Occupying a breathtaking spot on the southeast coast of the Dominican Republic, Casa de Campo is one of the Caribbean's most storied resorts. It bills itself as "a hedonist's and sportsman's dream," and that's truth in advertising. The place has 14 swimming pools, a world-class shooting ground, PGA-quality golf courses and $1,000-a-night villas.
A thousand miles to the northwest, in the Florida Everglades, the vista is much different. Chemical runoff from the corporate cultivation of sugar cane imperils vegetation and wildlife. Polluted water spills out of the glades into Florida Bay, forming a slimy, greenish brown stain where fishing once thrived.
Both sites are the by-product of corporate welfare.
In this case the beneficiaries are the Fanjul family of Palm Beach, Fla. The name means nothing to most Americans, but the Fanjuls might be considered the First Family of Corporate Welfare. They own Flo-Sun Inc., one of the nation's largest producers of raw sugar. As such, they benefit from federal policies that compel American consumers to pay artificially high prices for sugar.
Since the Fanjuls control about one-third of Florida's sugar-cane production, that means they collect at least $60 million a year in subsidies, according to an analysis of General Accounting Office calculations. It's the sweetest of deals, and it's made the family, the proprietors of Casa de Campo, one of America's richest.
The subsidy has had one other consequence: it has helped create an environmental catastrophe in the Everglades. Depending on whom you talk to, it will cost anywhere from $3 billion to $8 billion to repair the Everglades by building new dikes, rerouting canals and digging new lakes.
Growers are committed to pay up to $240 million over 20 years for the cleanup. Which means the industry that created much of the problem will have to pay only a fraction of the cost to correct it. Government will pay the rest. As for the Fanjuls, a spokesman says they are committed to pay about $4.5 million a year.
How did this disaster happen? With your tax dollars. How will it be fixed? With your tax dollars.
It is not news that sugar is richly subsidized, or that the Fanjuls have profited so handsomely. Even as recently as 1995, when Congress passed legislation to phase out price supports for a cornucopia of agricultural products, raw sugar was spared. Through a combination of loan guarantees and tariffs on imported sugar, domestic farmers like the Fanjuls are shielded from real-world prices. So in the U.S., raw sugar sells for about $22 a pound, more than double the price most of the world pays. The cost to Americans: at least $1.4 billion in the form of higher prices for candy, soda and other sweet things of life. A GAO study, moreover, has estimated that nearly half the subsidy goes to large sugar producers like the Fanjuls.
A spokesman for Flo-Sun, Jorge Dominicis, said the company disagrees with the GAO's estimate on the profits the Fanjuls and other growers derive from the program.
"That is supposed to imply somehow that our companies receive $60 million in guaranteed profits," he said, "and that is flat-out not true. Our companies don't make anywhere near that kind of profit."