As delegates and activists from around the world gather this week in Brazil for the RIO+20 conference on sustainable development, they’ll be discussing a broad range of issues, including food security, urban growth, jobs and disaster response. Advocates are also drawing attention to the corporate influence at the UN-backed conference and calling for an alternative to extractive industries, such as mining. According to a draft text of the RIO+20 resolution obtained and published by the Guardian today, delegates will include mining as a way to alleviate poverty and help countries to meet development goals.
The text also calls for strong government oversight of mining. Mining plays a big role in many developing countries, including Haiti. As the country continues to recover from the devastating earthquake of 2010 and pervasive government corruption, foreign companies are rushing in to mine for gold. According to a ten-month investigation by local reporters and students with Haiti Grassroots Watch, one third of the land in northern Haiti is under exploration, research or extraction by foreign companies and some residents are worried about environmental destruction. One of those residents is Elie Florestan from Grand Bois. “I think a mine might cause lots of problems for us. They say the mine would use our river. They say our water might become polluted. And that many families will be displaced.” Two of the foreign companies most aggressively pushing for mining are Eurasian Minerals, based in Canada, and Newmont, based in the US.
According to Haiti Grassroots Watch, two Haitian ministers recently signed a “Memorandum of Understanding” with Newmont and Eurasian that says the companies can begin drilling at one of their sites, a violation of Haitian law, which states no drilling can occur without a mining convention. The mining companies have promised to provide much-needed jobs in the area and some residents expressed support for the projects. Anthony Silvestre, a resident of Morne Bossa said some of the land in his area was rich with the mineral. “We feel very strongly about something: we like foreigners a lot. When foreigners come and work with us we’re proud and it’s beautiful. If they make a mine at Morne Bossa it would be as if God himself came down from heaven.” But communities in nearby Dominican Republic are already confronting the costs of mining.
The Canadian companies Barrick and Goldcorp are teaming up to develop an open pit mine. Barrick has already been forced to clean up a river polluted with sulphuric acid from a previous government-backed project in the area. Some residents described being displaced from their land for the new mine. “They moved us to this neighborhood, with nothing, no jobs no land. We’re farmers! But we have nowhere to plant except the yard.” In Haiti, residents and community journalists are organizing to demand more transparency in the process. But the pace is picking up. One of the mining firms, Eurasian Minerals, has collected 44,000 samples and Newmont is considering at least five mine sites. The government’s role has also been called into question. A former Minister of the Economy and Finances is now a paid consultant for Newmont and residents have struggled to get information about the projects. Arnolt Jean is a farmer in Lakwev.
He calls the government irresponsible. “Yes, the country is poor. But what’s underground could make us rich. If the government did what it was supposed to do, and exploit the minerals that are underground, the country would not be poor, but since what’s underground stays underground, rich people figure out how to exploit the minerals, so they can become richer. Those who live on top of the ground stay poor. Those who exploit what’s underground get even richer.” Despite millions of dollars of aid money pouring into Haiti, the government still lacks resources to adequately monitor mining or oversee future projects. To view the full report, including a video on gold mining in Haiti, go to haitigrassrootswatch.org.