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Protests against toxic gold mining in the Caribbean

by Anne SewellDigital Journal
November 27th, 2012

�I�m too old for this. I�m not going to be driven off of my land again,� says Juliana Guzman, a farmer from La Cerca in Dominican Republic. The walls of her house are riddled with cracks from the explosions that shake the ground every day.

The village of La Cerca, where Guzman lives, is located in the central highlands of the Dominican Republic, in what was once an unspoiled paradise.

The village is surrounded by dense rainforest, which is home to endemic species, including the highly endangered solenodon.

Cocoa  affected by the cyanide in the ground water in Dominican Republic.
Cocoa, affected by the cyanide in the ground water in Dominican Republic.

However, two Canadian companies, Barrick and Goldcorps will be starting to mine for gold in December 2012 in this area. The Pueblo Viejo mine will require up to 24 tons of cyanide to be used daily.

Domingo Abreu of the National Environmental Assembly (ANA) says, �Using cyanide is suicide in installments.�

However, he states that gold mining in this area is actually superfluous, with only 11% of the gold used industrially, which could actually be obtained through recycling. The balance of the gold mined is used as an unproductive capital investment and for jewelry.

Guzman's neighbors from the agricultural cooperative have experienced moldy cocoa pods from their harvest, which has been tainted by the highly toxic cyanide used in a trial operation at the Pueblo Viejo gold mine, borne by the rivers into the soil of the region.

The mining project in the Dominican Republic drew sharp criticism from the very outset, as negotiations with the government were not transparent. Also the terms of the contract heavily favor the mining company.

As an example, in the first years, Barrick will pay virtually no taxes and will earn 25% more from the mining operation than the Dominican government, who are the de facto owner of the gold. The cash-strapped government and the poor population will not profit from the toxic gold mining at all.

At the beginning of the project, local residents in the mining area complained of illegal deforestation and also contamination of the adjacent waters. Farmers who were relocated to make room for the mine did receive the promised replacement houses, but are still awaiting the promised farmland, on which to make their living.

What is worse, it is not only environmentalists and farmers who are up in arms about the mine. Trade unions are also angry, as the mining companies promised long-term jobs, but they laid off the majority of the workers after the mine preparations were complete.

This problem escalated in late September, with the broad coalition of thousands of Dominicans and organizations demonstrating against the mining operation. The result of the demonstration was that police fired on the protesters, without any warning, injuring 30 of them - many seriously.

This is not the first time there has been a problem with mining in the Dominican Republic. An abandoned mine in the central mountain range also used cyanide in its operations, and in the process, polluted the rivers, ground water and soils of the region, right in the middle of the island's largest fresh water reservoir.

Other countries are aware of the damage caused by cyanide in mining. The European Parliament voted in May 2010 to ban cyanide throughout the European Union. Although so far, the European Commission has not agreed to the proposal, Germany, Turkey, the Czech Republic and Hungary have already banned the use of cyanide in mining.

Cyanide is particularly dangerous for the aquatic environment and will affect rivers originating in that region. This region also contains the largest freshwater reservoir in the country, which supplies the entire island nation of Dominican Republic.

As part of it's mining contract, Barrick has ensured that it cannot be held liable for environmental damage.

This is unacceptable to the Dominican population, and a coalition of 100 organizations is protesting and calling for the mining contracts to be annulled. A petition is being run by Rainforest Rescue calling for the annulment of the contracts with the mining companies.

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