(This article first appeared in Relations no 786 (septembre-octobre 2016, p. 36-38))
By Gerardo Ducos
The revival of the mining sector has been put forward as a way to boost the development of the country. Confronted to a failing State who offloads its responsibilities, when it comes to major stakes for the environment and for the population, the community is rallying.
Haiti is not known as a country with a wealth in natural resources. However, for the last five years, its potential in mineral ores and hydrocarbons generates an enthusiasm for the exploration of these resources and attracts foreign investors. The Haitian government and its international partners are working toward the revival and the development of the mining sector which has been dormant since the earlier 80s.
Following the earthquake of January 2010, the Haitian government elaborated the Strategic Plan for the Development of Haiti. It plans, among other things, the promotion and development of the mineral and energy resources in order to sustain the development of the country and ensure that Haiti could become an emergent country by the year 2030. However, considering the fragility of the government and of its institutions, the possibility of using the natural resources for social and economic development seems more like an illusion than a way to ensure the prosperity of the Haitian people in the near future.
As of now, little is known about the mineral resources of Haiti, at least among the Haitian population. However, American and Canadian mining companies, which are doing exploration since 2008, estimate that the Haitian land holds a wealth that has been estimated up to 20 billion US dollars on the international markets. These estimates exclude the hydrocarbon resources. Some recent explorations let us believe that it could be a real bonanza. In order to profit from these resources, the government of the former President Michel Martelly (2011-2016) has invested in the mining sector relying on a triple -pronged strategy: exploitation of the mineral resources with the help of foreign mining companies’ investments; the reform of the legal framework concerning the mining exploitation and the creation of a mining land register, and the evaluation of the mining potential of the country.
A green light for the mining exploitation
In December 2012, the Bureau for Mines and Energy (Bureau des mines et énergie (BME)) issued the first exploitation permits since the adoption of the mining law in 1976 (Loi minière) These permits enabled two Canadian companies (Eurasian Minerals and Resources Majescor) and one American company (VCS Mining) to mine gold and copper in the north and northwest regions of the country — 120km2 of land. We should add to this several permits issued for the prospection and exploration for 10% of the country’s land; all these issued by the BME in the recent years.
The BME issued these permits without providing any information on the modalities and without holding any public debate. The communities affected were presented with an already done deal. For the 150 000 people living in the areas covered by these permits, a green light for mining extraction would force their displacement and would lead to the lost of their lands and of their livelihood. And yet, they were never allowed at any moment nor in front of any instance to question the mining projects about the protection of the environment or their right to be consulted. In February of 2013, confronted with the lack of transparency of the BME, the senate adopted a resolution asking the executive authorities to put a stop to all the mining exploration and extraction. At this moment, this moratorium and the political crisis in which the country is caught have cut short the enthusiasm of foreign companies operating in Haiti and the two Canadian companies have let go of their interests.
A legal reform taking shape
At the same time that it was issuing permits, the Haitian government initiated a review of its legal framework regulating the mining sector, using the expertise of the Extractive Industries Technical Advisory Facility, a World Bank’s Trust Fund. With a financing of up to 650 000 US dollars, the projects’ objectives for the Technical Assistance to the Mining Dialogue in Haiti Project are to update the legal and regulatory framework of the mining sector, to implement a mining land register, to organize the first Forum on the mining development as well as the consolidation of the government institutional abilities in policy development and the negotiation of mining agreements.
In August 2014, a second version of the preliminary draft of the mining law was made public in an unofficial way. Right away the organizations for human rights defence, for the defence of the environment as well as the peasants organizations rallied to denounce the lack of transparency and lack of consultation of the population as well as the communities likely to be affected by the mining projects and also to denounce the content of the preliminary draft.
This draft is mainly created and designed to attract and reassure the investors. Its orientation is purely commercial, inviting the total liberalization of the mining sector as well as granting numerous advantages to the mining companies. The proposed mining legislation addresses only the short term and imitates what is being done presently in some African countries, especially when it comes to the protection of the national commercial interests and environment as well as the issue of accountability. For example, the local development is left in the hands of the mining companies and the State is waiving any role and responsibilities. In terms of environmental and social protection, the preliminary draft contains many weaknesses and falls short from the international norms in that sector, especially concerning the dispositions for the closing of the mines and the following cleaning of the sites.
Opposition to mining projects
The negative impacts of the mining projects on the environment and the health of the population constitute major stakes rallying whole communities. In Haiti, the Collectif Justice minière (Collective for mining justice- Kolektif Jistis Min), created in 2012, works toward informing people and reinforcing their organization abilities to protect their rights and the environment against the aims of the mining companies in the context of a total disengagement of the Haitian State.
Those opposing mining exploitation in Haiti develop analysis on the multiple dimensions of this industry: the mining sector as a motor for sustainable and inclusive development; the distribution of the profits made from the exploitation of the natural wealth of the nation; the transparency and the accountability of all the actors of the mining sector, including the government; and, obviously, the negative impacts on the environment and the population. Furthermore, in absence of a law to access information in Haiti, the Collectif Justice minière is rallying to ensure that the new mining code will be the object of public consultations allowing for the participation of the communities affected – or likely to be affected- by the mining projects as well as the society in general.
In April 2016, the Collectif justice minière made its claims known in Canada because of the important role played by this country in the mining industry on the international level and also because of the historical implication of Canadian mining companies in Haiti and support provided by the Canadian government to this sector. Indeed, in 2012, the Canadian Agency for International Development (CIDA) gave a 10 million dollars subvention to the Centre for Extractive Industry technical advisory of the World Bank and it also directly financed projects linked to the prospection and mining exploitation throughout the world. More directly, when the Conservative Party was in power, the Canadian government relied on the development of the mining sector for its development policy for Haiti for the period 2015-2020. Even though this approach was put on hold for a period allowing a review of the international development policy by the new liberal government, it remains that mining exploitation does not constitute a sustainable way for the development of communities and for the struggle against poverty. Several experiences at the international level show that, on the contrary, for the communities affected by this industry, the negative impacts are many, cumulative and persistent: grave violations of human rights, loss of fertile land and of livelihood, contamination and monopolization of sources of water, health problems, deplorable working conditions, etc.
These problems are already present in Haiti and could be aggravated with the implementation of mining projects. Considering the risks associated with these projects, it is up to the Haitian people to determine if the “development” of the country will be done by using the exploitation of its natural resources and, if so, how this exploitation should be done. What is certain is that the present political situation combined with the chronic weaknesses of its institutions does not allow for a well informed and enlightened decision. In this context, the Canadian government should abstain from promoting investments in the mining industry in Haiti as long as the country does not have effective mechanisms to inform and consult the population on these projects, to protect the environment and to endow itself with a legal framework that integrates and implements these principles.