After years of rumors that mining companies were exploring in Haiti, Canadian and U.S. corporations now confirm they have permits to mine gold in more than 1,000 square miles in northern Haiti. Haiti’s new prime minister says the estimated $20 billion worth of minerals in Haiti’s hills could help liberate it from dependency on foreign aid and rebuild from the devastating 2010 earthquake. But many worry the mines will be a boom for foreign investors and a bust for local communities. We speak to Jane Regan, lead author of "Gold Rush in Haiti: Who Will Get Rich?" The report by Haiti Grassroots Watch was published Wednesday in The Guardian and Haïti Liberté. "You’ve got a perfect storm brewing whereby you’re looking at giant pit mines in the north, in a country that’s already environmentally devastated, and giant pit mines being run by Canadian and American companies," Regan says. "Most of the money that’s made and most of the gold that’s dug up will go straight north." [includes rush transcript]
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AMY GOODMAN: We end today’s show with a look at how Haiti, the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere, may be sitting on a gold mine. After years of rumors that mining companies were exploring in Haiti, Canadian and U.S. corporations now confirm they have permits to mine as much as one-third of the land in the northern part of the country. Haiti’s new prime minister says the estimated $20 billion worth of minerals in Haiti’s hills could help liberate it from dependency on foreign aid and rebuild from the devastating 2010 earthquake. But many worry the mines will be a boom for foreign investors and a bust for local communities.
For more, we’re joined by Jane Regan, lead author of "Gold Rush in Haiti!: Who Will Get Rich?" The report by Haiti Grassroots Watch was published Wednesday in The Guardian and also in Haïti Liberté. The investigation was made possible in part by a grant from the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting. We invited representatives from the two mining companies featured in the report, but both Eurasian Minerals and Newmont Mining Corporation declined our requests.
Jane Regan, welcome to Democracy Now! What did you find?
JANE REGAN: What we found, Amy, was that, very quietly and very quickly, these foreign companies have purchased licenses to either explore or go all the way and exploit, as you said, its over a thousand square miles of Haiti’s north. And this is in a circumstance where we have the poorest country in the hemisphere, possibly the most corrupt government in the hemisphere. Recent allegations have come out of the Dominican Republic of massive corruption of this current president and perhaps cabinet. But also we have probably the most neoliberal government in the hemisphere, whose slogan is "Haiti is open for business." And so, you’ve got a perfect storm brewing whereby you’re looking at giant pit mines in the north, in a country that’s already environmentally devastated, and giant pit mines being run by Canadian and American companies who have done this all over the world in third world countries where most of the money that’s made and most of the gold that’s dug up will go straight north.
AMY GOODMAN: Can you tell us, Jane, about the farmer who brought you a letter that led to this investigation?
JANE REGAN: Yes, in fact, that farmer is also a community radio journalist. And I think that that’s important to say here on Democracy Now! This story was brought to the attention of me and my students, who are all Haitian investigative journalism students, by a guy who’s probably about 65 years old. And it was a—he had a letter in his hand that said that Eurasian Minerals has the right to explore in 16 communities. And he said, "We’re worried because we heard that gold mining can sometimes pollute the water, and we’re farmers."
AMY GOODMAN: One of the men your team interviewed spoke with residents of a village where gold exploration is already underway. They seemed to welcome the opportunity for more work.
ANTHONY SYLVESTRE: [translated] That will be great for us. We feel very strongly about something. We like foreigners a lot. When foreigners come here and work with us, we are proud, and it is beautiful. If they made a mine at Morne Bossa, it would be as if God himself came down from heaven.
REPORTER: [translated] But don’t you think the company might be ripping you off?
ANTHONY SYLVESTRE: [translated] Yes, that could happen.
AMY GOODMAN: Mining companies have said they can create hundreds of jobs in Haiti—again, the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere—and help rebuild the country’s infrastructure. Talk about this.
JANE REGAN: Well, hundreds of jobs in a country of 10 million people, and you’re taking out how many acres or hectares of agricultural land? And also, these are very low pay—they’re low-wage jobs. Haiti has been through these mining booms before. Reynolds was in there exploiting bauxite. There was a Canadian company in there that took away a lot of copper. I think at the boom period, there were 900 people working for a couple of bucks a day. So, that’s not really the way to develop Haiti or help the country fill its state coffers.
The most important thing is for Haiti to look around the hemisphere at countries who are doing a good job of trying to protect the interests of their country and of the environment at the same time as they take advantage of what’s under the soil. So, for instance, Cuba, where nickel is—the nickel mining is owned mostly by the government; or Peru, where they’ve now started to push back against the very company, Newmont Mining; Bolivia—Morales government says, "Yeah, we have lithium. We’ll exploit the lithium. Thank you very much. If we need your help, we’ll call on you."
AMY GOODMAN: Talk about the revolving door between government officials and the mining companies.
JANE REGAN: Well, this was something that we did find, and I have to say that this was an investigation that had about 12 people involved. Two of us were—three of us were foreigners, and everybody else is Haitian students and Haitian community radio journalists. And we discovered that the former minister of finance is now a consultant for Newmont Mining. So he was involved in negotiations of some of the permits, which have not yet been published, but he was privy. He sat at the table on the—supposedly on the public interest side, and now he’s on the other side of the table on the private interest side. And I know this happens in our country, in this country, the United States, too, and it’s just appalling.
AMY GOODMAN: Finally, and we just have a few minutes, Newmont’s track record—in Peru, for example?
JANE REGAN: In Peru, Newmont has the largest pit mine, certainly in the hemisphere. It’s 251 square kilometers. It’s called Yanacocha. And they’ve been trying to open another one, a gigantic one called Minas Conga. And the peasants and the campesinos and local authorities, environmentalists have pushed back to the point that it might not happen, or, if it does happen, it’ll be under much better circumstances, where the environment will be more protected. I think it’s important to know that, like Reuters, but also like all these sort of accounting agencies, write with terror about "resource nationalism," as if it’s a bad thing for a country to want to control its natural resources. I think it’s about time.
AMY GOODMAN: Jane Regan, I want to thank you for being with us. We’ll continue to follow this story, instructor of journalism and coordinator of Haiti Grassroots Watch, based in Haiti. Piece is "Gold Rush in Haiti!: Who Will Get Rich?"