Sugar Plantations

Dominican Republic Table of Contents

Most sugar mills and cane fields were concentrated in the southeast coastal plains. Three large groups owned 75 percent of the land: the State Sugar Council (Consejo Estatal del Az˙carCEA ), Casa Vicini (a family operation), and Central Romana (formerly owned by Gulf and Western Corporation). The government created CEA in 1966, largely from lands and facilities formerly held by the Trujillo family.

In the mid-1980s, there were roughly 4,500 colonos (sugar planters) who owned some 62,500 hectares. These small to middle-sized landholders were independent growers who sold their harvested cane to the sugar mills. Although the level of prosperity of the colonos varied significantly, some were prosperous enough to hire laborers to cut their cane and to buy cane from smaller producers. Their actual number fluctuated widely in response to the market for cane. There were only 3,200 in 1970; this number had more than doubled by 1980, but it had then declined by mid-decade.

Some colonos were descendants of former small mill owners driven out of business during the expansion of sugar production in the late nineteenth to the early twentieth century. The parents, or grandparents, of others were either subsistence farmers, who had switched to cane cultivation in response to rising demand for sugar, or successful field workers. Like virtually all Dominican farmers, colonos faced land fragmentation that increased geometrically with each generation.

Sugar mills continued to be a major source of work for rural Dominicans, although direct employment peaked at a high of roughly 100,000 workers in the early 1970s. By the mid-1980s, the mills employed approximately 65,000 workers. The sugar industry generated considerable indirect employment as well; some observers estimated that as much as 30 percent of the population was directly or indirectly affected by sugar production. The 40,000 to 50,000 cane cutters constituted the bulk of the work force. Most were immigrant Haitians or their descendants. In the sugar industry's highly stratified work force, there were clear divisions among cane cutters, more skilled workers (largely Dominicans), clerical staff, and managers. Workers' settlements (bateyes) dotted the mill and the surrounding fields; they usually included stores, schools, and a number of other facilities.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress