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#483: Haitians' life is bitter in Dominicansugarcane fields (fwd)


Haitians' life is bitter in Dominicansugarcane fields 
10:11 p.m. Sep 13, 1999 Eastern By Jennifer Bauduy 

 NEIBA, Dominican Republic, Sept. 14 (Reuters) - Melki  Bastol was born
in the Dominican Republic. So were his parents, grandparents and
great-grandparents.  Bastol speaks the same rapid, fluent Spanish as
other   Dominicans and has spent his entire life within his homeland's 
borders. But he will never truly be considered a citizen of the     
Dominican Republic because his ancestors came from Haiti. Like thousands
of other Haitian Dominicans, he has worked for years for the Dominican
government sugar monopoly. He began putting in long days in the cane
fields at the age of eight.  Now he is 18 and out of work, laid off
after a decade of chopping cane. And, after a summer of army raids
targeting  people of Haitian descent, he and his neighbours live in
growing  fear of being dragged from their homes and deported to       
neighbouring Haiti, a country many have never seen. Bastol lives on one
of the estimated 200 hardscrabble migrant worker camps called
``bateyes'' in the Dominican Republic. Batey 5, his home, is east of
Neiba in the southwestern   Dominican province of Bahoruco. Eighty
percent of the 2,000 people crowded into the batey's  mud huts and wood
shacks are, like Bastol, Dominicans by  birth who are unable to obtain
the papers necessary to enjoy  the benefits of citizenship because they
are Haitian by descent. ``I need an identity card, with an identity card
you can go anywhere. If not the soldiers can send you to Haiti,'' Bastol
 said. He would like to move to the capital, Santo Domingo, and     
work in construction, but without an identity card, or ``cedula,''he is
afraid to travel.  Although Dominican law says children born to legal
residents of the Dominican Republic are Dominican citizens, custom
forces residents of Haitian descent to gather a dozen different        
documents including school attendance certificates, church certificates
of baptism, letters from all relevant civil authorities and parents'
marriage certificates or death certificates to prove  their identity. So
far Bastol has managed to obtain only one. 


The treatment of Haitian sugar workers by Dominican authorities has long
been an international scandal. Human rights groups regularly publish
reports charging widespread discrimination against them. Stemming from
Haiti's 19th century occupation of its neighbour on the island of
Hispaniola, bitter relations between the two countries reached their
nadir in 1937 when Dominican dictator  Rafael Trujillo ordered the
massacre of 30,000 Haitians in  towns along the border.  The Dominican
government eventually paid reparations to the government of Haiti for
that slaughter. But raids and deportation  never ceased. After working
from dawn to dusk during the sugar season, Haitians have repeatedly been
shipped out of the Dominican Republic after the harvest. The two
countries have established normal diplomatic relations only in the last
three years. They had been so distant that mail between them was routed
through Miami. Last year, an  estimated 14,000 Haitians were
repatriated.  ``We can deport people who are illegal,'' Silvio Herasme
Pena,the Dominican ambassador to Haiti, told Reuters in an interview  
in Port-au-Prince. ``It is not a violation to pick up a Haitian who   
is in the Dominican Republic illegally -- no legal identification,    
no passport, no working papers, nothing -- and send them back  to Haiti,
that is not a violation.''  Haitians can become Dominican citizens if
they have the proper paperwork, the ambassador said. ``The problem is
not in Santo Domingo, the problem is with Haitian disorganization. In
Haiti nobody is registered. In the Dominican Republic Haitians are     
also not registered,'' he said. 


''The father is not registered, the grandfather is not registered,
the mother is not registered, the grandmother is not registered. The
question is, 'Who are you?' This is the problem. It is a problem of the
disorganization of Haitian society.'' Dominican authorities fear mass
migration from the Western  Hemisphere's poorest nation, which lies west
of the Dominican Republic on the Caribbean island. Though poor, with an
average income of just $1,900 per year, the Dominican Republic is a land
of opportunity for Haitians, whose homeland  struggles with a 70 percent
unemployment rate and a $250 annual income. Haitian cane cutters who
cross the border are paid about $4.00  per day. The annual trauma that
follows the end of the season has been  made far worse this year. The
Dominican government has announced that it will privatise its
state-owned sugar mills,raising Haitian workers' normal fears about the
future to panic that the change will lead to mass deportations.     
``We are fearing the worst -- a cleansing of the bateyes and sending
back all the people who are not Dominican,'' said Pierre Ruquoy, a
Belgian priest who works in the bateyes of Neiba. He said even obtaining
the coveted cedula does not  protect Dominicans who appear Haitian.   
This June, soldiers raided the camp at Guazara, a village near the town
of Barahona. ``They stole everything. They stole bagsof rice, beans,
tools, everything the people had. They forced  them to undress and then
made them roll around in the dust like donkeys,'' Ruquoy said. The
soldiers took the families to a barracks and announced that anyone with
Dominican papers would not be deported. But when the detainees presented
their cards, the soldiers ripped them up and deported the entire group
to Haiti. `They all came back because they are all either born here or
have been here for more than 20 years,'' Ruquoy said. ``But they were
stripped of all their belongings and documents.'' In Neiba in August
soldiers rounded up Haitians from the streets and put them in prison
before deporting them. `You feel like a prisoner. You can't go out,''
said Andrea Remi, 66, who lives on Batey Isabel, near Batey 5. ``I have
three kids, one is in Barahona, one is in the capital. I have 
grandchildren there, but I can't go visit them,'' she said. Remi was
born in 1933 and has been trying unsuccessfully since she was 18 to get
her Dominican identity card.