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Citing 'forced labor', Dominican sugar company banned from importing to US. Sugar barons in Florida own a stake

FILE - A youth plays near the machine where the sugar cane is weighed in the Lima batey, or neighborhood, in La Romana, where Central Romana Corporation, Ltd. operates its sugar operations in Dominican Republic, Nov. 17, 2021. The U.S. government announced Nov. 23, 2022 that it will detain all imports of sugar and related products made in the Dominican Republic by Central Romana Corporation, Ltd. amid allegations that it uses forced labor.
Amy Green, WMFE
A sugarcane field in South Florida.

One of the biggest sugar producers in the world will now be banned from exporting sugar to the U.S., after the Biden Administration said it has information “that reasonably indicates the use of forced labor in its operations."

The politically connected Fanjul family — a family of sugar barons based in West Palm Beach — own a 35% stake in the company.

As first reported by the New York Times, no sugar from the Dominican Republic-based Central Romana Corporation will now be allowed to be imported into the U.S.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection said the company uses forced labor — largely of Haitians — to make money. In a statement on Twitter, the company denied the allegations.

The company is the biggest landowner and employer in the Dominican Republic, and sugar from the company is sold in the U.S. under the Domino brand. The import ban could cause a significant disruption to sugar imports — and potentially prices at the grocery store.

The Fanjul family owns the company Florida Crystals and has a minority stake in the Central Romana Corporation, according to court records. The family fled communist Cuba in the early 1960s and has since built a sugar empire in both Florida and in the Dominican Republic.

The Fanjul brothers are known to be prolific political donors in U.S. and Florida politics, giving both to Republican and Democratic candidates alike. In 2022, the Fanjul Corporation, owned by the family, made $985,189 in campaign contributions to candidates from both parties, and spent $795,000 in lobbying the federal government, according to OpenSecrets.

Requests for comment to the Fanjul family and their listed attorney were not returned.

Central Romana Corporation said in a statement posted on Twitter that the allegations of forced labor do not align with reality, and that it has made significant investments to improve working conditions over the past decade.

The news comes amid strains in US-Dominican relations, particularly when it comes to alleged discrimination against Haitians. Just this week the State Department issued a travel warning for Black and dark-skinned Americans traveling to the country, saying they might be racially profiled or arbitrarily detained.

Daniel Rivero is part of WLRN's new investigative reporting team. Before joining WLRN, he was an investigative reporter and producer on the television series "The Naked Truth," and a digital reporter for Fusion. He can be reached at drivero@wlrnnews.org
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