The Price of Sugar


The tainted relationship between the dessert on our tables and the suffering of those who produce it gets a horrifying workout in Bill Haney’s multi-layered account of Haitian cane-cutters in the Dominican Republic. On one level, The Price of Sugar is a story of the struggle between Haiti and the Dominican Republic, two poor nations who share the same island—a conflict made manifest in the de facto enslavement of Haitian migrant laborers on Dominican sugar plantations. There they work long hours under appalling conditions for no pay, supervised by armed guards employed by powerful family-owned Dominican companies who hold the government in their pockets. Those same powers foment resentment among ordinary Dominicans against Father Christopher Hartley, a Catholic priest who lives among the Haitians, wrings concessions for them out of a reluctant government, and tries to lay down a self-help infrastructure. Out of this sorry tale of human trafficking emerges a fascinating portrait of this handsome, pugnacious, one-man NGO, who left a cushy life with his patrician Anglo-Spanish family to work with Mother Theresa and devote himself to the oppressed. His father, who in a lovely irony made his fortune as the CEO of one of England’s oldest jam-making companies, describes his son as “very difficult.” Thank God for that: Like many absolutists, Father Christopher can be a pain in the ass, which is just what’s needed for the padded rear ends of these slave-owners—and for those of us who gorge on the results.