Some of the most impoverished parts of the Dominican Republic are batayes - shantytowns that once housed sugar industry workers. For years, Haitian labor fueled the Dominican's large sugar industry. When the sector collapsed, many of these people had nowhere else to go – some had been in the country for decades and no longer had homes in Haiti; others were born in the Dominican Republic. Unemployment in the bateyes today is sky high; the HIV rate is also far higher than the national average.
The batayes are tough places. We got a quick glimpse of this today: as we were interviewing a man named Francois in front of his sea-green shack, seven Dominican officers ran by, guns drawn, chasing a man people said was a drug dealer through the trash-strewn dirt paths. A few of the officers cocked their weapons and looked like they were about to shoot, but then the man they were chasing surrendered. Francois says that shootings take place regularly here; he would move if he didn't already own his small house.
Later, we went to a bataye called Duquesa, a former sugar cane plantation that now sits alongside a huge city trash dump. The people of Duquesa – at least half of whom Pastor Luis Rodriguez Cuevas told us are Haitian – pick through the trash to make a living. We will be coming back to Duquesa for more reporting, and to follow some of the people there.
Above, here I am with our translator, John Suprien (in the blue shirt), interviewing the pastor.