1. Introduction
  2. Hispaniola
  3. Zafra: Sugar Harvest
  4. Bateys
  5. Statelessness
  6. Crossover
  7. Conclusion
Sarah Tilotta

Bittersweet Bateys

A documentary study on sugar and statelessness in the Dominican Republic, by Sarah Tilotta

Bittersweet Bateys
A documentary study on sugar and statelessness in the Dominican Republic, by Sarah Tilotta

In the Dominican Republic, the sugar cane industry is entwined with the human rights issue of statelessness, primarily afflicting those of Haitian descent. This project presents a multimedia documentary study of statelessness in Dominican cane communities called 'bateys'. 

Dominican Batey in Details

Dominican Batey in Details

A machete, Presidente beer bottle, and softballs are strewn across a dominoes table. These details represent icons of life in a Dominican batey, or cane community: the ubiquitous tool used for cutting sugar cane, the favorite national beer, baseball, and dominoes.


Explore points on the map to learn more geographic and historical context on the relationship between the two nations of Hispaniola.

Two Nations, One Island

The island of Hispaniola is situated between the Caribbean Sea and Atlantic Ocean, approximately 700 miles from Miami, Florida. Like its island neighbors of Cuba, Jamaica, and Puerto Rico, the modern history of Hispaniola is wrought with colonialism, violent power shifts, and slavery. 

Unlike its neighbors, Hispaniola is made up of two distinct countries: Haiti and the Dominican Republic. Haitians speak Haitian Kreyol on the western third of the island, while Dominicans speak Spanish on the eastern two thirds of the island. 

DR from Above

DR from Above


The legacy of colonialism and slavery on Hispaniola has resulted in an ideology of antihaitianismo, or anti-Haitianism. Hispanic Caribbean Studies scholar Ernesto Sagas calls antihaitianismo “ideological apartheid within the confines of a small island”, in which, “Haiti and things ‘Haitian’ are scorned and rejected by Dominican society.” Dominican writer and historian Hugo Tolentino Dipp theoreticizes that Haitian’s darker skin color plays a role in identifying the group as targets for discrimination in the DR. However, he believes the root cause lies in maintaining colonial class structure and economic dominance, via sugar production.

Bracero and Capitan

Bracero and Capitan

Zafra: Sugar Harvest

Zafra is a Spanish word describing the six-month cane harvest season in the DR and Cuba. In the DR, the zafra runs from December or January to June or July. Cane cutters, also called "braceros" are assigned fields to cut. Some fields of cane are green, while others are brown. The brown fields have been burnt to minimize the leafy underbrush, leaving only the cane stalks to be cut and hauled to nearby ingenios, or sugar mills. July through November is considered “tiempo muerto,” or the dead season, in which there is no cane to be cut, and no work for cane cutters. 

Cane Work

Since colonial times in the DR, sugar plantations have been a “capitalist, agro-exporting operation that required coercive force to maintain a profitable level of production,” says Sagas. The economically-driven power dynamic has persisted through today in the form of low wages and long hours for the physically-demanding, hazardous work.


Use arrows to navigate through the Cane Work slideshow above.

As documented in a September 2013 report by the U.S. Department of Labor, only 55% of sugarcane cutters surveyed harvested "sufficient sugarcane to equal or exceed the minimum wage”, set at a mere $3.08 per eight-hour work day. This failure to meet the minimum wage is in part blamed on the sugar industry’s practice of paying workers for the weight or area of cane cut, as opposed to an hourly or day rate. Workers believe this method is often manipulated in favor of the cane companies, making it even more difficult to feed their families. Furthermore, workers are subject to a social security deduction from each paycheck; the report states that the deductions “may result in undocumented workers being paid less than they are legally due, to the extent that they are unable to access benefits to which their deductions contributed.” In other words, cane workers are required to pay into a pension system from which they will never receive the benefits.

Waiting for a hitch

Waiting for a hitch

A cane worker waits with a load of cut cane outside a sugar mill near Conseulo.


‘Bateys’ can also be spelled ‘bateyes’ and pronounced ‘buh-tays’ and ‘buh-tay-yez” respectively.

Cane & Community

Cane & Community

A truck hauling cane passes through Batey Margarita. January 2014. 

Bateys were created in the early 20th century as seasonal housing for temporary Haitian cane laborers. They often resembled army barracks. Cane workers were given temporary work visas and restricted to the batey until the zafra finished, then transported back to Haiti. However, over the decades, many Haitian seasonal workers chose to stay in the bateys after the zafra ended, for various reasons. These cane workers became permanent residents known as “viejos”, or “the old ones”. 

Many viejos settled down with Dominican women or brought Haitian wives across the border to start families. Today there are two types of bateys; the barracks-style housing for men who come seasonally from Haiti, and viejo bateys that more closely resemble small villages, with rows of single rooms that often accommodate entire families. Both are constructed and purportedly maintained by the cane companies that employ the workers. 

Use arrows to navigate through the Bateys slideshow above.

Both types of bateyes are constructed of inexpensive materials, primarily concrete, and perpetually overcrowded. Many bateys lack a source of local potable drinking water and adequate sanitation. For lack of access to nutritious foods, batey residents are undernourished; children and adults habitually suck the abundant raw cane to supplement low-calorie diets, leading to other health issues associated with malnourishment and high sugar intake.

In daily batey routine, men go to the fields for 10-12 hours per day. Because cane work is mostly restricted to men, women’s employment opportunities are limited. They generally lack the means, skills, education, and legitimacy to find work outside of the bateys. For this reason, they spend much of their time cooking, cleaning, and taking care of small children.

Batey Beats


As defined by the UN Refugee Agency, “statelessness refers to the condition of an individual who is not considered as a national by any state.” Approximately half of the 460,000 Haitians in the DR are undocumented and considered stateless.

Manecio Masellis on Being Stateless

Those, like Manecio Masellis, who have been denied nationhood, feel as if they have been denied a civic identity. Stateless individuals, numbering 12 million worldwide, are excluded from civil privileges attached to citizenship, such as access to health care, education, entry into a formal workforce, obtaining a driver’s license, owning a home, legal marriage, pension, and freedom of movement. 


Undocumented children in the DR are permitted to attend school between ages 5-14, but can not enter secondary schooling without Dominican identity cards. With few opportunities for upward mobility, it is difficult for batey communities to stress education as a realistic priority.



Two Haitian-Dominican boys color under a poster of the Dominican forefathers in a classroom in Batey Eskuarduna. Behind them is a poster with a list of personal rights including: the right to a name, nationality, health, labor protection, education, and equality.

Health Care

Access to health is also limited to the undocumented of the bateys. Mothers can not obtain birth certificates for their children. Elderly must travel by motorbike to distant hospitals in municipalities. Many rely on American missionary organizations for basic health services such as vision and dentistry. 

Use arrows to navigate through the Health Care slideshow above.


Haiti and the DR rely on one another. The Dominican state requires a cheap supply of Haitian labor to fill undesirable jobs, while Haitians are desperate for work opportunities outside their impoverished homeland. The Dominican sugar industry particularly depends on a seasonal Haitian workforce, and, more recently, generations of undocumented Haitians born in the DR.

In the aftermath of the Haitian earthquake in 2010, the DR came to Haiti's aid. However, with the outbreak of cholera drifting over the border and the threat of desperate Haitians streaming in, the Dominican constitution was amended to restrict Haitian immigration and retroactively deny citizenship to Dominicans of Haitian descent back to 1929. 

Racial profiling and brutality against Haitians by Dominican law enforcement is common, especially outside the confines of the bateys. Dr. Mario Jacobs is an immigration and human rights lawyer at Centro de Atencion Jesus Peregrino in Consuelo, an advocacy center for cane workers' issues run by Scalabrinian nuns. Dr. Jacobs represents victims of police brutailty and racial profiling in cases such as that of Manuel Silla, pictured below. Silla was shot by a Dominican officer with a pellet gun for failure to stop on a dark road in December 2013, and received debillitating nerve damage from his injuries. Dr. Jacobs says that police brutality cases against Haitians, like Silla, is common in the DR. The citizenship status in limbo of Haitian-Dominicans muddles the process of seeking justice in these cases. 

Use arrows to navigate through the Discrimination slideshow above.


Despite a bloody past and persistent antihaitian sentiments, Haitians and Dominicans share many cultural values. Dominican and Haitian men have a mutual love for cock fighting; a sport that symbolically embodies the violence and territorialism characterizing the history of the two countries. Baseball is an ever-present activity across the DR, including in the bateys. Young Dominicans and Haitian-Dominicans dream of being drafted by American teams. The is especially true around the talent hub of San Pedro de Macoris, where many of the bateys documented in this project are located. Both groups also take great pride in hair grooming as a social activity among men, women, and children, alike. Areas of cultural crossover offer opportunities for mutual understanding and appreciation between Dominicans and Haitian-Dominicans. 

Use arrows to navigate through the Cultural Crossover slideshow above.


It is important to note that, although they inhabit an island, Haiti and the DR do not exist in a geopolitical bubble. The cane industry in the DR and its systematic exploitation of workers thrives on demand for sugar abroad, particularly in the United States. Special trade agreements between the DR and the U.S. have existed since 1891, creating quotas for Dominican sugar exported to the U.S. and reducing tariffs on American goods imported to the DR. This relationship has continued through the present day, implicating the U.S. Department of Labor and American consumers of Dominican sugar through the Dominican Republic-Central America-United States Free Trade Agreement. Terms of the agreement have been ammended to threaten withdrawal of American business if cane companies do not come into compliance with human rights laws and standards. Still, in 2013, the U.S. Department of Labor released a report that found, "evidence of apparent and potential violations of labor law in the Dominican sugar sector concerning:

  • acceptable conditions of work with respect to minimum wages, hours of work, and occupational safety and health;
  • minimum age for the employment of children and the prohibition and elimination of the worst forms of child labor; and
  • a prohibition on the use of any form of forced or compulsory labor."
Sugar on the Shelves

Sugar on the Shelves

Bags of white and brown sugar are stocked on the shelves of Dominican box store "Jumbo" in San Pedro de Macoris, Jan. 8, 2014. The megastore is financially associated with the Vicinis, an influential Dominican family that owns one of the two largest private sugar production operations in the country, and has been repeatedly criticized for poor treatment of cane workers.

The report's findings reflect the status quo of batey conditions on the ground, despite media attention and international backlash following the September 23, 2013 Dominican Constitutional Court ruling. A pressing concern over the future of Haitian-Dominicans' citizenship status is how the group will be treated as the economy gradually decreases dependence on the sugar industry. With increased mechanization in sugar production, and growth in skilled sectors such as tourism, the future of Haitian-Dominican cane cutters is uncertain. 

When cane workers are no longer needed to power shrinking cane industry and large expanses of cane fields go unplanted, will Haitian-Dominicans be allowed to leave the bateys and integrate into Dominican society? Or will antihaitianism persist, forcing Haitian-Dominicans to shift into other undesirable or illegitimate sectors of the economy? Or, perhaps worse, will they be deported to a destitute, unfamiliar country? In our ever-globalizing society, these questions remain to be answered by Dominican policy-makers, and an international community concerned with increasing issues of statelessness and fair trade worldwide.

Cane Fire

Cane Fire

This project was produced by Sarah Tilotta in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the Master of Arts degree from the School of Visual Communication in the Scripps School of Communication at Ohio University in Athens, Ohio, 2014.

Masters Committee Members: Stan Alost (chair), Lawrence Hamel-Lambert, and Sam Girton.

Copyright 2014 Sarah Tilotta & Ohio University