Haiti Hopes Gold Find Means Boom Times Ahead

(The Root) — A significant discovery of gold and other precious metals in Haiti’s Northeastern mountain range has given residents hope that once mining gets under way in about five years, the revenues will offer the resources needed to transform a country beset by poverty and ravaged by earthquakes and disease into an emerging island economy.

According to recent reports, a round of exploratory drilling by U.S. and Canadian investors this year has unearthed valuable metals including gold, silver and copper, which may be worth close $20 billion. This discovery is viewed by many as Haiti’s gold moment, a potential economic boon that could help the nation rebuild its infrastructure and improve the quality of life of its 10 million residents, many who live on $1.25 per day. That is, if the potential mining projects are managed in a transparent manner by the country’s rulers, according to Bureau of Mines Director Dieuseul Anglade.

The current project is being led by the Société Minière du Nord-Est (SOMINE, SA.), a Haitian company that is a partner of Majescor and its affiliate SIMACT Alliance Copper Gold Inc. Haitian engineer Michel Lamarre, who heads SOMINE, signed a 15-year mining agreement in March 2005 that includes research and mineral rights. He has said the gold mines could end years of Haiti’s dependence on humanitarian aid.

However, prospecting for gold in Haiti has a long and traumatic history. More than 500 years ago, the island’s Taíno peoples produced ornaments from gold that flowed in Haiti’s riverbeds. By 1492, Christopher Columbus settled in the part of the island that is now considered the Dominican Republic. Shortly after his arrival, Spanish settlers came and exploited the area’s gold mines and forced the Taíno tribes into slavery. They killed off most of the tribe members, a practice that many Haitians regard as attempted genocide. By the time slaves were brought from Africa, both the gold and the Taínos were decimated, and the colonial powers’ commercial interests had turned to sugar.

Centuries later, in the 1970s, United Nations geologists reported that Haiti had sizable deposits of gold and copper. By the 1980s, Newmont Mining Corporation ceased gold exploration in Haiti because of political instability and falling gold prices. Then, in early 2006, Eurasian Minerals, a company based in Canada, began its mining efforts. At the time, the firm’s lead geologist, Keith Laskowski, told the Sunday Morning Post (pdf) that Haiti’s results “were the best results I’ve seen” in his 27-year career prospecting gold mostly in Asia and the Amazon.

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