Haiti’s Hidden Treasures – Gold Up For Grabs?

Haiti is a gold-rich country, with the precious metals on the island estimated at around 20 billion dollars. 

The first time gold was mined in Haiti was during the 15th century when Christopher Columbus forced the native Arawak Indians to dig it out of the hills. Fast forward to the new millennium, and international mining companies have once again set their sights upon the tropical island with a keen interest in its potential riches.

Haiti has not had an easy ride on the international stage. From international sanctions, limited aid & support, corrupt leaders and crippling natural disasters such as the 2010 earthquake. An event that devastated the island’s landscape and claimed hundreds of thousands of lives. It looked like the Haitian people could not catch a break.

A 2012 survey suggested that more than six million Haitians lived below the poverty line, surviving on a meagre $2.41 per day. The significant mineral discovery invigorated hope that Haiti could bounce back from the 2010 earthquake and begin economic and social plans for national development.

“According to the World Bank, Haiti is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, with a GDP per capita of $797 and a Human Development Index ranking of 169 out of 189 countries in 2019”. – 

Despite the setbacks, Haitian people have a stealth determination and spirit. Through hardships, they still smile, enjoy the natural goodness life has to offer. Haitians are often referred to as the loveliest and most welcoming people on the planet.

Over the years the corrupt governments that ruled the nation like a dictatorship struggled to attract foreign investment. There was no international confidence in Haiti’s political system and its ability to govern the resources. Previous leaders did not work for the West’s interests, making the county unappealing to outside investors.

A change of Haiti’s political leadership in 2011 quickly led to international interest that could have lead to a substantial economic boom. Between 2009 and 2011, exploratory drilling started by US and Canadian companies unearthed precious metals, including gold, copper, and silver. With it being estimated that Haitian soil could hold up to $20bn in valuable metals and minerals. 

credit: The New York Times

The Clintons Help Haiti?

After the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, The Clintons kicked into action and started fundraising for Haiti. Bill Clinton was the co-chair of the Interim Haiti Recovery Commission. Hilary Clinton’s brother Tony Rodham and some partners proposed a $22 million deal to rebuild homes in the devastated nation with some of the funding to come from Clinton Foundation.

It is alleged, Tony Rodham made deals as soon as 15 days after the earthquake, securing land for future explorative efforts. 

While the Clintons led the way with the international efforts to fundraise for Haiti, out of the billions raised, its alleged a measly few millions made it to the island and even less made it to the people directly affected by the quake. With Tony securing large amounts of land and having such close links to the Clintons while overseeing the aid distribution – the entire group came under public scrutiny because their efforts looked like it provided a gateway for shady mining deals. 

In October 2013, Rodham joined the advisory board of VCS Mining, a Delaware-based company that was planning a gold mine in Haiti’s Cap-Haïtien Arrondissement area.

Eventually, the deal came to a controversial halt due to the environmental effects and the disproportionate level of foreign ownership. The Clinton Foundation also came forward and said they were unaware of the proposal by Rodham and his partners.

On February 19, 2016, Tony resigned as a board member from VCS Mining as part of a “restructuring plan” with no disagreement among the parties implied.


Eyes On The Prize

Under president Michel Martelly’s rule and with the world bank’s support, in 2013, meetings to explore the countries natural resources deep in the vast hills on the north-eastern part of the country were held. 

“This event marks a seminal step towards a shared vision of mining development in Haiti.” – the World Bank’s senior country officer, Deo Ndikumana, said of the Forum,

The World bank openly supported the process. Unfortunately, the new mining laws proposed for Haiti seemed to protect international mining companies’ interests, such as Newmont and did nothing to protect the people of the land.

Behind closed doors, the foreign mining companies were awarded explorative contracts from the government but found problems as the land they wanted to explore belonged to farmers and their families who made their living working the land for many generations. 

Newmont issued hundreds of land access agreements to landowners and land users that authorised Newmont-Eurasian to use their land. The agreement included a “carte blanche” to perform exploration activities and noted that some activities may “destroy” the land. 

Mining companies approached farmers with an iron fist covered by a velvet glove. Trickery and deception were used to get the farmers to waive their legal rights to the land, preventing them from making any claim or action related to the contracts.

Newmont and its junior joint venture partner Eurasian (Newmont-Eurasian) conducted activities under Haiti’s exploration permit between 2009 and 2013. Although exploration activities do not present the risks to the environment and to local communities of mineral exploitation, Newmont-Eurasian operations in Haiti violated residents’ rights to information and raise concerns about future activities.” – Ellie Happel [1]

Newmont pursued their exploitative efforts and left a sour taste in the local community’s mouths. Locals felt robbed, as they could not read contracts, which led to locals being exploited by the Canadian firm’s heavy-handed tactics.

Several local community organisations joined forces to protest against the Canadian mining company.

In 2014, interviews conducted by the Global Justice Clinic and Kolektif Jistis Min (Justice Mining Collective or KJM) took place with more than 75 landowners and farmers in the area to better understand the conditions surrounding Newmonts land access agreements. 

As suspected, agreements were made without the landowner’s informed consent, and some residents reported that they were promised material benefit in exchange for signing or thumb-printing the agreement – none of which was received.

“We were in the dark. They took our land and dug on it. They sent a paper to some of us, and we did not know what it was. We thought that maybe they sent this paper to people so they could work for the company in the future.” [2] – Resident of Northwest Haiti

“A man came to my house and said that a picket had been placed on my land near Vert de Gris where my nephews plant beans and cabbage. I walked to the land. It took about an hour. The engineer from the company came over to me and asked if I owned the land. I said yes. He then asked me if I could read. Ha! I said to him, Look at me. I’m old! Of course I did not go to school. The engineer took my thumb and dipped it in ink. He marked the piece of white paper with it. I had no idea what the paper said. I had no idea what it was. He then paid me 150 [Haitian] Gourdes [approximately $3.20] 158, and I never saw him again.” [3] – Landowner in Northwest Haiti

Haiti is rich in resources, but mismanagement keeps the country and its people in extreme poverty. Many people in Haiti and worldwide believe the gold rush will do nothing to generate wealth for the country. It will only serve to make rich foreigners even more wealthy. Unfortunately, dodgy deals, land grabs, corruption in government and international capitalism Haiti’s Gold may end up being a curse. 

In 2021, no mining is currently taking place, leaving Haiti’s potential wealth unearthed. Although mining is a complex sector, it can help reduce poverty and promote economic growth when managed transparently and sustainably. Let us hope Haitians directly reap the benefits from the gold of their land.


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