Bitter Harvest for Haitian Cane Workers

She sits on a curb, knees wide and skirt tucked for modesty. Before her is a dusty street, behind her a crowded tent city of confusion and crying.

Her breasts are full and the front of her cotton dress, now almost as dusty as the street she watches without expression, is wet. But her arms are empty.

Her baby, not quite 3 months old, is back in the Dominican Republic. This young mother has not held her, fed her, sung to her in five days and cannot know if she ever will again.

Picked up in a military sweep of Haitian migrant workers at the outskirts of Santo Domingo, she was forced onto a bus. Her tears and pleading failed to move the uniformed men who herded her and 60 others to the border of Haiti.

With just under 3,000 of her compatriots, she waits at Bon Repos, the hastily organized reception center outside the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince. She waits for news or a familiar face among the frightened families arriving every day. She may wait a long time.

She is one of the thousands of Haitian migrant workers who were uprooted from their homes in the Dominican Republic in response to Dominican President Joaquin Balaguer's well-calculated expulsion decree in June. Balaguer's decree expelling every "illegal" Haitian immigrant over 60 or under 16 that led to this mass exodus was precipitated by what the 85-year-old president called a "smear campaign."

Four human rights groups had just issued exposes charging, among other things, that Haitian children as young as 8 were being kidnapped and forced to work 12 to 14 hours a day in the state-owned cane fields of the Dominican Republic. Recent U.S. media reports revealed the slave conditions of the bateyes (villages of cane cutters) in which these children lived.

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