Grassroots Groups Wary of “Attractive” Mining Law

by Haiti Grassroots Watch (for Haiti Liberte)
As the government works on preparing “an attractive law that
will entice investors,” Haitian popular organizations are mobilizing and
forming networks to resist mining in their country.
one-third of the north of Haiti is under research, exploration, or exploitation
license to foreign companies. Some 2,400 square kilometers have been parceled
out to Haitian firms fronting for U.S. and Canadian concerns. Some estimate
that Haiti’s mineral wealth – mostly gold, copper, and silver – could be worth
as much as US$ 20 billion.
awarding of permits behind closed doors, with no independent or community
oversight, has angered many in Haiti, who fear that the government is opening
the country up to systematic pillage.
            But the
head of the government mining agency does not appear concerned. To the
contrary, he told Haiti Grassroots Watch (HGW) that Haiti must be made more
“attractive” to potential investors.
            “We need an
attractive mining law,” Ludner Remarais, head of the Bureau des mines et de l’énergie (BME – Mining and Energy Agency in
English). “A mining law that will entice investors. That’s what we need.”
            The current
law is obsolete, according to Remarais.
            The “gold
rush” in Haiti has been going on for the past five years or so, since the price
of gold and other minerals rose. Until last year, the government and the
companies cut their deals behind closed doors. After an investigation revealed
that 15% of the county was under contract, on Feb. 20, 2013 the Haitian Senate
adopted a resolution demanding all activities cease in order to allow for a
national debate and for analysis of all contracts.
to the BME, all mining activities are currently suspended.
parliamentary commission voted a resolution,” Remarais said. “We are
scrupulously respecting the decision,” but, he added, the resolution does not
annul the rights already acquired.
Mobilizations in the
gold-rich regions
Peasant, human rights, food sovereignty, and environmental
organizations are worried about the disastrous effects the mining industry
could have on water quality, farmland, and on the affected regions in general.
            Tèt Kole Ti Peyizan Ayisyen (“Small
Peasants Working Together”), the Défenseurs
des opprimés
(DOP or “Defenders of the Oppressed”), the Mouvement démocratique populaire (MODEP
or the “Democratic Popular Movement”), the Plateforme
des organisations de défense des droits humains
(POHDH or Haitian Human
Rights platform), the Plateforme
haïtienne de plaidoyer pour un développement alternatif
(PAPDA or “Haitian
Platform for an Alternative Development”) and the labor organization Batay Ouvriye have formed the Collective
Against Mining. The network assists local associations with information and
consciousness-raising sessions.
            On Jul. 5,
over 200 farmers from the area around the Grand Bois deposit – about 11
kilometers south of Limbé, in the North department – got together at Machabiel
to discuss the mining operation and their futures. For three hours under a
blazing sun, they spoke of their worries.
someone talks about mining, our history makes us think of slavery, of the
take-over of our farmlands,” said Willy Pierre, a social sciences teacher from
a nearby school. “We could lose our fertile fields. We will be forced off our
land. Where will we live?”
            The Grand Bois deposit is rich in gold and copper,
according to tests carried out by the Canadian mining company Eurasian
Minerals. Eurasian owns the license given by the BME to its Haitian subsidiary,
Société Minière Citadelle S.A., which
works with the Haitian firm Ayiti Gold.
In June, unidentified
persons broke into and sacked Ayiti Gold’s
office at Camp Coq, near the deposit.
            During the Jul. 5 meeting, many people said they were
nervous. The prospect of open pit gold mines reminded them of the hundreds of
thousands, or perhaps millions, of indigenous people who died in the Spanish
gold mines or from diseases brought by Spaniards in the 16th
            “This mining business should be a lesson for all of
us,” warned Jean Vilmé, a farmer from the Bogé region of Grand Bois.
“Not only will those of us who live around the mineral deposit perish; the
entire country will be swallowed up!”
            Batay Ouvriye
member Emmanuel Dalès shouted: “Let’s pledge to say ‘no to mining, yes to
            Two weeks earlier about 50 members of local and national
organizations met in Jean Rabel, an impoverished town in the Northwest
department with poor roads, and no water system or health facilities.
Participants watched and debated a video on mining in Haiti and discussed their
next steps.
            Earlier that month, some 60 representatives of the
associations in the Collective Against Mining organized a day-long meeting at
Montrouis, northeast of the capital, to plan out the main strategies of their
mobilization. Of particular concern are the protection of ground water, food
sovereignty, agricultural land, biodiversity, health, and land ownership.
            Clébért Duval, a member of Tèt Kole from Port-de-Paix, noted that a state that is working in
favor of its people could use mineral resources to “change the conditions of
the popular masses, peasants, vulnerable people, and could give this country a
new face.”
            However, he added: “If the state is a predator that is
working for the multinationals, for the capitalist system which, since it is in
crisis, is taking over the riches of poor countries to fight the crisis, then
that state will always encourage mining. But all the money that should go to
the people will go to the foreign firms, except for a few crumbs for the local
guys who are serving as go-betweens. The mining companies will get all the
riches, just as they have in the past.”
            Many rejected the officials’ arguments that mining is
important for the country’s development and economy.
            “In 2012, some companies did prospecting,” said
Vernicia Phillus, a member of the Tèt
women’s coordination in Baie de Henne. “They took away soil and
rock samples. Each person who worked for them got between 200 and 250 gourdes
(US$4.65-US$5.81) a day. We in Baie de Haine are against any eventual mining
because we will not profit one bit. It will have harmful impacts that destroy
our fertile lands and our fruit trees and dry up our aquifers.”
Government and World Bank also Organizing
To accomplish what the BME
head called “leaps forward” with its plan to encourage foreign mining
companies, the Haitian government together with the World Bank organized a
“Mining Forum” on Jun. 3-4, 2013 that had as its objective to “develop the
mining sector in a way that makes it a motor for the country’s economic
takeoff.” Some Haitian media lauded the event.
            One of its principle objectives was to sketch out the
general contours of a new mining law for the country, even though in May, the
bank had announced it was already working on the law’s rewrite.
            Haitian media coverage neglected this calendar issue and
also failed to note that the involvement of the World Bank in writing Haitian
mining law appears to be a conflict of interest.
            In 2010, the International Finance Commission (IFC), a
branch of the bank, invested about US$5 million in Eurasian Mineral’s Grand
Bois operation, receiving Eurasian shares in exchange. Thus, the bank is
helping to write a law that is meant to regulate it and protect Haiti.
            The World Bank is often criticized by organizations like
Mining Watch Canada, Earthworks, and others for being lax where the protection
of poor countries is concerned, and for its role in the “continuation of
colonialism” in Africa, Asia, and Latin America through its important loans to
mining companies.
            In March, the U.S. government representative to the World
Bank abstained in a vote to approve a Bank loan for US$12 billion to a mining
operation in the Gobi Desert, citing concerns over potential negative
environmental impacts. The bank loans were approved anyway, according to Inter
Press Service.
            During the Jun. 3-4 forum, Haitian authorities said that
the new law should “allow for transparent contracts.” And, according to the Associated
Press, Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe said his government was working with
“competent experts who have [Haiti’s] national interests at heart.”
            But the Bank is a Eurasian shareholder. Also, most of the
speakers at the conference were from foreign institutions and companies.
Parliamentarians, local elected officials, independent geologists and
researchers, representatives of the people from the regions concerned, and
grassroots organizations did not address the room.
            The BME is moving forward despite the fact that its
“forum” was more like an “insider’s club” meeting.
            “Our mining law is preventing us from making a leap
forward,” Remarais said a few days after the meeting, without hesitation.
“Through the forum, the Haitian government has decided to rewrite the mining
law. That is what is happening at this moment.”
            (Remember that the Bank announced it was already involved
in rewriting the law before the conference took place.)
            Asked about an eventual new law that would be
“attractive” and capable of “enticing investors,” the director of DOP, a member
of the Collective Against Mining, said he was concerned.
            “Mining legislation that is ‘attractive’ will open the
country up for ‘business,’” wrote attorney Patrice Florvilus on Jul. 14, 2013,
making reference to the government’s slogan “Haiti – Open for business.”
            “Business, without considering the deleterious effects on
community life and on the environment which is already deteriorating at a
worrying pace,” he added.

            In a Jul. 22, 2013 note, the Collective wrote the
following: “We want a truly national law and international conventions that
protect life, water, land, and the environment, and that outlaw mining which
brings with it pollution, destruction, contamination, and more hunger.”

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.