a very political nature. What the recipients of D&P’s largesse all have in common was not a shared interest in working with Haiti’s poorest of the poor, but rather a desire to stir up a political storm of hatred against Aristide. In effect, D&P seeded this storm against the impoverished masses that constituted Aristide’s most avid supporters.
    > D&P’s partner groups in Haiti have included:
    > * Fanm Deside (Decided Women)
    > * Institute of Research &Technical Support in Environmental Planning
    > * Technology and Leadership Institute
    > * Youth in action for change
    > * Kay Famn (What Women)
    > * Peasant Movement of Papaye
    > * Program for Justice Alternatives
    > * Southeastern Women’s Network
    > * Platform for Haitian Human Rights Organizations
    > * Social Communication Leadership Society
    > * Coordination for Advocacy on Women’s Rights
    > * National Coalition for Haitian Rights24
    > * Regional Education Project for Development
    > * Solidarity with Haitian Women
    > * Karl Lévesque Cultural Institute25
    > * Movement of Haitian Women for Education26
    > * Haitian Collective for Environmental Protection and Alternative Development.27
    > D&P is unfettered by the diplomatic niceties that often reign in government discourse. As such, the partisan perspectives of Canadian politicians and bureaucrats can be more directly expressed by CIDA’s contracted agents, like D&P. In this way, the Canadian government’s anti-Aristide bias rang through, especially loud and stridently clear, during D&P’s testimony to Parliament’s Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade (SCFAIT). At that March-2004 session, during the most brutal, early period of the coup, D&P’s top organizer and spokesperson on Haiti, Marthe Lapierre, shamelessly let loose — no less than eight times — with the Haitian elite’s derogatory epithet, “chimère,” to create an image of Aristide supporters as mere gangs of violent criminal thugs. She also pretended that Haiti’s “entire population was mobilized” against President Aristide:
    > “We’re not talking about a situation where a rebel group suddenly orchestrated Aristide’s departure…. [T]he Aristide government, since 2000, had gradually lost all legitimacy…. Gradually the people of Haiti began to react…. and as early as December 2002, partners of D&P. All these organizations took a position as early as December 2002 in support of Aristide’s departure; they were demanding he leave…. The entire population was mobilized…. People went down in the streets and for two months, there were practically daily demonstrations …in every major city…, where people were demanding that Aristide leave….. What happened is that the entire population turned against him. This was a movement for which there was unanimous support in Haiti, except in those areas armed by Aristide himself.”28 (Emphasis added.)
    > By saying that “the Aristide government” had “lost all legitimacy,” that the “entire population was mobilized” against Aristide and that “the entire population turned against him,” D&P conjures up an totally deceptive image of “unanimous support” for massive near-daily, panHaitian protests against the Lavalas government. This central myth runs through the propaganda of CIDA-funded “NGOs.” In her diatribe, D&P’s representative hid the reality that most Haitians supported Aristide. This massive, widespread peaceful movement­viciously libelled by D&P as mere “chimères” “armed by Aristide himself”­held frequent peaceful rallies that were consistently larger than anything CIDA’s anti-Aristide forces could ever muster. This is especially telling because these enormous pro-Aristide events were planned by poverty-stricken activists with no financial backing from U.S., Canadian or European government agencies. Meanwhile, as their anti-Aristide compatriots collected millions of dollars annually from foreign government benefactors, they were also generously aided by wealthy Haitian patrons who put the country’s powerful mass media at their disposal. This free publicity from corporate radio, newspapers and TV gave D&P’s anti-Aristide partners a significant advantage in drawing people to their events. (See pp.26-37.) However, despite this support, they always remained relatively miniscule when compared to pro-Aristide rallies, which by D&P and other CIDA accounts never occurred.
    > One of the many huge pro-Aristide rallies that D&P blindsided took place just three months before Ms. Lapierre’s hyperbolic speech to MPs. As the Miami Herald reported:
    > “Hundreds of thousands of jubilant Haitians swarmed the National Palace on New Year’s Day [2004] as they…embraced their embattled president’s vision of an improved and united Haiti.”29
    > But even after the 2004 coup there were other protests attended by tens of thousands of Aristide supporters. This is especially remarkable because following the regime change, the coup-installed government’s newly-militarized police force was inclined to shoot and kill such peaceful prodemocracy protesters, while UN peacekeepers­and CIDA-funded groups in Haiti and Canada­stood blithely by.
    > There are two curious, but unexplained, references in Ms. Lapierre’s speech to what she characterises as a turning point in Haitian social history after which “[t]he entire population was mobilized….[and] the entire population turned against” Aristide. She twice identifies that revolutionary moment as “December 2002.” What happened at that pivotal time is recounted by the Haïti Progrès newsweekly:
    > “Opposition leaders had predicted that tens of thousands would follow them on a march…on Dec. 3 [2002] to call for President Jean-Bertrand Aristide’s resignation. Instead, they had to beat a hasty retreat when faced with an angry multitude of counter-demonstrators which dwarfed their show of force….
    > “Furious at this setback, the ad hoc opposition…an alliance of politicians, businessmen and former Duvalierists [i.e., supporters of the 29-year Duvalier dictatorship], called for a general strike on Dec. 4. Haiti’s business associations, led by the Association of Haiti’s Industries and the Chamber of Commerce and Industry in Haiti, also issued a call for a Dec. 4 ‘warning strike.’…
    > “[They] issued a declaration denouncing Aristide’s government: ‘The employer associations ask the international community to take note …that the democratic process is seriously in danger.’…. Ironically, Haiti’s bourgeoisie proposes saving the ‘democratic process’ by dispensing with it; they want Aristide to step down.
    > “Despite the joint call and massive radio play, the general strike was a failure. Only large stores, gas stations and banks closed.”30
    > On the heels of these failures, leaders of the anti-Aristide movement “went back to the drawing board” in meetings “for three days in mid-December in the Dominican Republic” with the International Republican Institute, a pillar of the U.S. government’s National Endowment for Democracy. (See p.47.) What they drew up was the Group of 184. (See pp.50-53.)
    > “On Dec. 26 [2002], a new enlarged front was unveiled, claiming to have 184 institutions representing 12 key sectors of Haitian society… [including] dozens of obscure popular organizations whose authenticity merits investigation.”31
    > Ms. Lapierre’s tirade also exposed D&P’s positive view of the coup-empowered dictatorship. This view was shared by D&P’s Haitian partners and the Canadian government. In contrasting Aristide’s elected government with the “appointed” coup-regime, Lapierre stated that:
    > “what characterized President Aristide’s government was its inability to govern, which is not necessarily the case now. It seems to me the transitional government that has been appointed does have some ability to do that. Also, it is creating hope among the Haitian population, based on what we’ve observed.”32 (Emphasis added.)
    > This “hope” that D&P reportedly “observed” “among the Haitian population” was certainly not a feeling that the majority of Haitians were experiencing in those early weeks of the bloody coup regime. This sense of “hope”­no doubt felt by D&P’s partners following their success in deposing Aristide’s government­exemplifies just how out of touch D&P and its partners are from that country’s population, even as they profess their “preferential option for the poor.”33
    > D&P’s vision of how best to aid Haiti’s poor is amply illustrated in its reports during the pre-coup campaign to forcefully oust Haiti’s legitimate government. Although D&P’s clear goal was to depose the elected government, this CIDA-funded group was always careful to couch its efforts in terms of promoting democracy. To understand how D&P could rationalize this Orwellian contradiction, it is helpful to read their statement on the “notion” of electoral democracy:
    > “While Development and Peace supports the notion of the legitimacy of an elected president, it also believes that democracy cannot be restricted to coming to power in a democratic manner, but is also about the democratic exercise of power.”34
    > By this logic D&P tried to explain away its concerted efforts to overthrow Haiti’s democracy, as if they were promoting democracy. D&P’s double-think came through in its program for 2003-2006. Ironically called “Support for the Democratization of Development,” this document lays out D&P’s political analysis and dictates a plan of action for its Haitian partners:
    > “In the past, Haitian civil society has demonstrated tremendous vitality and resolve in putting an end to dictatorships…. These organizations must now gain strength so that they can become a pressure group capable of protecting and sustaining the country’s democratization process. The February 2002 conference of grassroots organizations held by …[D&P], in association with numerous partners, presents some hope for a revival of mobilization in this sector.”35 (Emphasis added.)
    > Clearly then, D&P’s efforts in 2002 and 2003 to build “stronger grassroots organizations,”36 were deliberately undertaken to “strengthen” its partners’ influence over Haitian “civil society” so that it would once again demonstrate their “resolve in putting an end to dictatorships.” D&P’s CIDA-funded goal of promoting a democracy by overthrowing it, hinged on its view of Aristide’s elected government as a “dictatorship.” As Ms. Lapierre unabashedly explained to MPs:
    > “Was the Aristide regime a democracy or a dictatorship? For me, the answer is clear: it was a dictatorship…. Indeed, that is how all of our partners in Haiti describe the regime.”
    > D&P’s CIDA-backed prayers for “a revival of mobilization” to depose the so-called Aristide “dictatorship,” were answered in “the last months of 2003” when, supposedly,
    > “people mobilized massively throughout Haiti for the departure of President Aristide…. Even after Aristide’s departure in February 2004, conditions did not significantly improve.”37
    > This reveals D&P’s impression that “conditions” actually did “improve,” though not “significantly,” after what they euphemistically call Aristide’s “departure” (i.e., after his kidnapping, exile and the 2004 coup d’état).
    > Source: The above is a 1600-word excerpt from a 5100-word article published in Press for Conversion! (issue #62). View the complete article here:
    > ——————————————————————————
    > More information on Press for Conversion! issues #60, #61 and #62 (all of which deal with the Canadian government’s nefarious role in Haiti’s 2004 coup), click on the links below:
    > #62 “Putting the Aid in Aiding and Abetting:
    > CIDA’s Agents of Regime Change in Haiti’s 2004 Coup”
    > #61 “CIDA’s Key Role in Haiti’s 2004 Coup :
    > Funding Regime Change, Dictatorship and Human Rights Atrocities, one Haitian ‘NGO’ at a Time”
    > #60 “A Very Canadian Coup in Haiti:
    > The Top 10 Ways that Canadas Government helped the 2004 Coup and its Reign of Terror”


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