Haiti’s hidden gold may hold the key to alleviating its socio-economic issues; however this will be dependent on political stability and the absence of crony capitalism.
Haiti is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere and its economy contracted by more than 5% following the devastating 2010 earthquake.
However, there is an estimated potential worth of $20 billion in precious metals, including gold, located in the North of the country.
The mass poverty in the country could be at the very least reduced by gold mining. Yet, poor governance and corruption has led to a lack of foreign investment and the fear that any potential investment in the sector will not be felt by the wider population that desperately needs it.
Haiti’s history is littered by exploitation of its minerals. The Spanish did so first, followed by the French, until Haiti emerged as the world’s first independent black state.
In the 1970s the United Nations Development Programme confirmed the existence of gold in Haiti in abundance.
Yet, this revelation did not lead to foreign direct investment. Companies were put off by the authoritarian regime led by Francois “Papa Doc” Duvalier and his son Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier.
It seemed as if the untapped golden potential of Haiti would never be realised.
From the late 1990s and onward though, Haiti saw $30 million worth of investment to explore its land for gold and other minerals.
One of these stakeholders was the American firm Newmont Ventures Limited. Their experience in Haiti is typical of the problems that have stopped real investment into the country’s gold mines.
They have twice abandoned Haiti due to political unrest and while they have returned to explore the northern region of the country, there is still no real commitment to gold mining.
The present situation is somewhat similar. Foreign firms feel that the government is not providing enough leeway to start mining.
The investment into Haiti’s gold mines is a gamble. Companies like Newmont were reluctant to take interest further as political violence, crony capitalism and a lack of transparency would counter any progress made.
However, the Canadian company Majescor demonstrated that if one can get around the political situation, the potential results will be worth it.
The company purchased the rights to explore 450 square km in Haiti and its stock doubled in the single day after it reported high levels of gold in its drill samples.
The other present issue at hand is the lack of benefits that gold mining will have on the many Haitians that live in poverty.
While the private sector and the government negotiate, many Haitian citizens are still unaware of the presence of gold and its potential benefits.
Recently, the Haitian government had contacted the World Bank to assist in drafting a new mining law that would put potential investor’s minds at ease.
The issue here is that it ignores the environmental damage that mining will cause. This is particularly relevant to those within the agricultural sectors. Moreover, it also fails to address potential human rights violations and the rights of workers.
Following the 2010 earthquake, the government has been forced to be more open with foreign investors as it attempts to alleviate the massive poverty in the country.
However, by making more progress with regard to transparency in one area, it has reduced transparency in another.
Local groups such as the Justice in Mining Collective have not been involved in draft law negotiation and have been ignored by the government and the World Bank.
The problem for the government is that while it is now trying to attract more mining companies, they are neglecting popular opinion.
Many Haitians are simply unaware of the potential of gold mining, and the current government policy of negotiating new mining laws behind closed doors is feeding into the belief that any investment benefits will be felt by politicians and bureaucrats and not by the wider population that desperately needs it.
Haiti’s gold problem is caused by a lack of confidence in the political system. Investors felt that it was too much of a risk to invest in Haiti’s gold.
Now though, as the government tries to entice foreign firms, there is a lack of belief that politicians have the best interests of the poverty-stricken population at heart.
It is possible that the future of Haiti’s gold will be characterised by more foreign investment in the sector. However, the benefits of its gold reserves will most likely be felt by the political elite and not the everyday individual.
Haiti must be aware that there is a balancing act to be observed. Foreign companies must be given the ability to explore, invest and create jobs. However, this must not come at the expense of local community interests and revenue gained from investment must be channelled into social services for the wider population.
Responsibility and inclusivity within the gold mining sector are the key factors that will contribute to the alleviation of poverty in the country.