Once the cure for the Spaniards’ gold fever and the jewel in the French colonial crown, Haiti is poised for another resource rush.
The discovery of gold, copper, and silver deposits valued up anywhere from $20 to $40 billion in the Haitian hillside provides hope for an economy saddled with heavy debt, government corruption, and natural disasters for centuries.
An extension of the Pueblo Viejo mine in the Dominican Republic, the discovery of 23 million ounces of gold in the Haiti makes the Hispaniola mineralization belt the one of the world’s largest reserves. With workers poised to begin mining later this year, the Haitian government hurriedly drafts new legislation to capitalize on its precious metals find.
Bureau of Mines Director Dieuseul Anglade believes, "If the mining companies are honest and if Haiti has a good government, then here is a way for this country to move forward."
However, Haitian mining legislation has not been revised since 1976 and foreign mining companies who spent $30 million in exploration have operated on the island with little oversight.
And with U.S. and Canadian companies licensing more than a third of Haiti's north coast (about 15% of the country), many question whether foreign multinationals will follow the continuum of legacy of financial exploitation carried out by colonizers and dictators.
"Our country is poor, but what is underground could make us not poor any more. But since our wealth remains underground, it's the rich who come with their fancy equipment to dig it out. The people who live on top of the ground stay poor, while the rich get even richer." Arnolt Jean, 49, who resides in the hamlet of Lakwèv near the border with the Dominican Republic.
Who will profit from these riches? It is a point of contention insinuated by Mr. Jean and a question posed by Haiti Grassroots Watch, a collaborative of non-profit organizations, academics, and community media broadcasters, in its four-part exposé on the Haitian gold rush.
The answer should reveal itself in the upcoming mining legislation proposed by recently appointed Prime Minister Laurent LaMothe’s cabinet, which could offer insight as to whether President Michel Martelly’s pro-business approach to Haiti’s reconstruction will benefit the masses or the corporations.
Discovery of gold in Haiti holds tremendous potential to turn around the nation’s economic future, but its key will be to invest in mineral resources and its human capital. Though the gold mines will undoubtedly create an abundance of low wage and manual labor jobs, it must simultaneously train Haitian geologists, engineers, and business executives to lead its emerging mining industry into the future.
With one of the youngest populations in the world – almost 70% of the population under 30 years old – Haiti possesses viable workforce with the capacity to maximize its earning potential for generations to come.
If the nation can manage to reinvest its mining industry profits into education to produce highly skilled workers, then Haiti will reap the rewards of wealth distribution and a vibrant middle class that have continually proven essential to the development of strong economies.
Though billions of dollars lay beneath its feet, Haiti must remember that its richest resource is its people.
Jamila Aisha Brown is a freelance writer, political commentator, and social entrepreneur. Her entrepreneurship, HUE, provides consulting solutions for development projects throughout the African diaspora. You can follow her on Twitter and engage with HUE, LLC.