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An experience to share...A beautiful sugar plantation in the Dominican Republic.


A visit to two of CAEI’s holiday activates for Haitian Sugar Cane Workers and their families

Bateyes Nuevo Cayacoa, and San José 18-19 of December 2014

Consorcio Azucarero de Empresas Industriales CAEI

Consortium of Industrial Sugar Companies


GOOOOOAAAALLLL echoed in the back of my mind as I imagined that I could hear some hidden Radio announcer exclaiming a score that had just happened by one of the women’s teams at the Annual Christmas Futbol Tournament sponsored by CAEI a large sugar cane company in the Dominican Republic. The women supporters of the goal maker jumped up and down as the ball hit the net. The goalie missed stopping the ball by only a few inches. While the young boys cheered they were a bit more reserved than the young women. The women jumped up and down shouting as they waved their hands and hugged each other.

This was the first of two days I would spend in the Bateyes that house some of the Haitian Sugar Cane workers and their families. The second day was a Seniors Christmas celebration with a lot of interesting things being served up beyond the food and drinks.


Thursday I got to see about 4 hours of Futbol/Soccer and was amazed that the company along with sponsoring this soccer tournament had coordinated ongoing soccer games during the year and actually had a certified coach who helped to train the various players in the art of the game. I was introduced to the coach but did not have much time to talk with him given the tournament’s activities.

My guide on these two days was Vicky Canto Directora de Comunidades Cañeras, Director of Sugar Cane Communities, who on both days made sure I got to the event and then went about doing the work that she had to catch up on for not only that day’s activities but the execution of the senior’s party the next day and other Holiday activities in the Bateyes. On both days I was allowed to roam about where ever I wanted and allowed to speak with whomever I wanted. And in the process met some great individuals. Once in a while Vicky or another employee might come by to check and see if I was okay. I was more than okay .. I was having fun.

This time the tournament had three levels of age groups of players of both genders. Later there would be medals and trophy’s to be handed out to the top three teams in each age and gender grouping. Most of the teams came from the Bateyes with the exception of a private school and a group of youth from an orphanage.

This was a festive event. Actually it was the first Futbol game I have gone to where good Dominican music was playing throughout the event with the game announcer trying at times to speak over the music. The music infected the spectators as they sang along or moved rhythmically to the music. Even I found my body on its own keeping time with music while my eyes were zeroed in on the game.

The conditions of the grass field were as good as or better than the fields that I had played American Football on in High School and one year in Junior College. Many times in rural areas folks just play on dirt fields with sharp rocks and other things strewn around. So it was a bit of a surprise to see such a good field.

Most of the players had on matching team jerseys and good Futbol shoes. All this provided by the Sugar


The day started with breakfast being served to the 150 plus players and spectators to be followed up with plenty of Gator Aide and later lunch. With all this food being served there was minimal trash around the area. There was also a tent and about 100 plastic chairs. As a guest, both my hosts and several young players ensured that I had a seat when I needed one.


The games were played at break neck speeds with hard high flying kicks sending the ball often high into the air. Passing was at a minimal and sometimes seemed to only happen by chance. Players bumped each other hard sometimes flipping over an opposing player or landing a kick on a player long after the ball had moved on. A foul had to be flagrant and super obvious before it was called and this along with some injuries would make the game to be paused ever so briefly. Spirits were running hard to keep up with the players and their emotions. We were all drawn to the excitement of the moment. You would have thought we were watching the WORLD CUP.

With all the hard body contact I did not witness overt anger or insults being hurled against an opposing team member? The players had come to play... and play hard they did. Several times there were sudden death penalty kicks deciding the winner. It is at this point that the spectators spilled onto the field and behind the goal as they watched these most intense moments. There was no ESPN or Jumbo screens to give us instant replays but we were there just a few feet away from the penalty kicker and the defender. Wow or double wow ... what a way to get a real sense of the tension and excitement of the game. We were all players in some sense since we all had made it on to the field. And I forgot who I was and cheered good plays and moaned bad shots or plays. I was having fun. I had lost my inhibitions and for a minute I was a Haitian Futbol Fanatico or fan.

This day as well as the following day I saw a photographer and video camera operator capturing all the day’s events. I spoke to the lead for this media crew and he told me that all these special events were all recorded. Later I would go onto the CAEI website to look for a special folder where I might find some of these images. I did find some images of the educational, health programs and some sports images . But nothing in depth about items like this tournament.

While perusing the CAEI web page I also found under the RIGHTS OF THE WORKER a pledge by the company for zero tolerance for Forced or Child Labor. Learning this I kept my antenna up for signs of these problematic labor issues. At the age of 11 I went to work alongside of my father in Las Animas Colorado so that my meager wages...same as my fathers would help to feed the many mouths (12 children in our family). I know what it is to work as a child. To be honest I felt like a man when I began working. By the age of 13 I had joined a migrant sheep shearing crew from Texas and left my home to travel the Dakotas for a summer of shearing sheep. Working alongside of my dad was easier than my running off with a crew to work in the Dakotas. In the Dakotas I was alone, far away from my family and working as a child but I felt like a man. I was tall for my age and enjoyed a hard day’s work. And I saved most of my meager wages to give to my mother upon my return. I must admit I lost one weeks wages when I got involved in a gambling game of dice. I did not play again that summer knowing that my family was counting on my wages to help buy clothes for the next years school term for me and my siblings.I know the signs of both conditions (child or forced labor) and knew that their ugly heads would surface if they were there amongst the workers in the Bateyes.


As I further went through the web page I found the sugar companies commitments to social service, educational programs, sports and health issues including a clinic. One woman I met told me about delivering her two children by cesarean and that she got care from the clinic. Another thing that got the Green Part of My Brain spinning was a bit I heard about the sugar company breeding a kind of wasp that would be released over the crops to eat certain insects. I mentioned that I would like to see this center where the wasps are being grown and if around I would like to see them being released. I hope this comes to pass in a future visit.

The Vice President of CAEI Alberto Potes, EVP was there for both days’ events. I was impressed that this man made the time to be there and on the day of the Futbol tournament. On that day he gave a good speech and handed out the medals and trophies to the top teams. I wondered if they had considered giving ribbons or shirts to all participants just as is done in special Olympic activities. That might be a good way to honor all of the participants. In my early sport days I would never medal. As I got older and learned to compete I was able to win ribbons, medals and other recognition. My senior in high school I got INSPIRATIONAL ATHLETE OF THE YEAR. I was not the best athlete but probably worked harder than others to accomplish what I was able to do which is letter in three sports and qualify for the State Track meet in the one mile run. I was much thinner then and had good knees.

At one point I saw the medals flying into the air much like the motor boards (graduation caps) at a USA High School or College Graduation. Happiness was in the air and the high flying medals were but meteors of the success of the day. As I watched these flying rockets I was invited by the Vice President to attend the next day’s Senior Celebration and Vicky Canto arranged my transportation at the request of the vice president.

My plan had been to spend a full day just interviewing workers about their work, living conditions and life in general. But this was the holiday season and not a time for in depth interviews. But I do hope that I will be able to interview a number of workers in a future visit. I feel much better when I get to interview workers and document what they share with me. And in doing these interviews I know that I will meet workers who remind me of my father and the many workers I have met as an organizer. And when you meet workers you get a rich view of their lives and the spirit that keeps them and their families strong.

As I watched the last two games of the Futbol Tournament a group of about 7 young women brought their chairs around me and talked to me about their lives and living in Bateyes. Martha or Marta, a young mother who did not look her 28 years... I at first thought her to be around 16 years of age. She soon without prompting began commenting on Vicky Canto whom they all seemed to know.” Vicky is good for us and helps us. She treats us all well and all equally. Yes she is strict but fair” Explained Martha. Just then Vicky gave a young boy of about 8 years of age a HIGH FIVE SLAP OF THE HANDS and a smile. .Martha pointed towards Vicky and the boy saying “see how she treats everyone equally with kindness”. Over the past visits I too had found Vicky to be a TOUGH COOKIE as they say but one who runs a tight ship but a good ship. I have seen this discipline and care of lead Doctors and Head Nurses who manage trauma units at the emergency rooms of hospitals. I have watched this woman Vicky lecture workers on the safety of the use of pesticide protective gear to giving stern direction to youth and then at another moment smiling and hugging children and adults. Having overheard some of Vicky’s phone and personal conversations I can see that she has a lot on her plate. Martha said “to some of us she is Mother and Father”. My oldest sister Maria had this same role over my parents’ 11 other children. Maria was most affectionate but most stern and direct... Over the years she has become known as the GENERAL... she made sure that we her soldiers did what was needed and on time. Or we were... well I will leave that level of punishment to your imagination or a story for another day…

Arriving at the event of the senior’s celebration the following day I ventured deep into the Labyrinth of the Sugar Cane world and at a Bateye called San Jose. It was great to arrive after a somewhat bumpy travel over dirt roads. Coming into some of the CAEI sugar fields and Bateye communities there is a security man who moves a metal bar that is across the road so that only those living and working in that area are allowed in. It is not much of a deterrent given that if you go 50 yards down the road you can just cut across the fields and you are in. I was with Dr. Antonio Custodio going back to Santo Domingo on Friday night when the guard was slow to open the gate. This prompted one of the women in the pickup with us who joked that perhaps they didn’t realize that he worked for the company. The Bateye Nuevo Cayacoa has no gate and is right next to a public road. This is where the Clinic, sports field, and administrative offices are located.

The Driver who was to drive me out to the Bateye San Jose on Friday had to make a stop to pick supplies for the day’s event and was one hour late in picking me up and then we had to slowly snake through the ever so slow and thick congested river of traffic of Santo Domingo. His vehicle was a dodge van filled with packaged drinks and other items for the celebration. He mentioned that one day when the companies CAEI’s ambulance was broken that he picked a woman who was seriously ill in one of the Bateyes and drove her carefully to the hospital..

By the time we arrived the senior’s party had begun... there were many plastic tables covered by nice white table cloths. The chairs were occupied by some wonderful faces belonging to seniors who live in the near by Bateyes. Tents sheltered the seniors from the hot sun and a light but short rain that would visit the event later in the afternoon.. As we arrived there was a wonderful choir wearing Red Santa Hats and matching uniforms and were already singing from a very sturdy stage which was sporting a well-designed set of metal stairs. This stage was five feet high and gave all the spectators a good view of all the action. The sound system was very good and had many mics or microphones.. This set up was better than most I have experienced at such similar events in communities in the states. I was again greeted by the vice president and was soon given a seat and began enjoying dancers, singers, the band and all the activities of the day.

Later I would marvel later about how comfortable I felt being there and of course it was my farm worker roots that made me feel at home and to see how respected and cherished were these senior Haitians.

Somewhere out of the crowd came a young woman with many apples that had been cut in half and they were cool and tasty. Now where did they produce these cold apples?? It seemed that these apples had just escaped a cold refrigerator somewhere close by ??. on a hot day a cold piece of delicious apple is most welcomed.

Every few minutes some youth would pass by with a large plastic bag snaring every bit of trash and keeping the area clean. This is always a problem at public events where food and drinks are being served.

During the process of the day I drank a lot of liquids and had the occasion to visit bathrooms and latrines that were very clean.

As the music played on several older women and men danced in slow motion their feet sliding across the dust and their smiles spreading across their faces as they moved in slow time to the music. I did a couple of dance steps with Vicky after I saw her dancing with a few older men who appreciated a couple of whirls with her.

Soon it was announced that the food had arrived as a maroon van (carrying the food ) pushed slowly through opening a space in the crowd much like Moses parting the red sea as it made its way towards the building where the food would be distributed..

As the first people began to form a line a frail old man made a move from the back of the tents to get in line... it was clear he was having trouble standing... out of nowhere Vicky arrived with a chair.. Helped the man to get seated... much to my relief... minutes later she brought him a plate of food and drink. That kindness touched me a lot knowing this is seen as deep respect in so many cultures.

And then Vicky embarrassed me by bringing me a plate while others were still in line. I normally like to wait till others are fed and then I get in line and get some of what is left. My daughter Aviva knows this about me and knows that I would always want to know that others are fed first before I get served. I was given a great plate of food with a big piece of chicken, rice, steamed vegetables and maduro a plantain cooked in banana leaves. Vicky untied my banana leaf delight much like she had done for the older man. The Maduro was the best I have had in the longest of time. I could have eaten three more of these wonderful maduros.

To my left I saw an older woman sharing some of her food with a young women who I later found out was called Catalina and a mother of two.. I noticed people approaching her as she pulled objects out of the bodice of her blouse. I soon discovered what she was doing.. She was selling cigarettes one at a time. I got her attention and she came over to visit me probably thinking I wanted to buy a cigarette. I was very full and knew I could not eat my huge piece of Chicken and vegetables and asked if she could help me with this food eating task. She gladly took it and shared it with a couple of other individuals with whom she sat some 30 feet away.

Later she would come and talk to me and introduce me to her two children. About that time two of the women whom I had met at the Futbol Tournament the day before came by to chat. It was good to know they wanted to talk with me some more.

Eventually I got to speak to a couple of the older men... one who was celebrating his 60th birthday. I asked why they had worked at this company and not left for another place of work. They simply said they liked working there, and that they appreciated the pay and the treatment they received.

I met employees of CAEI that worked with the youth in the educational and cultural programs. One promoter I had met months ago. Another young woman I learned had graduated as an attorney and teacher and was now working with the social programs of the Sugar Company.


Vicky pointed out an older woman whom she said has been HIV positive for 20 years and has gotten medicine and treatment from the clinic run by the company. Also she said there are several other older individuals who also had this illness. Access to medical assistance is a worldwide issue of concern not just in the developing countries but in so called developed Countries such as the USA. And it was good to know that this Sugar Company had established a health clinic for its workers. Now that also is on my list for a visit to interview the medical staff. I did stop by the clinic on this visit but it was closing and all the staff were gone.

I looked again to see if there was some publicity promotion or chest pounding on the company’s web page about this particular medical assistance. And I could not find the specifics that some others would promote in the nonprofit world ( and I would include myself on this list of folks who would promote this work in order to get more funding) not to mention other corporate bodies that would expect public recognition and awards for work that was important to do for no other reason than it was just and fair. But this was almost a hidden secret of CAEI. The videos that I have found in Sostenibilidad-Sustainability in their Social Responsibility section give short examples of their programs but not enough detail for a viewer to get a real flavor of the programs.

I did again run into a complaint procedure that they have for the workers. At this point I may have to file my own formal complaint. I have tried to get a CAEI shirt and hat but my soft appeals have produced nothing. I guess they are probably waiting for me to sign up for the next harvest. I don’t think there is much of a chance of me doing that given my lack of muscles and stamina these days. This sugar cane work is hard and not for everyone. Perhaps one day I will borrow a super sharp machete and try to cut some cane. Hopefully I will not hurt myself and not give too much reason for the workers to laugh at me.

I was still on the hunt for the signs of child or forced labor and could not find it. No signs... Nada...

Instead this day I found seniors and others who had been bused in from different communities for this special event very happy about being there. Many of the men sported their work shirts which were probably their finest shirts and some were even wearing their work hats. On the back these shirts was stenciled the years of that particular harvest. It seems some folks who were not from the Bateyes snuck in to be part of the festive day. No one was turned away. On the senior event there were but a few people who were not seniors in the crowd.

Somehow I got to talking about violence in the Bateyes which happens like in any other sector of society. Vicky said “we have zero tolerance for violence where a machete is involved and the use of a Machete will get one removed immediately from the Bateye.” Having worked internationally I have seen the serious damage that a sharpened machete could do when used in a personal fight. As a young Chicano Warrior in the old days we did a lot of damage to each other, with knives, brass knuckles and chains. It would have been much worse if we would have had Machetes.

It was a wonderful hot and dusty day and I did not notice how fast the day had gone by.

In the USA when I go to these events I am often asked to speak and here I was just a spectator and that felt wonderful... I was watching listening and eyes and heart were being filled by the images and the music of the moment.

I exchanged phone numbers with a number of the individuals … but don’t expect them to call... and for sure they will not email me… since I think that their access to email or computers is probably nonexistent. I don’t know if this sugar company has a computer program but this might be something to consider. This would not only be a good educational tool but a good way for students see other parts of country and world without leaving home. And eventually they could see their homeland Haiti and perhaps one day skype and be able to see the faces of their loved ones. In my work in the 90”s with gangs in El Salvador that giving gang members access to the internet helped us in all aspects of our work. Perhaps educational computers exist but I have not seen them.

It would also be good for a movie night to be held in the Bateyes where the workers and their families could see the videos and slide shoes of the activities of the year. When I taught head start... I found that the parents loved these informal movies no matter how basic they were. In those days all I had was an 8 millimeter camera but the people loved watching the images more than once. Also it might be good to put up pictures of the various events in enclosed bulletin boards. If you don’t enclose them I have found that pictures have a way of walking away.

Soon the celebration ended and the buses and trucks came to take the seniors and others back to their respective Bateyes... the stage was struck, and chairs, tables and other items packed up .And soon the site was being deserted except for a few local hangers on.


Soon I too was leaving back on the Road back to Santo Domingo with some good memories of two days with workers and staff of CAEI. Dr. Antonio Custodio who works out of the Central Office in the Bateye Nuevo Cayacoa was my driver for both days back to Santo Domingo. I felt sorry for him given that we faced that slow river of holiday traffic both days as we entered the capitol city. Someone joked to me that there are probably more cars in the country than there are Dominicans. Dr. Custodio had to be my chauffer in addition to all of the work he had to do around these events. The holidays added more work and many more hours for the employees.

Experiencing these events gives one an appreciation for others and an appreciation of life an all that it has to offer.


In all my years as a farm worker and associating with farm worker movements I have not seen a major agricultural company weather in the USA or internationally do anything like these holiday activities that I had just witnessed. At some point it would be good for me to discover how the decisions were made to develop such interesting and wonderful programs. At the same time I have seen these kinds of community events done by NGO’s. And we would expect that of these nonprofit organizations.

Those two days in the Bateyes set me in the right mood for the many holiday events that I would be able to enjoy in the days to come.

Written by

Magdaleno “leno” Rose-Avila

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