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HAITI
Resistance against mining activity gets stronger
Milo Milfort
11/13/2015
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Civil society organizations oppose bill that would relax requirements for mining.

Elsie Florestan is a member of the peasant organization Tèt Kole Ti Peyizan (United Heads Small Farmers) in the community of Machabyèl, in Lembe, in the northern region of Haiti. The area is part of the approximately 4,000 square kilometers — about15 percent of Haiti’s territory — that are concessioner to foreign companies for mining. Experts say that the reserves of gold, silver and copper are worth US$20 billion.

Florestan is poor, has 11 children and lives in a house that lacks many things in Machabyèl. But she is convinced that mining gold and copper will not be in the best interest of this country of 10 million people.

“If the mining companies enter, we will organize to block access to the site,” she said.

In this region, many people and various organizations oppose mining. This has resulted in the formation of a strong resistance movement to face mining companies.

With help from the World Bank, the mining issue is back today in Haiti’s agenda through a bill that aims to make this activity attractive to investors, following the slogan “Haiti open for business”, promoted by President Michel Martelly in view of the massive expansion of the mining sector.

The legislative initiative, which could be approved by the new Parliament that was elected on Oct. 25 and that will take office in early 2016, has more than 280 articles that relax the granting of licenses and controls, which would pave the entry of foreign companies that are interested in mining.

In addition to creating a new agency, the National Mining Authority, the bill includes requirements for exploitation of mineral resources, the general conditions of eligibility of resources, exploration and exploration licenses, operating permits, areas of artisanal gold mining, mechanisms for administrative supervision of processing and marketing of mineral products, and the renovation and expansion of mining titles.

Lack of transparency
However, many national and international organizations have denounced that the bill was drafted without the participation of the people and without transparency. According to them, the initiative is a threat to the environment and state institutions.

According to Phanès Thélusma, activist for Kolektif Jistis Min (Mining Justice Collective), an organization that provides information on mineral resources to the populations living around the mining area, and that is made up of more than 20 organizations of Haitian civil society that oppose the bill, “people are ready to fight against mining. Various documentaries show the huge negative impact of this activity in other countries and that allows them to see that mining is a great danger.”

Inspired by experiences of several countries in Latin America and Africa, these organizations are reluctant to accept the discourse that says that mining will generate growth and employment in Haiti. These community-based organizations have mobilized and formed networks of resistance to mining.

Last January, Kolektif Jistis Min, along with other local and international organizations, presented complaints before the World Bank and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) against the bill.

The complaint, which was supported by the Global Justice Clinic of New York University, was rejected by the World Bank. The document asked the Inspection Panel to examine whether the support for the Haitian government respected the mandate on transparency and environmental safety.

Weak governance
National and international authorities have agreed that Haiti is not ready for gold mining. In 2013, the Senate stated that “the time was inadequate to carry out transactions that permit the exploitation of our strategic resources,” taking into account “the current inability of the country to calmly negotiate mineral resources in a context of political imbalance, of state weakness accentuated by the military occupation of the country by multinational forces”, and “given the serious ecological risks inherent in this type of activity and the already alarming level of degradation of our environment.”

In August, the British humanitarian organization Oxfam presented a report “Ready for gold?: Haiti backgrounder. Assessing Haiti’s governance and regulatory capacity for large-scale mining,” which assesses Haiti’s governance and regulatory capacity for large-scale mining.

 “Despite considerable donor assistance since the early 1990s — assistance that mushroomed following the 2010 earthquake —, Haiti’s public fiscal management system (comprising its institutions; its human, technical and financial capacities; and its laws and policies) remains weak, ineffective, and prone to corruption. There are few, if any, indicators that Haiti’s public fiscal management system has the capacity to effectively manage the anticipated windfall from extracting and exporting Haiti’s subsoil minerals,” says Oxfam.

 “Significant work remains to be done to address broader governance challenges before potentially large mining rents are injected into the system,” added.
—Latinamerica Press.


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Agricultural areas in northern Haiti would be affected by mining activity. (Photo Milo Milfort)
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