Haiti is not as devoid of resources as you have been led to believe. At least, not according to AP’s recent reports detailing precious metal mining in Haiti’s northeastern mountains.
Since 2010, enterprising North American mining companies have been steadily buying prospecting rights in mostly rural areas of the country. It seems the devastating earthquake of 2010 has pushed traces of gold, silver, and copper to the fore, which are now estimated to be worth $20 billion. And according to a Mobile Corp. oil geologist cited by Bloomberg News, “The Jan. 12 earthquake … may have cracked rock formations along the fault, allowing gas or oil to temporarily seep toward the surface.” The mining companies who arrived in Haiti early are now poised to reap billion dollar profits. Haiti’s mining potential does not come as a surprise to Haitians. Back in 2002, then-President Aristide unveiled his party’s (Fanmi Lavalas) roadmap for Haiti’s development. Known as Lavalas’ White Book, the document addressed the country’s mining potential and included a corresponding map as to where specific resources such as gold, silver and hydrocarbons might be found throughout the country. (Click here to see the map.) The White Book envisioned future mining activity within private/public partnerships to ensure Haitians not only remain in control of their resources, but also benefit from it. Following Aristide’s sudden ouster from office, along with Lavalas’ indefinite ban from political activities within the country, the White Book became an historical footnote. In reaction to AP’s report, the newly minted Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe announced that he is in the process of drafting mining laws, which will “lay out rules apportioning royalties for the government and setting protections for the people and environment that could be affected by mines.” Mr. Lamothe would be well advised to carefully study the effectiveness of mining legislation in neighboring Latin American and Caribbean countries in protecting local people and the environment. Extractive industries – whether metals or fossil fuels – usually devastate surrounding ecosystems and displace local populations. Given the dangers of mining to a fragile landscape and impoverished people, not only will Haiti need legislation to protect its environment and citizens, it will also need legislation to apportion responsibility for unintended consequences and deter graft. Just as importantly, the country will need to develop its capacity to rehabilitate the environment in the event of a mining-related disaster. Haiti already suffers from water shortages, severe deforestation and soil erosion; thus the island is vulnerable to damage from additional stress. This is a tall order for a country that has yet to recover from 2010’s earthquake and where the rule of law has not taken hold. In light of all this, the Haitian government should place a moratorium on mining until it can enact legislation based on a deliberate study of best practices, if those exist, and significant input from its social movements.