Preventing the Next Disaster in Haiti


The earthquake that rocked Port-au-Prince and killed hundreds of thousands of people six years ago today is often misrepresented as a principal cause of poverty in Haiti. Rather, the Goudougoudou, as the massive tremor is known to Haitians, unveiled and intensified the human suffering created by centuries of debtoccupation, grinding inequality, and state failure.

International attention to periodic, cataclysmic shocks—hurricanes, earthquakes, droughts, political coups—too often overlooks the root causes of Haiti’s instability. Haiti will remain unable to avoid disasters until it addresses its intractable, underlying problems, among them environmental degradation, and ineffective and corrupt government institutions.

Given current international attention on elections that at the very least were hampered by massive irregularities in which the government acknowledged that it failed to adequately train poll workers – which tipped the scales in favor of President Michel Martelly’s ruling party – it is tempting to pin all the blame on Haiti’s leaders. However, structuring the poverty and inequality that destabilize the country is a world system consistently applying pressure and draining Haiti’s resources. The U.S. Occupation in 1915 set the stage for dictatorships, dependency, massive urbanization, and centralization in Port-au-Prince. This was followed by the application of neoliberal economic policies since the “transition to democracy” began in 1986.

Haitian analysts point out the differences between events like the earthquake and disasters, resulting from what scholars call “vulnerability.”

Today, another potential disaster looms on the horizon, this time entirely made by humans: the risk of deleterious environmental and social impacts of industrial open-pit gold mining. Unlike an earthquake, however, the worst of these risks are predictable, and can be avoided.

On this sixth anniversary of the earthquake, Congresswoman Maxine Waters of California will host a briefing to explore the risks of gold mining in Haiti and the role of the U.S. government in supporting the Haitian state to protect human rights and the environment. The briefing will feature speakers from Oxfam America, NYU’s Global Justice Clinic (GJC), and a coalition of Haitian organizations called the Kolektif Jistis Min, or Mining Justice Collective. GJC will discuss a new report, Byen Konte, Mal Kalkile? Human Rights and Environmental Risks of Gold Mining in Haiti, which it coauthored with the Haiti Justice Initiative. Byen Konte presents the findings of more than two years of field research and legaleconomic, and environmental analysis.

There are no active metal mines in Haiti yet, but the Haitian government considers the mineral sector key to the country’s economic growth and has encouraged foreign investment. Between 2006 and early 2013, two Canadian and two U.S. companies reportedly spent more than $30 million on exploration for gold, copper, silver, and other metals.

Company activity is currently on hold as the industry awaits adoption of a new mining law, a draft of which was written with World Bank technical support in 2014. Because the political situation remains uncertain, however, legal changes are in limbo—and so too is the future of gold mining in Haiti.

As Byen Konte demonstrates, the draft law fails to adequately protect the environment or the human rights of the Haitian people. It also falls short of protecting rights guaranteed in the Haitian Constitution, including the right to a healthy environment, the right to property, and the rights to information and participation. One proposed article—dangerously out of step with recent trends toward industry transparency—would require all mining-related information to be kept confidential for a period of ten years, effectively foreclosing meaningful public oversight of mining activities and regulatory compliance.

The strength of the legal regime governing mining in Haiti depends not only on the text of the statute but also and equally on the capacity of the State, and its ability to implement and fairly enforce those laws. On this score, there is ample evidence in Byen Konte and in Haiti’s long history that the State is woefully unable at present to fulfill these obligations.

To date, the development of Haiti’s mining sector has been characterized by an “information blackout.” A Haitian Senator who chaired the parliamentary commission responsible for overseeing mining told the GJC that he learned the government had granted gold and copper exploitation permits via the radio. People who live in the mountainous areas of northern Haiti where companies have built paths, drilled, taken rock samples, and conducted other mineral exploration activities are similarly excluded. Some residents recount that companies entered their land without seeking their permission, and that they signed land access agreements with their thumbprints without understanding the contents. Abandoned by the government, many families in the rural north fear that if mining continues they may be left on their own to negotiate with powerful multinational companies.

Those who are well informed of the risks that gold mining poses doubt the capacity of the Haitian state to oversee such a complex and dangerous industry. A 2012 audit showed that the office responsible for energy and mining in Haiti had only five functioning vehicles. Former director of the office, Deiusel Anglade, who served in that post for more than twenty years, told reporters, “The government doesn’t give us the means we need to be able to supervise the companies.”

Even in countries with more robust governance and oversight institutions than Haiti, industrial-scale mining has contaminated water resources, destroyed livelihoods, increased security threats, forcibly displaced thousands of people, and damaged entire ecosystems for generations. Recent mining disasters in Brazil and the United Statesprovide sobering reminders of the tremendous risks that Haiti faces and the enormous challenge of preventing mining-related harm.

On this anniversary of the 2010 earthquake, Haiti stands at a crossroads. For foreign mining companies, the prospect of gold mining in Haiti glitters on the horizon. For Haitian citizens, the reality of an uncertain political future, weak institutions, and widespread impoverishment glares in the foreground. Minerals can be exploited only once. Without inclusive and participatory governance, Haiti’s apparent bounty of mineral resources could quickly transform into a curse.

This moment, before mining has begun, presents a unique opportunity for the Haitian people to engage in a robust public debate about the risks and benefits of mining for gold – and, hopefully, to predict and prevent avoidable mining-related disasters. Haitian community leaders are asking foreign citizens to guarantee local communities have a seat at the table, and for us to slow this juggernaut for dialogue to be possible in the first place.


March 19, 2018
Nomi Prins 
Jared Kushner, RIP: a Political Obituary for the President’s Son-in-Law
Georgina Downs
The Double Standards and Hypocrisy of the UK Government Over the ‘Nerve Agent’ Spy Poisoning
Dean Baker
Trump and the Federal Reserve
Colin Todhunter
The Strategy of Tension Towards Russia and the Push to Nuclear War
Kevin Zeese - Margaret Flowers
US Empire on Decline
Ralph Nader
Ahoy America, Give Trump a Taste of His Own Medicine Starting on Trump Imitation Day
Robert Dodge
Eliminate Nuclear Weapons by Divesting from Them
Laura Finley
Shame on You, Katy Perry
Weekend Edition
March 16, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Michael Uhl
The Tip of the Iceberg: My Lai Fifty Years On
Bruce E. Levine
School Shootings: Who to Listen to Instead of Mainstream Shrinks
Mel Goodman
Caveat Emptor: MSNBC and CNN Use CIA Apologists for False Commentary
Paul Street
The Obama Presidency Gets Some Early High Historiography
Kathy Deacon
Me, My Parents and Red Scares Long Gone
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Rexless Abandon
Andrew Levine
Good Enemies Are Hard To Find: Therefore Worry
Jim Kavanagh
What to Expect From a Trump / Kim Summit
Ron Jacobs
Trump and His Tariffs
Joshua Frank
Drenched in Crude: It’s an Oil Free For All, But That’s Not a New Thing
Gary Leupp
What If There Was No Collusion?
Matthew Stevenson
Why Vietnam Still Matters: Bernard Fall Dies on the Street Without Joy
Robert Fantina
Bad to Worse: Tillerson, Pompeo and Haspel
Brian Cloughley
Be Prepared, Iran, Because They Want to Destroy You
Richard Moser
What is Organizing?
Scott McLarty
Working Americans Need Independent Politics
Rohullah Naderi
American Gun Violence From an Afghan Perspective
Sharmini Peries - Michael Hudson
Why Trump’s Tariff Travesty Will Not Re-Industrialize the US
Ted Rall
Democrats Should Run on Impeachment
Robert Fisk
Will We Ever See Al Jazeera’s Investigation Into the Israel Lobby?
Kristine Mattis
Superunknown: Scientific Integrity Within the Academic and Media Industrial Complexes
John W. Whitehead
Say No to “Hardening” the Schools with Zero Tolerance Policies and Gun-Toting Cops
Edward Hunt
UN: US Attack On Syrian Civilians Violated International Law
Barbara Nimri Aziz
Iraq Outside History
Wilfred Burchett
Vietnam Will Win: The Long Hard Road
Victor Grossman
Germany: New Faces, Old Policies
Medea Benjamin - Nicolas J. S. Davies
The Iraq Death Toll 15 Years After the US Invasion
Binoy Kampmark
Amazon’s Initiative: Digital Assistants, Home Surveillance and Data
Chuck Collins
Business Leaders Agree: Inequality Hurts The Bottom Line
Jill Richardson
What We Talk About When We Talk About “Free Trade”
Eric Lerner – Jay Arena
A Spark to a Wider Fire: Movement Against Immigrant Detention in New Jersey
Negin Owliaei
Teachers Deserve a Raise: Here’s How to Fund It
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
What to Do at the End of the World? Interview with Climate Crisis Activist, Kevin Hester
Kevin Proescholdt
Secretary of Interior Ryan Zinke Attacks America’s Wilderness
Franklin Lamb
Syrian War Crimes Tribunals Around the Corner
Beth Porter
Clean Energy is Calling. Will Your Phone Company Answer?
George Ochenski
Zinke on the Hot Seat Again and Again