Last night I watched The Price Of Sugar and learned a lot more about the dangers of sugar, but this time from the production end of sugar consumption. The documentary, filmed over a two year period ending in 2006 on the sugar plantations of Dominican Republic, documents the conditions under which Haitians are exploited for sugar cane production.
Vulnerable Haitians, lured by promises of jobs and a productive life, are smuggled across the border into Dominican Republic, stripped of their legal papers and shunted into bateyes, company villages. Without legal status, they are fully exploited as labourers, and live under appalling conditions, with little freedom of movement because of their ‘non’ status. Most of the bateyes lack schools, medical facilities, running water and sewer systems. Company provided housing is only politely described as substandard. Disease and death rates are high, particulary amongst children and for women during childbirth.
Those who stand up to and speak out against these conditions face serious sanctions and sometimes disappear. A clandestine graveyard regularly has newly turned earth for the disappeared who are either courageous in their demands for rights to human dignity or who meet ‘accidental’ deaths due to physical assaults during the journey from border crossing to transportation to bateyes.
Father Christopher Hartley, a spanish priest, is featured in the documentary. He has worked tirelessly and in dangerous conditions in an effort to change the conditions under which these Haitians live and labour. His desire is to bring social justice to the bateyes.
The powerful family behind the sugar cane plantations of Dominican Republic, the Vicini family, attempted to have distribution of the documentary prevented.
Father Christopher was reassigned, by the church, to Ethiopia shortly after the documentary was finished filming.
Sugar is a subsidized commodity in the United States. The Domincan Republic has a preferential agreement with the United States for the sale of its sugar.
Sugar is not a subsidized industry in Canada but exists under world market conditions. Sugar cane refined in Canada is purchased from Central and South America.
I do not pretend to understand the politics or the economics of sugar production, protectionist measures in the sugar industry, national sugar policies or their affect on the ill-advised NAFTA. Nor do I care to spend my time understanding these issues. I do understand social injustice, exploitation of vulnerable peoples, the power of the rich, the purchase of political will, the systemic barriers in creating change in such systems, and how the mighty dollar is the motivation to bring to market poison for our bodies.
My sugar consumption drives this industry.
Though I have questions about The Price Of Sugar, I do not need to pose them here. Nor do they detract from the human tragedy that plays out in the name of soda pop, gatorade and doughnuts.
The Price Of Sugar is a documentary you should watch.