Civil society groups demand oversight of metal mining in Haiti

Metal mining in Haiti could generate tens of billions in revenue, but some development experts warn the industry would do more harm than good for everyday Haitians. (FMSC/Flickr)

The Haitian government is eager to tap into the country’s abundant reserves of precious metals, but civil society organizations say that without adequate oversight, mining operations might do more harm than good.

Caribbean Media Corporation (CMC) reported Tuesday that the organizations had released a statement denouncing the Haitian government’s plans to “regulate and allow mining while minimizing negative impacts on the environment.”

A representative of one of the groups, the Platform of Haitian Human Rights Organizations (POHDH), said the government’s promise of economic development amounted to “bad propaganda.”

“Previous experience has shown that the exploitation of metal mines has only increased people’s misery, caused epidemics and caused phenomena such as environmental degradation and migration,” said POHDH Executive Secretary Alermy Piervilus.

The organizations urged the government to provide an environmental protection policy before continuing any mining projects in the country, reported CMC.

Haiti is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, but its abundant gold reserves have attracted exploitative mining industries for centuries. More recently, two U.S. and two Canadian companies reportedly spent more than $30 million on exploration for gold, silver and copper, revealing an estimated potential worth of $20 billion in precious metals.

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The new administration of Jovenel Moïse considers the mineral sector key to the country’s economic growth. Some development experts agree – but only if the mining projects have more responsible oversight.

“There are environmentally destructive modes of mineral extraction and modes that are less destructive,” said Gerald Murray, a Haiti expert and American anthropologist at the University of Florida, in an email to Humanosphere. “If Haiti turns out to have subterranean resources, why should Haiti in principle be ‘protected’ from an activity that is generating revenues worldwide?”

Mining operations in Haiti are currently on hold while the industry awaits the adoption of a new mining law that the World Bank helped write in 2014. Environmentalists and human rights advocates have criticized the draft law for failing to adequately protect the environment or the human rights of nearby communities, as well as failing to ensure transparency on behalf of the mining industry and Haitian government.

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In a country notorious for poor governance and corruption, another concern is that mining profits would not be felt by the wider Haitian population that desperately needs it.

“In an ideal case scenario, billions of dollars could be earned and channeled by the government into developmental activities,” said Murray. “That is unlikely to happen, not because of mining per se, but because of the current organization of the Haitian state, despite the good intentions of the new president.”

The backlash from civil society organizations in Haiti comes days after lawmakers in El Salvador voted to prohibit all mining for gold and other metals, making the country the first in the world to impose a nationwide ban on the extractive industry.

Supporters said the law was needed to protect the country’s dwindling supply of clean water. According to the United Nations, El Salvador is the second-most environmentally degraded country in the Americas, after Haiti.

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Lisa Nikolau

Lisa Nikolau is a Madrid-based reporter for Humanosphere, covering gender equality, indigenous rights and poverty in Latin America and worldwide. Find her on Twitter at @lisanikolau, email lisa.nikolau@humanosphere.org or see her latest work at www.lisanikolau.com