Tuesday, 28 April 2009
PLEASE WATCH ALL VIDEOS FROM 1-10...below is Part 1
This is still going on....
The Discovery of Sugar
It's believed that cane sugar was first used by man in Polynesia and from there it spread west towards India. Westerners first encountered sugar cane in the course of military expeditions. Nearchos, one of Alexander the Great's commanders, described it as "a reed that gives honey without bees."
It spread to other areas of the world through trade and arrived in Europe during the Crusades in the 11th Century AD. Crusaders returning home talked of this "new spice" and how pleasant it was.
cane workers Workers continue to harvest sugar cane on many Caribbean islands.
A New Fortune in the Caribbean
In 1493, the explorer Christopher Columbus introduced sugar to the New World when he took some sugar cane cuttings to the Caribbean island of Santa Domingo (now Haiti) for trial plantings. The crop flourished in the hot sunshine, heavy rainfall and fertile soil, growing faster there than anywhere else in the world.
Soon the Caribbean became the world's largest source of sugar - producing ninety percent of Western Europe's supply. The entire economies of islands such as Santa Domingo, Guadeloupe and Barbados were based on sugar production.
As Europeans established huge sugar plantations in the Caribbean, prices on the continent fell. What had previously been a luxury good was now affordable to all. Large sugar plantations like the Codrington estate in the Barbados amassed their British owners huge profits.
But historian Adam Hoochshield, author of Bury the Chains, says that it's worth remembering that behind many a great fortune is a great crime.
Lisa Coderington Toronto writer Lisa Codrington travelled to Barbados and discovered that she is a descendent of slaves who worked on the Codrington estate.
Sugar and Slavery
In this case, he says, the crime was slavery. Most of the sugar cultivation in the Caribbean was done by slaves working under the most horrible conditions of almost anywhere in the Americas.
Many slaves were worked to death at an early age simply because it was easy to buy new ones. The cheap labour increased the world's supply of sugar and made sugar producers very rich.
freed slave Freed slave Olaudah Equiano wrote a book and gave slavery a human face.
The Fight Against Slavery
In 1785 Thomas Clarkson, a divinity student at Cambridge University, researched sugar slavery for a Latin essay championship. He became impassioned with the cause. Clarkson won the contest and vowed to bring an end to slavery in the British empire.
He and several Quakers formed the Society for the Abolition of the Slave Trade and devoted the next fifty years to the anti-slavery movement. Many of the political organizing techniques used today; posters, slogans, petitions and campaign buttons were pioneered by them.
In 1789 freed slave Olaudah Equiano wrote a book documenting slavery's horrors giving the cause a human face. His readings became one of the first book tours in history.
button One of the first anti-slavery campaign buttons. It reads, 'Am I not a man and a brother?'
Sugar is Blood
One campaign struck a cord with the British public. Its slogan, 'sugar is blood' started a debate on the issue of sugar slavery.
Then in 1838 four black slaves in Barbados were accused of murdering a white man. Most people on the island knew that it was a set up and that the murderer was, in fact, a white man. Still, the slaves were found guilty and executed. This event caused on uproar across the British empire.
Finally, on July 31st 1838, slavery was abolished.
Today's Sugar Slaves
Today activists question whether slavery really is over. The lush sugar cane fields in places like the Dominican Republic are still tended by men who are expected to cut a ton of sugar a day in stifling 50 degree heat for a mere $2.
Video journalist Mark Ellam traveled to Central Romana, the largest sugar corporation on the island, owned by the Fanjul family in the U.S. According the Jose Pepe Fanjul, "Central Romana has a very high and good reputation ... it's the largest taxpayer, the largest employer and the most progressive employer in the Dominican Republic."
plantation Workers at the Central Romana plantation claim to work in the fields all day without food. When they no longer can afford food at the company store they chew on the sugar cane.
Conditions at Central Romana
When Ellam visited the 240,000 acre spread he found shantytowns full of Haitian sugar cane workers who were lured over the border to work with promises of a good job. Once they arrived they were trapped, kept stateless and forbidden to leave. Central Romana hires 90,000 of the 650,000 Haitian workers on the island.
Workers told him that they were barely paid enough to buy food from the company store - at twice the cost available elsewhere. They could be deported if they left the property to buy goods in town and weren't they allowed to grow vegetables to supplement their diet.
There were no doctors and little medical attention for injured cane workers. Men on horseback wearing pith helmets rode through town regularly to ensure that everybody was kept in line.
Pepe Fanjul defends his operation saying that it's unfair to use a North American standard to measure working conditions in the Dominican Republic and that Central Romana provides jobs for Haitians who would otherwise have none.
"What I saw was straight out of a book before the Industrial Revolution. I felt like I had stepped back 200 years," says Ellam.