Haiti: opposition grows to mega-mining

At a July 25 meeting in Port-au-Prince, some 28 Haitian organizations expressed their interest in joining a movement to oppose plans under way for open-pit mining in the north of the country, with a focus on gold mining operations by the Vancouver-based Eurasian Minerals company. The meeting was organized by the Collective Against Mining, which was formed a year ago by Tèt Kole Ti Peyizan Ayisyen ("Small Haitian Peasants Unity"), the Defenders of the Oppressed (DOP), the Popular Democratic Movement (MODEP), the Haitian Platform of Human Rights Organizations (POHDH), the Haitian Platform Advocating an Alternative Development (PAPDA) and Batay Ouvriye ("Workers' Struggle").

There have been estimates that Haitian minerals—mostly gold, copper and silver—could be worth as much as US$ 20 billion, and Haitian firms fronting for US and Canadian firms have reportedly received licenses for research, exploration or mining in some 2,400 square kilometers of Haitian territory. On July 11 the Collective Against Mining and the Global Justice Clinic—part of the Center for Human Rights and Global Justice (CHR&GJ) at New York University's Law School—expressed concern about a new mining law proposed by the World Bank. The measure would change the 1976 mining code to allow the Bureau of Mines and Energy (BME) to sign directly with the mining companies without having to win approval from Parliament. In 2010 the World Bank's International Finance Corporation (IFC) invested about US$5 million in Eurasian Minerals' Haiti operations, getting Eurasian shares in exchange. At the July 28 meeting PAPDA's Camille Chalmers pointed to Haiti's previous experience with mineral extraction. The mining of bauxite from the 1950s to the early 1980s by the now-defunct Reynolds Metals Company produced $83 million in profits; only $3 million of this went to the Haitian state, Chalmers said. (Haiti Grassroots Watch, Aug. 1, 2013; Radio Television Caraibes, Haiti, July 12; AlterPresse, Aug. 1)

In other news, on Aug. 4 the labor organization Workers' Antenna marked the fifth anniversary of the start of a wave of marches and wildcat strikes by garment workers demanding an increase in the minimum wage for the assembly sector. The struggle over the minimum wage has continued off and on since then; another wave of job actions last December led to the layoffs of a number of union leaders and supporters. Complaints that the laid-off workers filed with the Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor (MAST) have yet to be settled. (AlterPresse, Aug. 5)

Meanwhile, 81 workers have been dismissed in a wage dispute at the Compagnie de Développement Industriel SA. (Codevi) "free trade zone" in Ouanaminthe in Northeast department at the Dominican border. Workers at the AMI jeans plant were being paid 375 gourdes (about $8.48) a day, well above the current minimum wage in the assembly sector, but management suddenly reduced their pay to 300 gourdes (about $6.78) and started laying them off on Aug. 1 after they protested the pay cut. (Haiti Press Network, Aug. 7)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, August 10.