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Haiti's Riches: Interview with Ezili Dantò on Mining in Haiti

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HLLN Transcript (with added reference links) of CKUT Interview with Ezili Dantò on Mining of Haiti's Riches, transcribed for Ezili's HLLN by the Zen Haitian
Host: Christ Scott
Guest: Marguerite Laurent/Ezili Dantò
Recorded: April 29, 2009

Listen to the audio - Haiti Riches: CKUT Interview (34:03) with Ezili Dantò on Mining of Haiti Resources and Riches by Chris Scott for CKUT (90.3 FM) in Montreal, Recorded April 29, 2009

Ezili Dantò

HLLN TRANSCRIPT (with added reference links)

Chris Scott: ...This is Chris Scott for CKUT radio 90.3 FM Montreal interviewing Mrs. Marguerite Laurent[/Ezili Dantò] with the Haitian Lawyers Leadership Network (HLLN). Ms. Laurent welcome to the program.

Marguerite Laurent/Ezili Dantò: Thank you. Thank you for having me.

Chris Scott: Thanks. We wanted to talk today... and I understand your organization has been following the issue of foreign mining companies coming to Haiti and prospecting. Especially in the North of Haiti. There are now at least three Canadian companies prospecting for gold and copper in Northeast Haiti and two of these companies have really expanded their operations within this past year. Why the rush to start mining in Haiti right now or to start prospecting in Haiti , right now, in the middle of a recession of all things?

Ezili Dantò: Hah, well perhaps because Haiti right now is under occupation and the people, their voice is not being heard. This is a very good time for foreign companies to be granted concessions, because the folks in office are not representing the people of Haiti.

Chris Scott: UHmm. And I guess you've talked about the fact that these companies obviously, they look for what they call a "secure business climate." For presumably a low regulatory environment. Can you describe a bit more for listeners what the situation is for regulation in Haiti right now? Because Haiti does have officially an elected government, but the country is also under occupation. What happens on the ground? Who makes the decisions? Who calls the shots?

Ezili Dantò: Well, technically with regards to mining there is this thing called the Bureau of Mines [and Energy] and its under the Ministry of Public Works in Haiti. But what folks have to understand is the history of what's been going on with respect to Haiti. Between 1991 and 1994 there was a Coup d'etat. It was - 91 was the first Coup d'etat against President Jean Betrand Aristide and in those times, foreign companies, whenever, during Coup D'etats they get lots of concessions and so forth. In terms of Haitian mineral rights and gold and bauxite, all the various minerals of Haiti. I mean people don't think of those things about Haiti. And this is one of those things my organization want folks to understand. That the UN is not in Haiti, the US is not in Haiti, Canadians are not in Haiti for humanitarian goals or because they care about Haitian rights. There is an economic track. And so I'd like to be able to explain to your audience that in terms of the economic track. Haiti has various sites, especially in the North, where in terms of Canadian companies, were talking about St. Genevieve, were talking about Eurasian Minerals, were talking about right now the new one that just came which is called Majescor. Those are the three we are aware of. That doesn't mean there are not others.

But around the 1970s and 1980s there was a survey[s] -[1975 - Kennecott Exploration/1978 - Penarroya Exploration], a geological survey done by the UNDP [1983 - The United Nations Development Program], and they actually also put together a document [for the Haitian government] with respect to what is available in these areas. In these areas now that are being mined by Eurasian Minerals; that are being mined by St. Genevieve up in the Trou du Nord up in the North and Northeast of Haiti. These companies, specifically St. Genevieve, came into Haiti in 1997 and that was under the Lavalas government of President Preval. And they got a [minimum] 25 year contract. Now, when they got that contract with regards to Haiti this was during a time when the grassroots had their voice. They knew what the resources were in Haiti and they felt entitled to share in the profits.

We have information where St. Genevieve was talking about how, you know, the Aristide government was not amenable to what it was doing in Haiti. [Editor's Note: "Steve Lachapelle – a Quebec lawyer who is now chair of the board of the company, called St. Genevieve Haiti – says employees were threatened at gunpoint by partisans of ex-president Jean-Bertrand Aristide. The president at the time, René Préval, once an ally of Aristide, was elected for a second term last year, but Lachapelle says he has renewed confidence in the Haitian leader."] But now, these companies are having a great time. Once the Coup d'etat had happened in 2004. There is no longer a worry about the people. Because the people, their voices are not being heard. Although we have an elected government that was... excuse me, an elected President. The rest of the folks are Coup d'etat folks that have been left over or they are the folks that the parliamentary elections where the people really concentrated just on trying to get themselves out of, between 2004 and 2006, intense, intense repression. Trying to get a government, or a president that they thought would represent them. But the Preval government is effectively at the moment a puppet government that's under occupation. So, that's why you see the most exploration licenses being given out. In January, Eurasian Minerals, a Canadian company got 27 licenses. We know that in 2005, during the Latortue imposed government, after the coup d'etat, that St. Genevieve they reaffirmed their license.

Now, in terms of regulations, what should people think about, when - if a company says they are having problems with the democratically elected government in 1997, but in 2006, excuse me, in 2005 after that government has been ousted, their contract, their 25 year contract is being reaffirmed and now they are having a great relationship with the occupiers of Haiti. What folks should understand is this, now I don't have the specifics with regards to the St. Genevieve contract, this Canadian company. But I do know that they have, they're up there in the North and Northeast. Folks should understand, that when a Coup d'etat happens like the one that happened in 2004. And these folks that came in from the Dominican Republic who are supported by the United States and all these Neocons who wanted to get President Aristide out, the first thing that happens is that all the archives are destroyed; set fire to all the original archives, so that the elites, and the foreign companies who may owe money to the Haitian people, the Haitian government, they sometimes get away scot-free when the new imposed government comes on without paying anything. So who knows what data from the first contract under Preval was taken out with regards to this 25 year contract that's St. Genevieve's. Nobody knows. All we know is that the St. Genevieve company reaffirmed its contract under the occupation and added five more additional permits. So, in terms of regulation, what happens, nobody knows. The Bureau des Mines...I'll give you an example, the head of the Bureau [of Mines] is Mr. Anglade. And around that same time he talked about, not mining companies, but there was an issue where there was an underwater exploration in Ile-à-Vache, which is an island in Haiti, somehow there was a dispute between the company and the Bureau des Mines and what happened was, out of the blue, someone, somewhere decided to move the contract away from the Bureau des Mines and put it into the Minister of Culture. [See, The General Director of the Bureau of Mines and Energy struck by the announcement of the plunder at the sea-beds of Ile-à-Vaches ]

So these are some of the weaknesses of the Haitian regulatory system. Number one you have these Coup D'etats, where what was done when there was a government of the people, we don't know what was reaffirmed in 2005 under the occupation. Also we don't know who is regulating whether the properties [property owners] are being paid for that these people are excavating. Whether the laws that require Haitian ownerships are being followed. Because a lot of times these foreign companies have enough leverage to just buy a name, a Haitian elite, a person, give them some money. And, in effect, who is going to...there is no serious enforcement of those subsidiaries they have to do that have Haitian participation. Also, the Bureau of Mines with the various chaos going on; who is going to look at these contracts and enforce, for instance, whatever the guarantees were that the underground water, or the surrounding farming areas, or the air pollution, what happens, cause everybody knows the environmental devastation that happens with mining, the chemicals that are used in the air. Obviously, everybody also knows the wind levels when Haiti has hurricanes. Like the devastating hurricane we just had recently that leveled the whole of Gonaives. What happens when oxidation and all these various chemicals get, you know, travel up in the air. Who will be responsible? Will these foreign companies have any responsibly for the health hazards that may happen? We know because we are under occupation that there is frankly no regulatory framework that will enforce laws or even contracts. These contracts, the so-called conventions with the Bureau of Mines, that St. Genevieve, Eurasian or Majescor have, the people of Haiti don't know about them. That's basically what's happening. If there is, for instance, the guarantee that once they have dug up these mines and so forth that they are not going to leave the area devastated. That there are some sort of reparations fixing the area, and if there are some damages, that there is some sort of money put aside for those damages. Nobody knows any of this stuff.

Chris Scott: You mentioned earlier in your talking that some UN personnel, or peace-keepers I guess, with the MINUSTAH have actually been providing logistical support and in some cases been providing security to these mining operations in some of these remote areas. Is that true?

Ezili Dantò: Absolutely. We have reports all of the time, we have this project in Haiti called the Ezili Dantò Witness Project, we get reports from the various locals. The latest one, a couple of months ago, was in Port-au-Prince, where we were told, that the UN soldiers came in, now I have to say, that most Haitians, they'll call anyone a UN soldier, if you have a gun, it could be some geologist or someone at a private security. The point is, the UN soldier come in, they cordon off the area, put big containers in. And folks tell us that they can't see what is being dug [up], they can't see what's going on. They might stay in that area for a month, they might stay for a few days. Whatever they are doing, the folks that are the authorities cannot explain to their constituents what's going on. And so that's one of the things that's been happening all over Haiti. All over Haiti. I have an example of somewhere in the North, a mayor there that I spoke to a while ago, basically said to me; UN troops came into his town, started digging, cordoning off areas, and when he went to them with a delegation of the townspeople, and said, I don't know what you are doing here, I am the mayor I'm the authority here. They said, well listen, we have authority from Port-au-Prince. And they didn't produce any sort of paperwork. So do these foreign companies actually have the consent of the people at the moment ? I would say they don't, for doing what they are doing.

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Human Rights Lawyer, Èzili Dantò is dedicated to correcting the media lies and colonial narratives about Haiti. An award winning playwright, a performance poet, author and lawyer, Èzili Dantò is founder of the Haitian (more...)

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