HAITIAN GOVERNMENT DRAFTING MINING LAWS

By Bryan Schaaf on Wednesday, May 16, 2012.
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There have been a number of articles recently about Haiti's emerging mining industry.  However, mining legislation has not been revised since 1976.  The Associated Press article below notes that the Haitian government is presently drafting new laws concerning foreign investment in mining.  Haiti could certainly use the jobs - but also needs protection against labor abuses and environmental degradation.  I'll be watching this with interest and will post any updates in the comments section.    

5/15/2012 
By Trenton Daniel 

The Haitian government is drafting legislation for the newly emerging mining industry to help this impoverished Caribbean nation reap benefits, the new prime minister said Tuesday.  Laurent Lamothe, who saw his Cabinet and policy plan approved hours earlier, told The Associated Press during an interview that the legislation will be sent to Parliament soon. It will lay out rules apportioning royalties for the government and setting protections for the people and environment that could be affected by mines. "The most important thing is to have the correct mining law," he said. "It ensures that the right portion comes to the state. It ensures that the people living in the region where the mines are, that their rights are protected. It ensures environmental protection."

The plans to draft the mining legislation come after the AP reported that two mining companies have begun drilling in Haiti's northeastern mountains. The companies say testing indicates the precious metals such as gold, copper and silver is worth potentially $20 billion. That would be a boon for Haiti, which is one of the world's poorest countries. Most of its 10 million people live on less than $2 a day. Until the story, few Haitians knew about the recent efforts to mine their country. Mining camps are unmarked, and the work is being done in remote villages on the opposite side of the country from the capital, Port-au-Prince.  U.S. and Canadian investors have spent more than $30 million in recent years on exploratory drilling along with camps for workers, new roads, offices and laboratory studies of samples.

Haiti's mining potential has been known for several decades. In the 1970s, United Nations geologists documented significant pockets of gold and copper ore, but foreigners weren't willing to take a risk in a country where corruption and political instability have long discouraged foreign investment. Mining laws in Haiti haven't been revised since 1976.  Lamothe said the legislation being drafted is meant to benefit Haiti while also making the country attractive to outside investors by allowing companies to profit from mining. When asked how much he would like Haiti to receive, Lamothe said: "As much as possible without hampering also the revenue of the party, allowing them to do business."

The interview came after Lamothe introduced the ministers of his Cabinet, which was approved by Parliament on Monday. The government includes two new posts, a minister to deal with poverty and another to support farmers.  In addition to the mining legislation, Lamothe said his government wants to introduce programs that will clean Port-au-Prince's garbage-strewn streets by using firefighters and other workers, better maintain roads and help mothers living in the capital's poorer neighborhoods. Lamothe, a former telecommunications executive, officially became prime minister Monday night following the approval of his Cabinet and government plan. There had been a nearly three-month vacancy after President Michel Martelly's first prime minister resigned after only four months on the job. The absence of a prime minister and fully functioning government has hobbled efforts to rebuild after the 2010 earthquake.

Haiti Hosts First Conference on Mining Efforts (6/3/2012)

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The Associated Press
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti -- Haiti brought in mining experts from around the world Monday in hopes of developing precious metals in one of the world's poorest countries. Until last year, few knew that Haiti had precious minerals underground. Two mining companies have begun drilling for gold, copper and silver in the country's northeastern mountains. They say testing indicates the metals could be worth $20 billion - a lot of money for a country where most of its 10 million people live on just $2 a day. "Haiti would like to place itself as an emerging mining country in the next 20 years," Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe told the conference. He said it needs a mining code that is "modern and precise" and must "allow for transparent contracts with competent experts who have national interests at heart."
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Lamothe said in September that he hoped to introduce a mining law within six months. The legislation would lay out rules on royalties for the government and on environmental protection. In recent months, the Haitian government has awarded its first gold and copper exploration permits to SOMINE SA, which is jointly owned by Canadian company Majescor Resources Inc. and Haitian investors, and VCS Mining LLC, a North Carolina-based mining company with offices in Haiti. However, few Haitians known much about the mining efforts. The camps are unmarked and the work is being carried out in remote villages. Haitian lawmakers and others have accused the government and mining companies of giving too little information about contracts and progress. Actual mining is unlikely to happen for years. The World Bank helped organize the two-day conference that drew experts from countries such as Brazil, Canada and Ghana. It's the first in Haiti to focus on mining. The bank is also helping the Haitian government update mining laws that have not been updated since 1976. The forum also brought representatives from companies such as VCS Mining, Newmont Mining Corp. and Eurasian Minerals Inc.

Haiti Awards Gold, Copper Mining Permits (AP - 12/21/2012)

By EVENS SANON and DANICA COTO
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PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti -- Haiti's government announced Friday that it has awarded permits for the first time in the country's history to allow two companies to openly mine for gold and copper. The nation's mining director, Ludner Remarais, said he hopes the move will bring a badly needed burst of money to the impoverished Caribbean country of 10 million people where many live on a $1.25 a day. Remarais issued a gold and copper exploitation permit to SOMINE SA, which is jointly owned by Canadian company Majescor Resources Inc. and Haitian investors. Remarais issued a second gold exploitation permit to VCS Mining LLC, a North Carolina-based mining company with offices in Haiti. "It allows us to finally produce and make money, at least get to that step," Majescor CEO Dan Hachey said in a phone interview. "It's also a great step forward for the mining industry in Haiti." The company still has to submit a preliminary environmental assessment, although obtaining the permit is the final step to allow open-pit mining, Hachey said. He added that a deadline hasn't been set. The company will do additional drilling to better determine where the minerals are located, Hachey said. "You want to see how far these deposits are, how broad, how wide, how deep, how long," he said. Hachey said the company expects to invest about $75 million to get to the production stage for gold mining. He added that It will take hundreds of millions of dollars more to reach the production stage for copper mining, which he described as more difficult.
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SOMINE engineer Michel Lamarre said he expects exploration to start in 36 to 42 months, adding that the company has already spent $10 million in research. VCS CEO and Chairman Angelo Viard said in a phone interview that the company will start open-pit mining within two or three years. "We are going to do things the right way," he said. "We are not going to rush. Our number one priority is the environment." Viard said that company will likely invest between $25 million and $30 million in the process. Friday's announcement comes after U.S. and Canadian investors spent more than $30 million in recent years on exploratory drilling and other mining-related activities in Haiti. In the past year, mining companies launched exploratory drills in Haiti's northeast region, saying they found precious metals that could be worth up to $20 billion. Associated Press writers Evens Sanon reported this story in Port-au-Prince and Danica Coto reported from San Juan, Puerto Rico.

Companies Upbeat on Haitian Mining Prospects

12/21/2012
Kwazi Group
By: Joachim Bamrud
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SANTO DOMINGO (miningweekly.com) – Foreign mining companies are upbeat on their prospects in Haiti, which offers strong mineral potential and a new business-friendly government. “We believe there’s substantial potential for discovery there,” says US-based Eurasian Minerals CEO David Cole. The company has a joint venture with US-based gold major Newmont to develop six areas covering more than 130 km of strike along northern Haiti's Massif du Nord mineral belt. Newmont manages the project and has so far invested $30-million in it, Cole says. While some drilling has been conducted, it’s still at an early stage. “It’s not nearly far enough to start talking about production,” Cole says. “We’re very much in the exploration phase.” Meanwhile, Canada-based Majescor expects to get exploitation permits by the end of the year, according to president and CEO Daniel Hachey. “We are very optimistic about the outlook for our SOMINE project in Haiti,” he says. Hachey expects to have a technical report on the Douvray copper porphyry prospect before the end of January. He also plans to implement a 10 000 m drilling programme for 2013, which will be focused on the Blondin copper prospect, the Faille B gold prospect and the Douvray copper prospect.
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Majescor says it’s too early to announce a production schedule. “As we are at the early stages of work, it is difficult to pinpoint a specific timetable for production and exporting at this time,” Hachey says. Euroasian Minerals, Newmont and Majescor have been motivated by the potential in a country adjacent to the Dominican Republic, where Barrick Gold and other mining companies have been successful in finding and producing gold and copper. “The rocks don’t stop at the Haitian border,” Cole says. Hachey agrees. “Haiti is attractive because of the interesting mineralised trend that runs from the south-east corner of the island of Hispaniola to the north-west corner,” he says. Hachey also points out that despite the damage from the 2010 earthquake, Haiti is now benefiting from a combination of billions of dollars in foreign aid and a new pro-business government led by President Michel Martelly, who assumed office in May last year. “Martelly … has shown to be pro-business and the government has a focus on the mining sector which is very positive for us,” Hachey says. “Much economic development is occurring, particularly in the north-east where we are located.” That includes the $200-million Caracol industrial park which was opened in October and is located less than 15 km from the Majescor project and a new university that also recently opened about 10 km away. Hachey also praised the local infrastructure, which stands in contrast to the rest of the country, where it is seen as highly deficient. The Majescor project is less than 15 km from a deepwater port at Fort Liberte and a paved highway runs from Haiti's second largest city, Cap Haitien, to the Dominican border. The highway touches the northern border of the property. Similarly, Majescor has not been negatively impacted by Haiti’s otherwise poor security record. “We have found Haiti to be a safe place to work,” Hachey says. “We very much look forward to continued success there.”

Haiti's Gold Rush (Guernica - 8/15/2012)

By Jacob Kushner
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Riches beckon from beneath Haiti’s hills, and mining companies are hoping to lock in huge tax breaks to get at them. Deep in Haiti’s northern mountains, a half-dozen supervisors at a mining exploration site spent their days playing dominoes at a folding table next to a helicopter pad. For weeks they waited in La Miel, off a dirt road deep in the countryside, for Haiti’s government to give them the go-ahead to search for the gold they believe is buried in the hills around them. Fig Newtons and water bottles filled the shelves of their staff tent. On a whiteboard, in scratchy handwriting, was a single-item to-do list for the week: Change $83,000 into Haitian gourdes. A mile west, a team of locals with shovels widened a dirt road and lined it with a drainage ditch. They were paid by Newmont, the Colorado mining company working at La Miel, to prepare local roads for heavy mining machinery, which moved here when Newmont got permission to dig. Mineral explorers have long suspected Haiti could be sitting on a wealth of gold deposits, and in the 1970s the United Nations Development Program confirmed it, testing the earth and publishing the results with the hope of attracting foreign mining companies. Newmont and three other foreign companies took the bait; now, they are exploring much of northern Haiti for signs of gold, silver, and zinc ore. They hope to open a modern mine that might unearth tons of precious metals, while the price of gold is at record highs. In April 2011, VCS Mining, a small U.S.-based mining venture, purchased rights to explore 700 square kilometers at a cost of around $7,000 per year. Canadian explorer Majescor owns permits to explore 450 square kilometers. Last August its stock doubled in a single day after it a reported a high level of gold in some drill samples from Haiti’s northern coast. Canada’s Eurasian Minerals owns permits to 1,770 square kilometers—about 6 percent of Haiti’s entire land mass.
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The biggest stakeholder by far, Denver-based Newmont Ventures Limited, has been poking around Haiti on and off since 1996, looking for signs of valuable mineral deposits. Newmont has twice abandoned Haiti because of political unrest, but it returned in 2008. It has been searching for gold here ever since, through permits owned by its partner, Eurasian. While officials in Port-au-Prince decide Haiti’s mineral future behind closed doors, twenty-three-year-old Anthony Sylvestre cuts down bushes and weeds on the hillside. Any day now, he’s told, the white men will return with their machine to see what riches are buried underneath. None of the companies scouting Haiti have yet committed to mining. They’re waiting to find out what’s in those exploratory sites. They’re also waiting to see if they’re able to strike it rich with a political gamble. Right now, Newmont and Eurasian are lobbying the Haitian government for tax breaks unprecedented in any global mining operation. While officials in Port-au-Prince decide Haiti’s mineral future behind closed doors, twenty-three-year-old Anthony Sylvestre walks up a hillside in the northern mountains and stops at a clearing. He picks up his machete and cuts down bushes and weeds, revealing a plastic pipe stuck in the clay earth. Any day now, he’s told, the white men will return with their machine to see what riches are buried underneath.
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When Christopher Columbus arrived in 1492, he enslaved the indigenous Tainos and sent them to dig for gold—an arduous process that decimated the island’s native population within sixty years. In the 1600s, the French colonized the western part of the island, importing hundreds of thousands of slaves to harvest sugar, coffee, and indigo. A century later, Haiti had become the most profitable colony in the New World.
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Many Haitians fear their government won’t negotiate forcefully enough with foreign companies to make sure any future mine maximally benefits Haiti and its people. When its slaves rebelled and declared Haiti’s independence in 1804, the United States and Europe, fearful of the precedent, largely isolated the new nation. A hundred years later, the U.S. Marines invaded. As Laurent Dubois recounts in Haiti: The Aftershocks of History, the Marines took gold from Haiti’s national bank (to pay alleged delinquent debts), seized its ports, and built roads to help American businessmen export sugarcane, bananas, and coffee. By the mid-twentieth century, Americans and Canadians were also mining, mostly bauxite and copper. Most of their profits went north with the ore, and the country’s two mines never employed more than 900 Haitians. Today, billions of dollars worth of gold, silver, copper, and zinc are believed to be buried beneath Haiti’s mountains. A new mine could generate thousands of jobs and hundreds of millions of dollars in tax revenue. It could be just what Haiti needs to help wean itself from its dependency upon foreign aid.
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Yet many Haitians fear their government won’t negotiate forcefully enough with foreign companies to make sure any future mine maximally benefits Haiti and its people. Already, government officials are acquiescing to company interests. Since 2009, Haiti’s government ministers have been considering a new convention. This would allow Eurasian, Newmont’s business partner, to explore an additional 1300 square kilometers of land in Haiti’s north. But according to Dieuseul Anglade, Haiti’s mining chief of two decades, unlike previous agreements, this one doesn’t include a limit—standard among mining contracts worldwide—on how much of a mine’s revenue the company can write off as costs. Without any cap, a mining company can claim that a mine has an unusually low profit margin, allowing it to pay fewer taxes to the Haitian state; Anglade opposed these terms, and was fired in May. “I told them, ‘Better to leave the minerals underground, and let future generations exploit them,’” than to give them away for a pittance. But he says government ministers at the time removed the cap anyway–and didn’t even provide him a copy of the draft agreement. Lugner Remarais, the current mining minister, declined to discuss the pending agreement with me this June.
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Haiti’s mining law says an MOU must be approved by the minister of the mining bureau. Rather than changing the law, at times, Haitian officials are opting to simply ignore it altogether. In April, Newmont announced it had reached a memorandum of understanding with Haiti’s government to begin testing for gold at its La Miel site near the Dominican border, even though its permit to do so still hasn’t come through. Yet both Anglade and Remarais deny signing the memorandum, which Newmont claimed in an email was instead “approved” by the new minister of finance and the minister of public works. The supervisors at La Miel put away their dominoes, moved their machines to the test sites, and began drilling. There are also signs of the usual revolving door of politics, in which officials who play along are rewarded with a company job upon retirement, while those who don’t are ushered out of power. One of the first official acts by newly sworn in Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe was to remove Anglade from the post he’s held for nearly twenty years, replacing him with a man who’s never worked in the mining sector. A former finance minister who oversaw mining agreements now works as a contractor for Newmont.
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If you were to board a plane along the north coast and fly southwest, you’d first pass mountainsides terraced with vegetable gardens and dirt trails forged by farmers walking to a river below. The paths would widen into roads, and the land would turn from garden-green to brown. As Origéne Louis, a Haitian radio journalist from the nearby town of Limbé, puts it, “All the land you see that doesn’t have gardens–” 50 square kilometers–“that’s the land they bought.”
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A sharp turn east-southeast and you’d pass over Haiti’s mineral-rich Massif du Nord mountain range, and then over La Miel. Then, almost instantly, the view would change. The barren mountaintops of Haiti’s deforested terrain become lush treetops. This is the border between Haiti and the Dominican Republic, which occupies the eastern two-thirds of Hispaniola. The border divides a place best known for its extreme poverty from the country with the second-fastest growing economy in all of North America and the Caribbean. Another 100 or so miles deeper into the D.R., those trees give way to massive rock pits, lakes, roads, machines, and the processing plant of the Pueblo Viejo gold mine.
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Occupying 50 square kilometers in the Dominican Republic’s central plateau, the mine will begin producing gold, copper, and silver this year, after nearly a decade of planning and construction. The $3.8 billion mine is the largest investment in Dominican history. Its price tag is four times Haiti’s annual budget. To Haiti’s government ministers, politicians, and businessmen, it’s a tantalizing example of what mining might bring to their side of the border. The Pueblo Viejo mine is owned by two of the world’s largest mining corporations–primary shareholder Barrick and its junior partner Goldcorp, both Canadian. The Canadian company that negotiated the original rights to the mine in 2002–when reserves were estimated at 14 million ounces and gold prices hovered around $310 per ounce–was bought out by Barrick in 2006. In the decade since the original agreement, the value of gold on the world market has risen more than fivefold. Further company research found that nearly twice as much gold is buried at the site than previously thought. The Dominican government operated a gold mine on the same spot in the 1980s and ’90s. The mine contaminated nearby rivers, which still run a murky orange-red, like metal from an ancient shipwreck. Fishing and agriculture became all but impossible, and residents suffered the consequences. Barrick has agreed to clean up the mess as best it can as a condition of operating its own mine, says Jorge Esteva, a Barrick spokesman and the site’s de facto tour guide. Esteva offers his visitors coffee before showing them a PowerPoint presentation that includes such pertinent warnings as “Don’t take flowers from the site” (there aren’t any), “Don’t wash your car in the lake water,” and horn honking as a system of communication. Two short honks means a vehicle is about to advance; three means it’s headed in reverse. “We don’t allow long beeps,” he explains, “because that’s a sign of aggression and we don’t allow aggression on the site.” At Pueblo Viejo, there are no picks, shovels, or wheelbarrows. Instead, workers use explosives to break the rock wall of the pit into chunks. Massive trucks carry the boulders to a series of crushers that break the rock down into baseball-sized pieces, and later, into dust. The dust is mixed with water from a nearby river to create a sort of sludge, which passes through a dizzying set of tubes, tanks, and machines, each step helping isolate specks of gold dust from the millions of tons of ore where they’re lodged. Cyanide is mixed in to help loosen the gold particles; then it’s removed in one of four giant pressure cookers. The leftover rock sludge is piped to a dumping area nearby. If all goes well, this process will yield nearly one million ounces of gold each year at Pueblo Viejo—enough, if melted into standard gold bars, to fill a Mini Cooper.
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Pueblo Viejo’s gold reserves are worth an estimated $37 billion at current market prices. Potentially more important for Dominicans, their government will tax half of the mine’s profits and has promised to pump those taxes back into the Dominican economy. The mine, meanwhile, will employ some 1,500 workers, according to Esteva. Barrick economists say the metals sold from the mine will boost the nation’s total export value by as much as 15 percent, an estimate the Dominican Republic’s chief mining officer calls modest. When Dieuseul Anglade, then Haiti’s mining chief, heard that a Haitian businessman from the city was trying to buy up land near a possible mining site, Anglade drove his personal car to visit the farmers. “I told the people that their land had gold in it, and they had better not sell their land. Despite that, they sold out.” Some sold their plots for as little as $30 US. “This is a grand project,” says Octavio López, the mining chief, in an office overlooking industrialized Santo Domingo. “Any country in the world would want it.”
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When I met Dieuseul Anglade last October, neither of us knew his two-decade term as mining minister was coming to an end. A few years before, Anglade drove his personal car north to the town of Limbé, near Newmont’s Grand Bois testing site. He had heard that a Haitian businessman from the city was trying to buy up land there in the hopes of later selling it to the company at a profit. When Anglade arrived, he told the resident farmers what riches were thought to be buried beneath. “I spent my own money because the bureau didn’t have any,” he says. “I told the people that their land had gold in it, and they had better not sell their land. Despite that, they sold out.” Some sold their plots for as little as $30 US. As the law stands, Haiti’s mining bureau would get 10 percent of the value of any new contract between the company and the Haitian state. But it could take years for that money to begin trickling in, says Anglade, and the most important time to supervise the companies is right now, as the contracts are being written. Not only must the mining bureau make sure companies are playing by the rules of exploration and land acquisition, but when a mine is proposed, it will have to oversee environmental impact studies to avoid ecological catastrophes like the one that turned the Margajita River red. Mining is notoriously toxic, and Newmont–the biggest investor in Haiti’s mining sector–has a poor track record: A 2010 cyanide spill at its gold mine in Ghana killed fish and poisoned the local drinking water supply; Newmont agreed to pay the Ghanian government $5 million for failing to inform officials of the spill in a timely matter.
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When a company submits a proposal to open a mine, Haiti’s government must also weigh the extent to which the project would generate gainful and long-term employment in the local community. Companies like Newmont are relying on teams of rural Haitians to improve roads near their test sites—but these are only temporary, usually limited to just two weeks and minimal pay. “They’re not bringing work to very many of us,” says Elsie Florestan, member of a peasant movement near Newmont’s now-defunct Grand Bois site. Along with others in the community, Florestan had been pressuring company representatives to employ more people to improve roads to the drill site, and to pay them more than the $6.25 a day minimum wage. “That’s really only enough for them to eat,” she says. “The kids still can’t go to school, and we can’t do anything but stand by and watch.” Haiti’s weak government is in little position to be able to inform its rural citizenry about their rights, advocate for their gainful employment, or supervise the work of a mining giant like Newmont. But when it comes to dealing with Newmont and the other foreign mining companies, Haitian officials have a bargaining chip—the minerals themselves. Angalde and others want to see the Haitian government play hardball with companies, demanding a cap on expense deductions and inviting the Haitian public to be informed of, and comment on, changes in mining laws that will affect them in decades to come. So far, the government appears interested only in acquiescing to the companies’ interests.
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Laurent Lamothe, appointed Haiti’s prime minister in May, and Lugner Remarais, the country’s incoming mining chief, argue that Haiti’s outdated mining law—unchanged since 1976—is stalling the progress of companies like Newmont, leaving their employees no choice but to play dominoes while they await permission to dig. Unlike other countries, Haiti requires that myriad ministers and other officials set terms for a potential mine before a company may even begin testing for minerals. But Anglade worries that updating the law will only further weaken Haiti’s ability to negotiate forcefully with companies like Newmont. “We know that that kind of ‘modernization,’ if it happens, will be in the advantage of the companies,” Anglade says. Already the second largest gold producer in the world, Newmont profited $6.1 billion from its worldwide operations last year, twice what it earned just three years earlier. The value of gold on the world market has been skyrocketing the past decade, roughly doubling every four years. Like these mining companies, Haitians see this as a moment of opportunity. “We want to use these riches,” says Jude Pierre, a temporary worker at an exploratory Newmont/Eurasian site at Grand Bois. “But once they begin [mining], there may be riches for them, but more misery for us.” Unless Haiti’s leaders secure favorable terms with the companies now, Pierre suspects the wealth will simply go elsewhere. Last November, he joined Limbé residents in blocking a road used by Newmont and demanding the company improve more roads, build schools, and create steady employment. Instead, Newmont pulled out of the site in April to begin testing at La Miel. There, atop a grassy hill, Newmont digs deep into the earth, chasing the elusive promise of unprecedented riches.
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This article was supported by a grant from the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting. Haiti Grassroots Watch, an investigative reporting consortium, contributed to this report.
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Jacob Kushner is a multimedia journalist who has worked for the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism, La Comunidad News in Madison, and the Daily Cardinal. In 2007, he spent six months in the Dominican Republic conducting research that examined how the education system there reinforces societal prejudices toward Haitians. His current work focuses on immigration topics and foreign investment in Haiti including development aid. His work has also appeared with the Associated Press, GlobalPost, and Newsweek, among others.

Haiti's "Gold Rush" Promises El Dorado - But For Whom?

6/27/2012
IPS/Haiti Grassroots Watch
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Twenty billion dollars worth of gold, copper and silver hidden in the hills of the hemisphere’s poorest country. Investors in North America so convinced of the buried treasure, they have already spent 30 million dollars collecting samples, digging, building mining roads and doing aerial surveys. The fairy tale is true, but it might not have a “happily ever after” ending. A 10-month investigation into Haiti’s budding “gold rush” by the watchdog consortium Haiti Grassroots Watch (HGW) discovered backroom deals, players with widely diverging objectives, legally questionable “memorandums”, and a playing field that is far from level.Although Haitian law states that all subsoil resources belong to “the Haitian nation”, so far the nation has been kept in the dark about the digging and testing going on in the country’s north.
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Dieuseul Anglade, a well-respected geologist who headed the state mining agency for most of the past 20 years, was recently fired by Haiti’s newly installed prime minister. Was it because he has consistently championed tougher laws and better deals for the state, and for the Haitian people? The gold mines planned for Haiti’s north come on the heels of centuries of foreign investment in – and extraction of – the country’s minerals and other natural and agricultural resources. Beginning with Columbus and the Spaniards, foreign concerns and their local associates have destroyed mountains, clear-cut forests, and ripped out local farms in order to set up mines and plantations. Hundreds of thousands of peasants lost their land to U.S. agribusiness concerns during and just after the U.S. occupation (1915-1934). In recent decades, foreign companies mined bauxite and copper. Tens of thousands of families lost their land, thousands of hectares were deforested, and in some cases, land was poisoned. Professor Alex Dupuy, chair of African American Studies, and John E. Andrus, professor of sociology, at Wesleyan University in Connecticut are highly sceptical that the new ventures will produce results much different than their predecessors. Even though Haiti is no longer controlled by a dictatorship, there is little transparency, and no apparent means of auditing or controlling local and foreign investors. “I think the same thing is going to happen,” said Dupuy, author of “Haiti in the World Economy – Class, Race and Underdevelopment”, in a telephone interview with HGW. “The mining industry doesn’t employ a lot of people, and the local ones it will employ will be unskilled labour. The cadres will come from overseas because usually these companies come with their own technology.
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“As in the past, they will expropriate peasants’ land. So, it will be the same thing, all over again. The contracts being signed will be what the foreign company wants, not necessarily what is in the best interests of the country, even if they present it to the public as something that is good for the country. “Peasants have good reason to be distrustful of any and all proposals of foreign investment in Haiti, because they know very well how these projects have gone in the past,” he added. “(The companies) are here to invest for themselves, not for the country, not for the peasants. They appropriate peasants’ lands, taking away their only means of livelihood. So why should peasants trust them, or the central government in Port-au-Prince, or anyone else?” For a timeline, see Haiti’s Grim History of Being “Open for Business”
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“Minerals are part of the public domain of the state,” the 62-year-old Anglade told HGW a month before he was removed from his post. The geologist said that if tougher laws and better contracts with the mining companies aren’t written, it would be better to “leave the minerals underground and let future generations exploit them”. The geologist lost his job shortly after that interview. Another major player in the gold game – Eurasian Minerals – has a different opinion of who should exploit Haiti’s riches. The Canadian company and its Haitian subsidiaries are poised to mine on the very same ground where Christopher Columbus and the Spaniards once forced Haiti’s indigenous peoples to dig for gold. Within 40 years of the famed 1492 landing, hard labour in the mines, murder and European diseases reduced the population from perhaps 300,000 to about 600. Eurasian recently returned to the same hills where so many died, and has been quietly buying up licenses and conventions: 53 of them so far. The company controls exploration or exploitation rights to over one-third of Haiti’s north. “Eurasian Minerals likes to acquire large tracts of real estate, add value by doing good geology, and then execute astute deals with good partners to advance our assets,” Eurasian’s David Cole said in a recent interview, and in another, he bragged that his company “control(s) over 1,100 square miles (1,770 square kilometres) of real estate” in Haiti.
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Eurasian – which has tested over 44,000 samples so far – is partnered with the world’s number two gold producer, U.S.-based mining giant Newmont. Another Canadian company, Majescor, and a small U.S. company, VCS Mining, and their subsidiaries have licenses or conventions for tracts totaling over 750 square kilometres. Altogether, about 15 percent of Haiti’s territory is under license to North American mining firms and its partners. As Majescor’s Haitian subsidiary said in a recent corporate presentation: Haiti is “the sleeping giant of the Caribbean!”
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The giant was “asleep” because Haiti’s minerals have previously been too expensive to extract thanks to the tumult of the past three decades, characterised by brutal coups d’état, and due to local resistance to the mining companies. But the price of gold has held steady above 1,500 dollars an ounce for the past year, Haiti hosts a U.N. peacekeeping force of 10,000 that will assure a modicum of security for the companies, and just next door in the Dominican Republic, foreign gold giants say they’ve found the largest gold reserve in the Americas: 25 million ounces. Haiti’s newly installed prime minister is also optimistic. Laurent Lamothe, whose slogan is “Haiti is open for business,” has pledged to make mining one of the country’s new growth industries and to change laws in order to make them more business-friendly. Speaking before the Senate last month, Lamothe said: “Our subsoil is rich in minerals. Now is the time to dig them up.”
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In a nation where unemployment reaches 70 percent, where over half the population lives on less than a dollar a day, and where most of the government’s budget is covered by foreign aid, the buried treasure sounds like El Dorado. But not all Haitians are as enthusiastic as Lamothe or the foreign mining companies. Pit mining can potentially poison water supplies and damage the environment. In the Dominican Republic, some regions are still suffering from mistakes made a few decades ago. Nor is it clear that the eventual revenues that might be generated would benefit Haiti and its people. The mining companies estimate Haiti’s hills hold over 20 billion dollars in gold – much of it “invisible” because it exists in tiny particles in the rock and dirt. Extraction will only be possible with environmentally hazardous pit mines. But Newmont Mining, Eurasian’s partner, knows its pits. The gold giant opened the world’s first pit mine in Nevada in 1962 and later dug in Ghana, New Zealand, Indonesia, and other countries. In Peru, Newmont runs one of the world’s largest open pit gold mines: the 251-square-kilometre Yanacocha mine.
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But even with its years of experience, the company’s track record is far from error-free. In Peru, farmers’ organisations claim their water supply has been slowly polluted with cyanide and in 2000, Newmont’s Peruvian trucking company spilled 330 pounds of mercury, causing dozens of people to become sickened with deadly diseases. In Ghana, Newmont operates a mine located in a farming region known as Ghana’s “breadbasket”. So far, Ahafo South operations have displaced about 9,500 people, 95 percent of whom were subsistence farmers, according to Environmental News Service. Newmont has poisoned local water supplies there at least once, by its own admission. In 2010, the company agreed to pay five million dollars in compensation for a 2009 cyanide spill. In a May 25 email to HGW, Diane Reberger of Newmont wrote, “We can assure you that Newmont is committed to strong environment, social and ethical practices.” While welcoming the possible benefits that well-built and -supervised mines might bring to Haiti, former state mining agency chief Anglade and other Haitian experts are worried that a pit mine could be dangerous to Haiti’s already fragile environment. Haiti has only about 1.5 percent tree cover, down from about 90 percent in 1492. “Mines can cause big problems for the environment,” Haiti’s former environment minister told HGW.
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Yves-André Wainright, an agronomist by training, noted that in addition to his heavy metal worries, some of the areas under license are “humid mountains”, meaning they play “an important biodiversity role and need to be protected, starting in the prospection phase.” They are also home to tens of thousands of farming families. Nobody from the environment ministry has been seen at any mine sites, according to community radio journalists. “When I really think about the possibility of mining, I am not so sure it’s a good thing,” farmer and peasant organiser Elsie Florestan told HGW. She and her family have some land near Grand Bois, where they grow corn, manioc and sweet potatoes and where Eurasian and Newmont just finished test drilling. “They say the company will need to use the river water for 20 years, and that all the water will be polluted,” continued the 41-year-old member of Haiti’s Tèt Kole Ti Peyizan (“Small Peasants Working Together”) peasant movement. “They say we won’t be able to stay here. “If we don’t organise and make some noise, nothing good will happen as far as we are concerned,” she concluded. “We need to ask the president – what will happen to us peasants?”
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Haiti has not signed the international Safety and Health in Mines convention or the voluntary Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative, both of which – if followed – offer some protections. In addition, Haiti is ranked as one of the most corrupt countries in the world – coming in at 175 out of 200 countries. So far, permits have been issued behind closed doors, deals have been sealed secretly, and the test drilling has been carried out with no public scrutiny and little government oversight, by the state mining agency’s own admission. “The government doesn’t give us the means we need to be able to supervise the companies,” Anglade confirmed in an interview while still head of the agency.
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An audit of the agency’s motor pool shared with HGW in January showed that only five of 17 vehicles were in working condition. And with a budget of about one million dollars, the BME is also strapped for human resources. Only one-quarter of the 100 employees have university degrees. Another 13 percent are “technicians”. The rest are secretarial and “support” staff. In addition, Haiti has one of the lowest royalty rates in the hemisphere, collecting only 2.5 percent of the value of each ounce of gold extracted. “A 2.5 percent royalty share is really low,” according to mining expert Claire Kumar of Christian Aid. “Anything under five percent is just really ludicrous for a country like Haiti. You shouldn’t even consider it. For a country with a weak state, the royalty is the safest place to get your money. There is room for manipulation by the company, but it’s not as big as you would think.”
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Former minister Wainwright shares Kumar’s concerns. Will Haiti’s “weak state” be able to keep an eye on the mining companies’ work and on the potential environmental damage? “We have competent staff at the Mining Bureau, but they don’t have the means to carry out their jobs,” Wainwright said. The mining companies also have friends in high places. Former Minister of Finance Ronald Baudin – who sat across from Newmont at negotiating tables in 2010 and 2011 – went through the “revolving door” and now works directly for the company. Asked in an interview with HGW about the apparent conflict of interest, the ex-minister said “I have to eat, right?” In March, Baudin helped facilitate a “Memorandum of Understanding” (MOU) he says allows Newmont to do test drilling. The ex-minister told HGW said the MOU was “a waiver” to current law, which states that no drilling can take place without a signed mining convention.
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Lawyers consulted by HGW confirmed that the only way to get around the requirements of a law is with a newer law that would remove the requirements of the old one. Anglade, then head of the state mining agency, knows the law. He told HGW that he refused to sign the “waiver”. “I told them it was illegal and that it was not in Haiti’s interest,” Anglade said. Two months later he was out of a job. Despite Anglade’s refusal to agree, the MOU was signed by the then-ministers of Finance and of Public Works in late March, and Eurasian reported to its shareholders on Apr. 23 that “(t)he joint venture is allowed to drill on certain selected projects under the MOU, and drilling is currently underway.” As drilling progresses and more ore is tested, the farmers in Haiti’s northeastern mountains say they feel like nobody is looking out for their interests. Residents of the dirt-poor hillside hamlet of Lakwèv have panned for gold since the 1960s in order to supplement their farming income. Over the past few years, they have seen mining company crews come and go, but they rarely see anyone from the state mining agency or any other government offices. “It’s always a couple of big white guys with some Haitians. They don’t even ask you who owns what land. They come, they take big chunks and put them in their knapsacks and they leave,” peasant organiser Arnolt Jean explained. “We need a government that controls what is going on, because we don’t have the capacity to do that.” Lakwèv is destitute. No clinic, no state schools, no running water, and a rutted path as a “road”. “Our country is poor, but what is underground could make us not poor any more,” Jean mused. “But since our wealth remains underground, it’s the rich who come with their fancy equipment to dig it out. The people who live on top of the ground stay poor, while the rich get even richer.”
Haiti Grassroots Watch is a partnership of AlterPresse, the Society of the Animation of Social Communication (SAKS), the Network of Women Community Radio Broadcasters (REFRAKA), community radio stations from the Association of Haitian Community Media and students from the Journalism Laboratory at the State University of Haiti. Made possible in part by a grant from the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting. The Haitian weekly Haïti Liberté partnered with Haiti Grassroots Watch on this report.

Photos of Haiti Gold Mine (Pulitzer Center - 6/15/2012)

By BEN DEPP
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http://pulitzercenter.org/reporting/haiti-gold-mine-dominican-republic-m...
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In the rural village of Lakwev in northeast Haiti, people have been digging for gold since the 1960s. Holes from tunnels dug by hand are scattered across the land, and with the price of gold increasing, nearly 80 percent of the village's population is involved in unearthing the valuable metal.
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Across the border in the Dominican Republic, the Pueblo Viejo mine--now run by two Canadian mining companies, Barrick and Goldcorp--is set to resume operations this year. The Dominican Republic previously ran the mine, without success, and the operation caused a lot of environmental damage to lakes and rivers. The mining companies have projected that the mine will operate for 25 years and produce about 23.7 million ounces of gold.

In One Haitian Village, a Gold Rush (Pulitzer Center - 6/9/2012)

By Jacob Kushner
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From the small clay yard outside his house made of wooden sticks and mud, Jacques Charles holds a metal bowl filled with water and shows off the sliver of gold resting at the bottom. Then, he reveals the place where he found it—a 12-meter deep tunnel on the side of a hill that he’s been digging with a shovel for 22 days. “I’ve found bigger ones than this, but you have to have good luck,” he says. “If the spirit doesn’t want you to continue living in misery, he can tell you where it’s buried.” For more than 30 years, Charles and his neighbors in the village of Lakwev in Haiti’s rural northeast have been digging into the hard ground and sifting through the uncovered dirt in a search of the gold they know to be buried underneath. Artisanal mining is illegal in Haiti even when residents own the land they dig on. It’s also incredibly dangerous—the makeshift, hand-dug tunnels can easily collapse upon the digger, trapping him or her beneath tons of solid earth. Some in Lakwev have died that way. Like many in the community, Charles didn’t want to spend his life digging for gold. Several years ago, he crossed the border to the Dominican Republic just a few dozen miles away, where he worked as a construction worker. When the earthquake struck Haiti in January 2010, Charles immediately returned with all the money he had saved — but it didn’t last long. He needed some source of income to feed and educate his three kids. So, like others before him, he began digging.
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“Eighty percent of the people in the area look for gold because they don’t have work,” said Anolt Jean, 49, who serves as the de facto community leader in Lakwev. The 10 by 20-ft. wooden porch to his home serves as a meeting ground for residents. Today, a half dozen of them sit on plastic chairs and play dominoes, listening to Bachata music coming from a Dominican radio station across the nearby border. On a dirt path near his house, a barefoot woman walks by with her hand closed, carrying a speck of gold she’s uncovered in a hand-dug tunnel. Marie Celéne Saint-Fleur has been mining for gold since such a young age that she needs Anolt’s help remembering the spelling of her name and what year she was born.
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Anolt fingers through stacks of index cards he keeps with the birth date, ID number and other biographical information about most of the town’s few thousand residents. “I have files on every family,” he says of the color-coded cards. A white card means the person is unmarried. Yellow or red means married, and green means the person is a member of his church. He stops at a green card and concludes that Saint-Fleur is 25 and that she dropped out of school after completing fifth grade because her father died. Saint-Fleur says she tried to maintain the small plot of land on which her father cultivated yams and other crops. “I wasn’t strong enough to work the land. I left school to mine.”
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Her situation is common among Haiti’s rural poor, many of whom struggle to produce enough food to live on. Often, they produce little or nothing at all because the soil is too depleted from chronic deforestation, droughts or over-cultivation. Etude Dorelien, 35, who washes dirt that’s been dug up from a nearby riverbed, says agriculture and other work isn’t as viable as gold mining. “When you find something, you can eat and you can pay for your kids' school fees,” she says. “If you do gardening, you might have to sit and wait a year to have something to eat.” Dorelien says she struggles to keep her six children fed and in school. Youth in Lakwev are often the most vulnerable to the area’s poverty. Many children walk around barefoot, their short hair a rusty reddish-gray color, a sign of iron deficiency.
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“The biggest cause of death is suffering from malnutrition. Their hair becomes red, their skin tightens up. Last Friday, one died right over there,” says Anolt, pointing in the direction of a small hut nearby. “Her hair was very red. Parents, they know it, but they don’t want to steal from others, so they accept it.” Ernevil Jesula, the mother of the girl who died, says there was nothing she could to do to save her daughter who she says died of a fever. “Food? We don’t have enough money for that,” she says. “We go maybe three days a week where we don’t have food. Other days we eat plain rice, because we can’t buy beans.”
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Anolt says Jesula is 40 years old, but she looks much older. She describes the misery that’s befallen her family. “I have seven kids, and I lost five, so I have two,” she says. The remaining two children are now resteveks, or domestic servants, for a wealthier family in the northern town of Ouanaminthe. Like many parents who are unable to provide for their children, Jesula instead sent hers to work for a family that she hoped would feed and clothe them. “It’s a zone with a lot of misery,” notes Anolt as he walks away from Jesula’s hut. “But there is gold.” Each Thursday, a handful of Haitian gold merchants descend upon Lakwev from Ouanaminthe. They use small, battery-powered scales to measure the weight of the gold fragments before offering about 110 gourdes (just under $3) for one-tenth of a gram. Later, they will sell it for perhaps 20 gourdes (50 cents) more to Dominican gold traders, or Haitian jewelry makers such as Walter Jerson Eloi who lives a few miles from Lakwev in the town of Mont Organize.
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“First I heat it with charcoal to melt it. Then I can form it into anything I want,” says Eloi, who mixes the gold with larger quantities of copper to make earrings, rings and bracelets that he can sell to clients from as far away as Port-au-Prince. “When people are going to marry, they come to me looking for a ring,” he boasts. But Eloi says he hasn’t had work in months. “I can’t afford the material right now. Now gold is more expensive. As the price rises, I have to charge more too.” Though the rising value of gold put Eloi out of work, it’s attracting large North American mining companies to explore for minerals in Haiti’s northern mountains in the hopes of striking it rich by opening a modern gold mine. Anolt says various companies have already begun exploring the land around Lakwev, including Haiti’s own mining bureau some decades ago, and more recently the Canadian company St. Genvieve. Twenty-five miles southeast, a joint venture by two large mining companies — Newmont Mining Corporation and Eurasian Minerals—is already employing locals to improve roads that will allow the companies to transport their testing equipment to drill sites in the town of La Miel. Anolt says Lakwev residents, who have labored for gold in hand-dug tunnels for years yet remain in abject poverty, hope a mine might finally bring jobs and income to what are some of Haiti’s poorest residents.

Haiti's Rush for Gold Gives Mining Firms Free Reign (5/31/12)

Poverty Matters Blog
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A gold rush is shaping up in Haiti's north. Some – like the new prime minister – say the $20bn worth of copper, silver and gold buried in the country's hills could help Haiti escape its dependency on foreign aid and rebuild from the devastating 2010 earthquake. In a nation with unemployment as high as 70%, where more than half the population lives on less than $1 a day, and where most of the government's budget is paid for with foreign assistance, the buried treasure sounds like El Dorado. Speaking at the Senate this month, Haiti's new prime minister and international telecommunications entrepreneur Laurent Lamothe said: "Our subsoil is rich in minerals. Now is the time to dig them up." But many are nervous that the mines will be boom for foreign investors and bust for local communities and the state coffers. Licences are being awarded behind the closed doors of a government whose slogan is "Haiti is open for business".
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In the hamlet of Lakwèv near the border with the Dominican Republic, about 50 families live in mostly dirt-floored wattle and daub huts. Only half of the families can afford to send their children to school. "It's usually a couple of big white guys, with a couple of Haitians," explains Arnolt Jean, 49, who lives in one of the few concrete homes in the hillside community. "They don't even ask you who owns what land. They come, they take big chunks of earth, put them in their knapsacks and leave. We Haitians all just watch, because we can't do anything about it." Lakwèv – where families grow coffee and cassava and dig their own mines to supplement their meagre incomes – is one of dozens of spots that mining companies have staked out. More than a third of Haiti's north – at least 1,500 sq km – is under licence to US and Canadian companies. Eurasian Minerals has acquired 53 licences and collected more than 44,000 samples. The junior explorer firm recently teamed up with the world's No 2 gold producer, US-based Newmont Mining.
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On a radio programme, the Eurasian Minerals president David Cole boasted about Haiti: "We control over 1,100 square miles of real estate", while investor Mickey Fulp wrote: "It is obvious there is substantial geopolitical risk in Haiti. But the geology is just so damn good." With a pro-business government and about 10,000 UN peacekeepers stationed around the country, the risk in today's Haiti is minimal, and the price of gold has been at or above $1,500 an ounce for more than a year. Mining companies say they have spent $30m digging, drilling and testing the deposits of mostly "alluvial" or "invisible" gold that are part of the same mineralisation belt that holds the largest gold reserve in the Americas – the Pueblo Viejo mine in the Dominican Republic. This year, Barrick and Goldcorp will begin producing at the newly refurbished pit mine, going after what they claim is at least another 23.7m ounces of gold and 141.8m ounces of silver.
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The companies lining up to dig pit mines in Haiti – Newmont, Majescor, and VCS Mining – have so far been working with little government oversight. At a recent meeting held in his new office – the old one was destroyed in the earthquake – the former director of Haiti's mining agency, Dieuseul Anglade, was apologetic. "The government doesn't give us the means to supervise the companies," the geologist said. "Most of our budget goes to salaries. We don't really have an operating budget." A January audit of the budget showed that only five of the agency's 17 vehicles were working. Of the 100 employees, only one-quarter have university degrees, 13% are technicians and the rest are support staff. Scores of mining licences and drill sites, often located several hours' walk from the nearest road, go unsupervised. "We have competent staff at the mining agency, but they don't have the means to carry out their jobs," says former environmental minister Yves-André Wainwright. The agronomist is worried about the dangers of pit mining, which often uses mercury and cyanide. Some of the areas under licence play "an important biodiversity role and need to be protected," he says.
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Haiti has not signed the convention concerning safety and health in mines, or the voluntary Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative. The country ranks 175 out of 200 on Transparency International's corruption index. In April, Eurasian told shareholders a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) would "accelerate the advancement of drill-ready prospects". Haiti's former finance minister, Ronald Baudin, who became a consultant to Newmont after leaving public service, called the MOU "a waiver" to current law. Haiti's 1976 mining legislation says no drilling can take place without a signed mining convention. Baudin qualified the law as "out of date". "The government is conscious of what damage they are doing to the company. They have camps all over the country, with important logistics, and they are blocked because the convention can't be signed," Baudin says. When he was head of the state mining agency, Anglade says he refused to sign the "waiver". "I told them it was illegal and not in Haiti's interest," Anglade said in an interview in March. Head of the mining agency for almost two decades, Anglade was suddenly replaced when the new prime minister took office. According to a 25 May correspondence, Eurasian and Newmont appear to believe Anglade had signed the document.
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Lamothe has promised to push through new mining legislation that assures "the right portion comes to the state", but he also noted that it would do so "[a]s much as possible without hampering also the revenue of the party, allowing them to do business". If previous enterprises are any indication, there is good reason to worry about Haiti's gold rush. The experience of bauxite mining in the 50s and 60s suggests Haitians may not benefit from mineral extractions in their area, with little more than an eight-mile road, about 900 low-wage jobs and a few million dollars that went to the corrupt Duvalier dictatorship. Hundreds of families lost their land and the mining sites left scars that have yet to heal. In Lakwèv, small children join their parents in dangerous homemade tunnels that burrow down 40 feet and then weave horizontally through the orange dirt. If they are lucky, a day's work might end with a few gold flecks. Once a week, gold traders from Haiti's cities and the Dominican Republic secretly buy their finds at less than half the market rate – about $700 an ounce. Surrounding fields are pitted with tunnels and the riverbeds run red with the panners' discarded dirt. There is no sign of any state presence – no mining agency staff, no mayor, no clinic. But there are little pink ribbons tied to trees and posts. "They had a machine that could detect where the deposits were. Every place they found gold, they made a sign," Jean explains,. "Our country is poor, but what is underground could make us not poor any more," Jean says. "But since our wealth remains underground, it's the rich who come with their fancy equipment to dig it out. The people who live on top of the ground stay poor, while the rich get even richer."

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