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Fourteen years ago, the Dominican businessman Rafael Emilio Alonzo Luna got a truck, traveled to the Haitian border, picked up about 55 Haitian workers, packed them in, and took them to his estate 200 miles away so they could peel dry coconuts for him to sell. This odyssey had the blessing of authorities in both Haiti and the Dominican Republic (DR), who make a business out of exploiting human beings.
Alonzo Luna quickly amassed a fortune and put more Haitians to work in inhumane conditions at two coconut processing plants.
In order to avoid paying his workers wages and benefits owed to them, Alonzo Luna recently declared bankruptcy. Taking advantage of the fact that most of the workers are undocumented, he left them out in the cold, ignoring any kind of labor laws.
Moved by the anger that anyone would feel in this situation, these workers took courageous and decisive action to demand their rights. More than a hundred of them, some with their families, traveled to Santo Domingo this past Dec. 14 to set up camp in front of the Ministry of Labor.
This occupation, the first of its kind in the DR, brought retaliation from all the main government ministries, especially from immigration officials who accused the workers of “disturbing the public” and threatened them with deportation.
Against all odds, they stayed put for four weeks. Often hungry, they lasted through sun and rain, fair weather and foul.
The Haitian Embassy’s personnel in the DR remained silent. Some labor bureaucrats showed up at the site, accompanied by the mainstream press, and said that the workers’ presence was causing sanitation and other problems. Representatives of some NGOs also turned up; they advised the workers to leave. Those from the International Organization for Migration, sent by the UN, were full of promises through which they convinced the workers to dismantle their camp. And so they did.
Mounted on buses like beasts, they were taken to a site 20 miles from the capital and lodged in a parking lot offered by the brother of a lawyer who is providing legal counsel. There they will wait until March 21 for a decision from the labor courts; a ruling in their favor is doubtful.
One should not have to beg for solidarity; it is the duty of every activist. But the Haitian workers have not gotten support from organizations that claim to be working-class advocates, not even from the Left in Haiti and the DR. Nationalism and the loss of workers’ traditions influence them more than their class obligations do.
The Dominican organization Nucleus for a Revolutionary Internationalist Party (NUPORI), however, is doing our militant duty. We have stood in solidarity with the workers since we learned of their valiant decision.
We urged support from others and we provided food, water, medicine, cleaning products, bedspreads, and tents. At the same time, we denounced their boss and the authorities from both countries. And we are continuing to call for solidarity on the part of those who claim to be champions of the working class. The workers are thankful for gifts sent by comrades of the Freedom Socialist Party in the U.S., the Socialist Workers Party (POS) in Mexico, and other friends.
In spite of their difficulties, they are still fighting and teaching Dominican, Haitian, and world workers an important lesson about the need to develop new methods, nationally and internationally, by which to revive the tradition of struggle of the world working class. By doing so, we can defeat capitalism — and on its ruins, build socialism with a political system of workers’ democracy.
Hugo Cedeño is a leader in NUPORI and retired sociology professor at the Autonomous University of Santo Domingo.
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