Batey (sugar workers' town)

A batey (plural is bateyes) is a company town where sugar workers live. They can be found in Cuba and the Dominican Republic.

Sugar mill in Ingenio Consuelo, Dominican Republic.

In Cuba and the Dominican Republic, the basic conglomerate unit of a sugar production is usually called an ingenio. An ingenio consists of a central administrative office, a sugar cane mill, a sugar refinery, the town around the office and refinery, sugar fields (campos de caña), and miscellaneous production equipment like trucks, trains, tractors, weighing scales, and housing for workers, usually in what is called a batey.

Canefields beside a batey near Ingenio Consuelo, Dominican Republic.

A batey is a company town consisting of barracks and a few houses. Bateyes vary in size considerably. They are located close to cane fields so that groups of workers can live nearby to the site of their labor.

Dwellings on a batey in Holguín, Cuba.

Dominican Republic

Every year since 1933, seasonal immigrants from Haiti have arrived to work the sugar harvest in the Dominican Republic. The migrants are lodged in rooms at the batey sometimes with no facilities and expected to work cropping sugar cane in long days with hard hours. In the past, Dominican heads of state paid Haitian heads of state a finder's fee to round up large numbers of Haitians.

These days, individual ingenios and land owners (colonos) pay headhunters (buscones), a fee for each cane cutter (picador) the headhunter provides. A headhunter may entice the prospective labourer with promises of a work permit, and often requires a large fee from the prospective immigrant. When immigrants arrive, they may find that they are not free to leave the batey until they finish the labor, and that the conditions are absolutely deplorable, even when they can get paid many times more than what they had previously received in Haiti.

Over time, some of these migrants have stayed through the six months that follow the cane harvest (zafra), called "dead time" (tiempo muerto), and have started families with Haitian women that have migrated as well. Bateys are unique in culture and language in their mix of which is Haitian and which is Dominican.

Kitchen facilities in a dwelling on a batey.

The Dominican government has historically provided fewer public services to bateys than to similarly sized communities in the rest of the country. The bateys were regarded as exceptions to the country's governance system. It was often left to the State Sugar Council (CEA: Consejo Estatal de Azúcar) or private companies to provide basic services, a responsibility that all too often they did not fulfill. Bateys were often still regarded as places where only Haitians (non-citizens) live.

Since the Haitians who originally filled the bateys were not legal immigrants, their children have often been denied primary schools on bateys trying to get them Dominican citizenship.

School established on a batey near Consuelo, Dominican Republic.

In the past, sugar was a profitable industry. However, the Dominican sugar industry is no longer competitive, and when combined with the historical lack of educational and health services to these communities, the low wages have tended to make bateys some of the poorest communities in the country.

The current trend in the Dominican Republic is for the ingenios to stop production, and thus the only source of income for the community and for the bateys to very slowly transform themselves into new sorts of communities. Los Alcarrizos in the Santo Domingo province is a good example of something that used to be a batey but now is a municipality which survives through jobs in the area and in Santo Domingo.

External links

  • Beyond the Bateyes, a 1996 report by the National Coalition for Haitian Rights
  • Batey Relief Alliance
  • The Batey Foundation
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