La Fundación has its roots in the community of Batey Libertad, located amongst the rice fields of the Cibao valley northwest of Santiago in the Dominican Republic. Similar to hundreds of bateyes throughout the DR, Libertad is home to both Dominican citizens and migrant workers from Haiti.

Libertad was formally established as Batey San Rafael by the Dominican government in the 1950s as a work camp for state supported sugar cane; named after the Dominican dictator Rafael Trujillo who first arranged for the purchase of seasonal workers from the Haitian government in 1952. By the late 1970s, the Dominican government was paying as much as $3 million a year for the braceros (Spanish for “arms”) to Haiti [1].

The community changed its name to Libertad (freedom) in the 1970s and has struggled to live up to its name ever since. There has been no formal contract for trade in Haitian migrant workers since 1986, however the legacy of bateyes is one of extreme poverty, isolation, and lack of access to basic needs and human rights.

The plight of Haitian migrants in the Dominican Republic has received much international press in recent years, including articles in the New York Times, Christian Science Monitor, and Science. The specter of police raids looms over batey communities and more informal Haitian barrios.  And while migrant laborers are welcome to toil in the field, construction sites, or other menial jobs for little pay, they are routinely denied health care, job security, and citizenship and education for Dominican-born children.  In the words of Haitian immigrant Victor Beltran, ”We do all the work, but we have no rights. We do all the work, but our children cannot go to school. We do all the work, but our women cannot go to the hospital. We do all the work, but we have to stay hidden in the shadows.” [2]

Batey Libertad — in solidarity with other marginalized communities in the Dominican Republic, and in partnership with a network of NGO and university partners — is building a new legacy of sustainable livelihoods and equality. Community projects in the focal areas of health, education, and human rights work toward reconciliation between the island’s diverse people, shared understanding with international visitors, and building a foundation for freedom for all.

Learn more about Batey Libertad and other communities in the expanding network of projects. To learn more about how to help or visit these communities, please contact one of the many community partners.  Or for a virtual visit today, with camera on hip, join us for a short walk through Batey Libertad:

1. Wucker, Michele, “Life on the Batey”, Chapter 4 from: Why the Cocks Fight: Dominicans, Haitians, and the Struggle for Hispaniola, Hill and Wang, New York, NY, 1999.
2. Thompson, Ginger, “Immigrant Laborers in Haiti are Paid with Abuse in the Dominican Republic,” New York Times, Nov. 20, 2005.

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