Dominican activists decry mining projects as ‘new form of colonialism’


Al Jazeera reports on the ongoing protests over mining projects in the Dominican Republic. Loma Miranda, covering about 16 square miles, is home to a unique environment that contains much of the Dominican Republic’s biodiversity, as well as dozens of springs, creeks and rivers that provide fresh water to the region.

“It is one of the most important mountain systems in the Dominican Republic,” said Victor Medrano of the Ecological Society of Cibao. “It produces enough water to provide to the surrounding communities irrigation for the entire region and hydroelectric power.”

Escalín Gutiérrez of Agua y Vida, an NGO focused on water rights, called Loma Miranda a “water mine,” underscoring activists’ contention that the water supply is too valuable to the country to risk polluting.

In June 2014, after news of the government’s plans to break ground on a nickel mine at Loma Miranda, more than 1,500 protesters gathered at the mountain to voice their opposition. Activists mounted other protests across the country, demanding that the mountain not be touched.

To appease protesters, the country’s Senate passed a bill in August to designate Loma Miranda a national park, effectively shielding it from mining companies. However, President Danilo Medina rejected the bill on the grounds that it violated the constitution and harmed the country’s investment interests. Medina cited article 17 of the constitution — interpreting its statement that natural resources “can be” exploited to satisfy the country’s business interests to mean that they “must be” utilized for that purpose, said Sánchez.

Refusing to back down, activists established a permanent camp at Loma Miranda, from which they have launched a national movement to protect the mountain and founded the headquarters of a future national park. “By the people’s decision, Loma Miranda is already a national park, and we’re here to defend it,” Sánchez said.

In fact, more than 80 percent of Dominicans support a mining ban at the mountain, according to a 2013 Gallup poll published in the paper Hoy.

‘New form of colonialism’

Medina has said that his veto of the Senate bill to designate Loma Miranda a national park does not amount to approval for mining companies to break ground on the mountain. However, government policies encouraging foreign investment in the country’s natural resources, coupled with what activists say is a history of advancing mining projects against the people’s will, lead many Dominicans to believe that mining at Loma Miranda is imminent.

Their fears may not be unfounded. Peter Fuchs, a spokesman for Swiss-based mining company Glencore — whose Dominican branch is Falcondo — told Al Jazeera that his firm is carrying out environmental studies ordered by the Ministry of Environment to identify any potential effects that mining could have on Loma Miranda.

The firm, however, has not yet been granted approval to launch a mining operation. “There is no current exploration or mining activity at Loma Miranda, but the resource has been previously explored and defined,” said Fuchs. Glencore, he added, has been mining in the Dominican Republic since 1971 and is “committed to maintaining the highest levels of environmental standards.”

Activists point to the study as proof of the government’s plans to disregard the people’s wishes.

“It’s a new form of colonialism … The government is in service of international corporations,” said Rafael Jiménez Abad, a Loma Miranda camp leader and university professor. “Our fight is about life or death. It’s capitalism versus nature.” [. . .]

‘Everything is polluted’

If the beauty and clean water of Loma Miranda is the before of mining projects in the Dominican Republic, Cotui, a town just an hour away in the Sánchez Ramírez province, is the after.

A red-tinged and shrunken waterway welcomes visitors to Cotuí. It once supplied fresh water to residents. “The animals already knew,” said Mayobanex Arias, a rancher walking his cattle across a bridge over the river. “They would test the water, then not drink it.”  [. . .]

Residents said they don’t know who is responsible for the degradation but feel helpless. “Everything is polluted,” said Alejandro Jiménez, a Cotuí rancher. “We have to buy our water now. People used to drink it from the rivers, but after the mine, we can’t anymore.”

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