Poor Man's Life

By Daily Guide

Everyday when I wake up in the morning, I put my hands up to the Heavens and give thanks to Almighty God for His everlasting mercies.

I was part of a group of people who travelled to the island nation of Dominican Republic, and a tour of some sugar cane plantations left me in a state of shock.

I witnessed the horrible life of migrant sugar cane cutters from the neighbouring country of Haiti.

The situation is not different from the colonial slave days.

Indeed, a song by Max Romeo (born Maxwell Livingston Smith), a Jamaican reggae  and  roots http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reggae  recording artist, vividly captured the conditions in his song titled, Poor Man's Life. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roots_reggae

Max Romeo, at the age of 14, worked under harsh conditions before embarking on his musical career.

It is estimated that around 500, 000 women, men and children are prisoners on sugarcane plantations in the Dominican Republic. Attracted by seasonal work which they believe to be lucrative, they find themselves enslaved by a few 'grand' families of the local sugarcane industry.

With their papers seized by the families, they are unable to escape. Some have been there for decades.

The first time I saw one of the Bateyes http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Batey_(sugar_workers (work camps built to house the people working in the sugar cane fields), I was devastated because of the squalid conditions.


Armed guard in a sugar cane field in the Dominican Republic. Credit: Walter Astrada

The ghettos, without water or electricity, accommodate the 'Braceros,' (seasonal slaves on sugar cane plantations and their families from Haiti.

Once you pass through the gates of the Bateys, there is no escape, the men work to exhaustion in the plantations while the women try to ensure the survival of their families, the children born to Haitian parents abandoned by both countries and condemned to slavery.

Every year, more than 20 000 Haitians cross the border with Dominican Republic to work in the 'Zafra season.'

Reports presented to some organizations working against modern-day enslavement stated that 'Recruited by the Buscones (beaters), the Braceros find their papers replaced by a worker's notebook delivered by the State Council of sugar. In the absence of a legal framework, the only law prevailing in the sugar cane fields is that dictated by the 'Capataces', (the superintendents) of the sugar companies. Although the workers suffer inhumane working conditions and poor treatment, the Braceros rarely try to run away. Terrorized by their wardens, deprived of their papers and of any means of communication, they are quickly reduced to silence and resignation. Those who try to escape are quickly recaptured by the guards and beaten with machete knives. Many mysteriously disappear following such attempts. Many have forgotten what it is like to be free.'

As you ponder over the lyrics of Max Romeo say a pray to God for the suffering sugar cane cutters of the Dominican Republic.

Max Romeo – Poor Man's Life Lyrics
Is there any hope for them? Is there any hope for us?

A poor man's life as I see it, is living cause he must

what are the chances of him making it to the top
when the forces are working hard to see to it he drops

Young men and women trying hard, can't get a job
little children on the street, they all should be in school still others in the fields working day and night while others walk around, it's a terrible sight

Is there any hope for them? Is there any hope for us?

A poor man's life as I see it, is living till he's dust

what are the chances of him making it to the top
when the forces are working hard to see to it he drops


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