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‘Please tell people about this:’ London students’ horror at Dominican Republic mines

by Mark SpowartMetro
October 27th, 2014

Three London students were shocked by what they found last winter during a trip to the Dominican Republic.

Canadian mining companies, they say, are destroying lives in the country.

“We visited the Barrick Gold mine, and while we were there, we spoke with a woman named Juliana (Rodriguez). She is 82 years old and has lived in the area for all of her life,” Klaire Gain said. “She told us the last four years, which (has seen) Barrick Gold mining in the region, have been the worst years of her life.”

Now, Gain, Claire Morrow and Natasha Jimenez — all recent graduates of the social justice and peace program at King’s University College — are working to show the world what they witnessed.

Using their own money, and some brought in through fundraisers, the trio travelled back to the region this summer.

They spent two months living in the area, working on farming co-ops, meeting and talking with as many residents, along with environmental and academic experts, as they could. They also hired former CBC cameraman Mark Visser, and flew him to the region where he filmed more than 100 hours of footage for a documentary expected to be ready by spring 2015.

The mine that’s the focus of their work is located in Pueblo Viejo. It’s 60 per cent owned by Barrick with the remaining 40 per cent owned by Goldcorp, another Canadian mining company.

In 2013, the mine produced 488,000 ounces of gold, making it the largest in Barrick’s operations — and the company says it’s doing good, not bad, things for the community.

Barrick’s mine was built on the site of an abandoned state-run operation, and, when the company moved in, waterways were polluted and causing problems, spokesman Andy Lloyd said.

All waters that have a direct connection to the Barrick site have since been cleaned up, Lloyd said, noting the company’s involvement has served as a “catalyst for a huge environmental cleanup of the whole area” and has pumped money into the economy.

Barrick has also offered King’s students and staff a chance to come to the mine itself and meet with people working on the effort, he added.

MiningProtestThe mine in Pueblo Viejo. (Contributed)

Still, people like Juliana Rodriguez, the woman the students met on their first trip, aren’t happy. Rodriguez had a clear message she wanted the group to bring back to Canada.

“She looked at us, with tears in her eyes and said, we are dying because people in your country want to wear gold rings on their fingers,” Gain recounted.

She told them: “Please do something, please tell people about this, please tell your government, because people here are not listening to us,” Gain said.

The communities in peril “are rural communities, the residents live off the land and their farms were sustainable,” Morrow said.

One man they visited had been farming livestock and growing pineapples for years. Now, Morrow said, the livestock are dying and he can’t sell the pineapples because they are grown on contaminated land.

Rotten Mango at CotuiMiningProtestA mango taken from one of the Dominican Republic farms is used to spell out concerns during a mining protest. (Contributed)

The trio’s expectations for the documentary are realistic.

“We understand that we are not going to make this documentary and all these companies are going to stop,” Morrow said. “We understand all of these companies are going to be there for at least another decade. We understand the hypocrisy of having our computers here.

“What we are passionate about, is, hopefully, (the documentary) will inspire other people to think about their consumerism and hopefully spur other economies.”

 

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