The Dominican Republic isn’t often thought of as a mining country, and today there are only a handful of mines operating in the island nation. One of those projects is the massive Pueblo Viejo mine, which is co-owned by Barrick Gold (60 per cent) and Goldcorp (40 per cent).
Pueblo Viejo means Old Town in Spanish, and is an apt name for an area that has been mined since the 1500s. In 1999, the mine was abandoned, after nearly 400 consecutive years of exploitation, and in 2001 it was acquired by Placer Dome, which was later taken over by Barrick Gold.
The environmental impacts of mining are already well known to residents of the area. According to a 2007 report from the Associated Press,
“Acid run-off flows down the mountain, pooling in red ditches along abandoned roads while sprawling fields of mineral waste lie under barren rainwater lakes. The narrow Margajita River is now a reddish-brown trickle of acid that has killed the fish and forces the people of tiny Los Cacaos to travel more than 6 miles (10 kilometres) for safe drinking water.”
One of the key elements of the agreement between the two companies and the Dominican state is that the clean-up of toxic sites as well as the displacement of people living inside the 4,800 hectare concession is the government’s responsibility.
Since 2005, Toronto based RePlan Canada has been doing “community consultations” and begun removing communities from the mine site and the area where a transmission line is to be built.
Barrick and Goldcorp estimate that U.S. $3-$3.5 billion must be invested before the open pit, cyanide leaching gold, silver, zinc and copper operation goes into production next year. [This article was originally published in November 23, 2011. DC]
As the opening date approaches, controversy around the mega-mine has continued to grow. In the nearby town of Maimón, the roads have been severely damaged by the constant passage of heavy trucks to Barrick’s operation. According to the president of Maimón’s municipal committee, the funds Barrick has transferred to the municipality are less than the costs of the damage it has caused.
In May of this year, the Dominican Popular Movement denounced the construction of a 20 meter high tailings dam at the mine site, claiming it could collapse and flood hundreds of residents in the lowland areas of the municipality of Cotuí.
“The risks and emergency situation that Barrick Gold has caused before beginning operations, the predicted impact on the environment and the permanent threats created for residents of the residents of these communities and the entire region, are the reasons we are justified in our position that the contract between this mining company and the state should be rescinded,”
states an MPD communiqué.
Last February, the Broad Front of Popular Struggle (FALPO) accused Barrick of negatively impacting the water supply of the community of Cotuí, leaving 200 families without drinking water.
Through Barrick claims there are 9,000 people currently working at the mine, locals see things differently.
“When there are 20 foreigners working, there might be five Dominicans,”
said one Maimón resident.
As if Barrick wasn’t busy enough trying to quell local concerns around water, health and the environment, the company also attempted to block a song critical of its operations in the Andes from being performed at a Dominican festival.
“The Canadian company has reacted by sending messages to Chilean congresspeople and senators to try and stop the song,”
said composer Patricio Manns.
According to Lucio Cunca from the Latin American Observatory of Environmental Conflicts (OLCA), this behaviour by Barrick is nothing new.
“[Barrick has] pressured governments, local communities, environmental organizations and multilateral agencies, now, it seems that there’s strong pressure on artists and musical producers so that this song isn’t heard.”
VIDEO: De Pascua Lama, by Patricio Manns (4 min)
1. Quoted in http://www.rightsaction.org/Reports/research.pdf p. 16-17.
Sources: Protestbarrick.net | You Tube