“That money isn’t theirs. It’s ours”

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US-based photographer Michelle Kanaar travelled to the Dominican Republic this summer to document the plight of elderly former sugarcane cutters, mostly from Haiti, who have worked and paid social security for decades, but are yet to receive their pensions. “That money isn’t theirs,” one former cutter by the name of Domingo Juan told Kanaar. “It’s ours. We killed ourselves to get to that date.” And still they wait.


Ramon Amparo has worked 64 years in the sugar fields. For 45 of those years he has had a massive tumor growing on his leg. “When I talk about this, when I talk about my life, I feel a pain in my heart and I want to yell,” he says. Amparo is pictured in the fields surrounding Batey Punta Afuera, Dominican Republic.


Idalina Bordignon, a lawyer, nun and director of the Scalabriniana Association for the Service of Human Mobility, ASCALA, a local human rights organisation that focuses on immigrant rights, helps clean the wound of sugar cane worker Alister Yan. A piece of sugar cane pierced Yan’s foot almost a year ago. The wound became massively infected but because Yan has yet to receive his pension he could not afford healthcare.


Over the past 19 years, Leonor Mesille has submitted the paperwork required on three separate occasions to collect a pension, which he says is owed to him for the 56 years he has paid into the social security system. Years of cutting cane have left Mesille with a hunched back. Here he is pictured outside his home in Batey Punta Afuera.


Leonor Mesille’s various banana trees and avocado tree provide most of his sustenance. Pictured here is Mesille’s bedroom.


Luis Reminsente, 72, has been waiting four years for his pension. He also lost many of his papers during Hurricane George. This building is what is left of his home following the hurricane.


Ynocencio Yose, 86, has been waiting one year for his pension and has recently lost his sight. Here he is pictured in his home in Batey Monte Coca, Dominican Republic.


Jacques Cony, 80, waits to have his urostomy bag replaced at Dr Antonio Musa Regional Hospital in San Pedro de Macoris. Jacques has been waiting nine years for his pension. His son, Papucho Cony, 38, takes care of him and brings him to the hospital every two weeks. Papucho spends about US$20 a month on medicine and transportation to the hospital where they replace Jacques’s urostomy bag – a necessity after a work-related injury. “Here there are a lot of old people who die waiting for their pensions,” says Papucho, "As long as he is alive, we’ll keep trying."


You can read Michelle’s article on former Haitian sugar workers here on Equal Times.