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Guest Blogger: Ellie Happel is the Director of the Haiti Project at the Global Justice Clinic, NYU School of Law, where she is an adjunct professor.

The declaration was written by a number of activists and advocates in the Northwest Department of Haiti. It was coordinated and edited by Samuel Nesner, who served as the animator for the Northwest Department for the Kolektif Jistis Min (Justice in Mining Collective) from 2013—2017. You can read a piece that Ellie and Samuel co-authored for Open Global Rights here.

On Tuesday, April 21st, Newmont, the largest gold mining company in the world, held their Annual General Meeting. To mark the occasion, communities in Haiti where Newmont has conducted exploration activities declared that Newmont is not welcome back.

Eight farmers and workers’ rights organizations in rural Northwest Haiti signed a declaration encouraging residents to reject Newmont’s gold mining projects. The government of Haiti issued more than 50 permits to Newmont between 2006 and 2011.[1] The declaration calls on the people of rural Haiti to remain vigilant, noting that in the past, mining companies have increased operations in moments of crisis, and that the value of gold becomes greater in periods of economic decline.

Newmont and its junior joint venture partner Eurasian (“Newmont-Eurasian”) conducted activities pursuant to its exploration permit in Haiti between 2009 and 2013.[2] 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.

The company administered hundreds of land access agreements to landowners and land users that authorized Newmont-Eurasian to use their land. The agreement included a “carte blanche” to perform exploration activities, and notes that some such activities may “destroy” the land.[3]  Further, the agreement appears to require signatories to waive their legal rights, preventing them from making any claim or action related to the contract.[4]  In 2014, the Global Justice Clinic and Kolektif Jistis Min (Justice Mining Collective or KJM) conducted interviews with more than 75 landowners and farmers in the area to better understand the conditions surrounding the land access agreements.  In many instances, the agreements appear to have been concluded without informed consent of the landowner, and in some, residents reported that they were promised material benefit that they never received in exchange for signing or thumb-printing the agreement.[5]

“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.”[6]

– 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.”[7]

– Landowner in Northwest Haiti

Kolektif Jistis Min animator Samuel Nesner led dozens of meetings in communities where Newmont-Eurasian conducted activities. Samuel read the land access agreements line by line, often to audible sighs of shock and outrage. Many residents said that they understood that they had to sign the agreement if they wanted to benefit from the riches that Newmont may find under the soil.

A protest in Northwest Haiti, where Newmont has conducted exploration activities. Credit: Ellie Happel.

The memory of the land access agreements in 2012 and 2013 made organizations in the Northwest of Haiti interested in showing solidarity for Máxima Acuña, a Peruvian subsistence farmer and community leader who is in a legal battle against Newmont to defend her right to remain on her land. The April 21st declaration includes a statement of solidarity with Máxima, who has faced more than a decade of harassment, physical violence, and intimidation from Newmont and its agents.  However, broad social opposition to mining from Máxima and fellow farmers and activists in Peru has prevented Newmont from building the Conga mine—a proposed expansion of the Yanacocha mine. The project remains on hold, and the successful resistance serves as a model for the rural Haitian communities that demand clean water and land to grow their food.

Mining companies have not yet built a mine in Haiti. Companies wait for Parliament—currently dissolved due to the failure to hold scheduled elections, and rarely functioning in recent years due to extreme political turmoil—to pass a new mining law. The law, drafted in 2014 with technical support from the World Bank, was presented to Parliament in the summer of 2017. Once passed, the law may usher in Haiti’s first modern, industrial gold mine.[8]

Haitian resistance, however, remains strong. In a country where less than half of rural residents have access to clean water; where the environment is already severely degraded, and access to farmland is scarce; where government corruption is a well-documented threat to the public interest; and where a spirit of resistance and self-determination reigns, the call for development a la Ayisyen—determined by and for Haitian people—that rejects the extractive model, is loud. The signatories of the recent declaration ask that Newmont listens.

The declaration is available in its original Kreyòl and in translated form in EnglishFrench, and Spanish

[1] See Byen Konte, Mal Kalkile? Human Rights and Environmental Risks of Gold Mining in Haiti page 62.

[2] In 2015, Eurasian Minerals sold its interests in the joint venture to Newmont.  https://www.emxroyalty.com/asset-portfolio/haiti/

[3] See Byen Konte, Mal Kalkile? Human Rights and Environmental Risks of Gold Mining in Haiti page 214.

[4] Id.

[5] The results of these interviews are presented in Chapter VI of Byen Konte, Mal Kalkile? Human Rights and Environmental Risks of Gold Mining in Haiti.

[6] Id., page 216.

[7] Id. at 220.

[8] GJC and KJM have highlighted the laws failures, including that it violates Haiti’s Constitution and fails to protected the environment or people The law is analyzed in detail in Chapter V of Byen Konte, Mal Kalkile.  A brief analysis is available here.