In Haiti, Concern over Gold Rush

Al Jazeera’s Americas blog reports concern over the so-called Haitian Gold Rush. Rachel Levin writes about her trip to Troup du Nord:

Once we got to the small town we realised that few locals were willing to take us to the rivers where people panned for gold. It turns out that over the past year dozens of foreigners – mostly Canadians and Americans had been poking around the same area trying to convince Haitians to allow them to drill on their land to take samples. For centuries, Haitians in these parts have panned for gold and it’s a secret they don’t want to get out. One local woman told us that she’s worried the white people will steal her gold. “Since I was a kid I have been panning for gold. I don’t want any company to come here and take our gold away. Gold is my life!” It took about an hour to convince her to show us the river where she pans, so worried was she that we would reveal the location to a mining company.

According to an investigative report by Haitian Grassroots Watch – a Haitian organisation which works with journalism students from the University of Haiti – foreign mining companies have already invested more than $30 million dollars collecting samples, building roads and digging. Nearly 15 per cent of Haiti’s territory is now under license to North American mining firms and their partners.

In the neighbouring Dominican Republic, mining companies believe they’ve found the largest gold reserve in the Americas: 24 million ounces. They are hoping the gold rush extends to Haiti – a country where the average person earns about a dollar a day.

Laurent Lamothe, the country’s prime minister, is hopeful that a gold rush could help his country, which is still struggling to recover from the devastating earthquake in 2010. [. . .] Keeping those potential profits in the country, however, will be a challenge – Haiti has one of the lowest royalty rates in the western hemisphere — only 2.5 percent of the value of each ounce of gold extracted.

The question of who will benefit from a potential windfall of profits if large quantities of gold are found is one that worries Jane Regan, a professor of journalism who is involved with Haiti Grassroots Watch. “There is absolutely no transparency and in the meantime Canadian and American companies now control more than 1,100 square miles (2,849 sq. km) of Haitian territory and I think that would make anybody nervous. ”

Environmental impact from possible future open pit mining projects is also a major concern. [. . .]

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