The bitter taste of the sugar trade

SAN FRANCISCO – It is estimated that the average American consumes between 150 and 170 pounds of sugar each year. We thoughtlessly add it to our coffee and eat it in pastries and candy. But at what cost? There is much more at risk than an expanding waistline. On the other side of that piece of cake are those who cut the sugarcane. They are the workers in the fields of the Dominican Republic, living in unspeakable squalor, waiting for a hero and, ultimately, finding that hero in a charismatic priest, as told in the revealing new book, SLAVES IN PARADISE: A Priest Stands Up for Exploited Sugarcane Workers, by Jesús García.

The Dominican Republic has long been a vacation hotspot for Europeans and Americans alike. But beyond the beautiful beaches lurked an ugliness few have ever seen. Humans were being trafficked from Haiti, lured with promises of good paying jobs and a chance at a better life. Stripped of any identification papers, watched by armed guards and paid less than a dollar a day, these workers were treated more like animals than humans — until Father Christopher Hartley arrived on the pristine shores of the Dominican Republic twenty years ago.

SLAVES IN PARADISE tells the inspirational story of Hartley, a Spanish priest from a privileged family, who took on a role he wasn’t expecting but was perhaps perfectly suited for: becoming a fierce advocate for exploited sugarcane workers. His background working with Saint Mother Teresa, his strong will and competitive spirit, coupled with his love of God and neighbor, made him the father and fighter the poor workers desperately needed.

Hartley not only brought the workers material goods, and the sacraments, but he brought them hope. He stood up to the powerful sugar barons and politicians and, in turn, created a national firestorm that led to him enduring harsh treatment and death threats that eventually forced him to leave the country.

Building on the 2007 acclaimed documentary, The Price of Sugar, narrated by Paul Newman, SLAVES IN PARADISE delves deeper into the heart-wrenching stories of the poor workers as well as into the heart and mind of Hartley, including letters he wrote to his friends and benefactors presenting the needs of his people and the injustices they endured. Filled with rich spiritual reflections and apostolic passion, his letters tell heart-wrenching stories of human misery while revealing the deep and abiding faith he found among the poor.

“Fr. Hartley’s mission of love is fueled by his strong prayer life and his intimacy with God,” Cardinal Sean O’Malley, O.F.M. Cap, archbishop of Boston, says in the foreword to SLAVES IN PARADISE. “You will discover a man who always makes time for prayer, often spending hours before the Lord. I pray that this book will inspire us all to a deeper faith in God and love for the poor.”


For more information, to request a review copy or to schedule an interview with Father Christopher Hartley: