For several generations, communities in the north of Haiti have been extracting gold from their rivers. In the 1970’s, the UN reported on the existence of gold in Haiti. Later in 1985, the Haitian government announced the finding of gold in the northern mountains. The general public has only recently learned of the large gold deposits in Haiti while mining companies have been vying for the rights to start blasting and drilling for the estimated 20 billion dollars’ worth of treasure. Their efforts to exploit the gold has been tempered by political instability and by a Haitian law requiring that Haiti signs an international Convention protecting workers rights before gold mining begins. The current government says it wants to change Haiti’s mining laws. However, it has not stated whether it wants to buttress or weaken protection for miners and their communities.
The estimated value of the northern gold deposits is roughly equivalent to the current value of the indemnity France extorted from Haiti in the 19th century. This 21 billion dollar indemnity locked Haiti in debt and poverty. Today, the gold found in the mountains holds the promise of becoming a major source of revenue for the country, with the potential of helping to secure our independence from the financial support of donor nations.
For the past two centuries, people in Haiti have dreamed of finding “ja” , pots filled with gold that were buried in the ground by people to secure their wealth from criminals and by pirates and colonists to secure their loot*. Today, as we yearn for a better life, we are learning that far beyond the gold that was found on the surface and shipped overseas or hidden as loot, the country of Haiti itself is a gold mine. The challenge now is to prevent the rich, the powerful, and the government from stealing the gold and hiding their loot in foreign banks, well away from Haitian grounds.
Gold is a heavy metal with an atomic number of 79. It tends to sink deep into the earth. Gold appears to have arrived on earth from comets that collided with the planet. In other words, it may be from the stars. As a heavy metal, gold sinks to the deeper layers of the earth but is brought to the surface by volcanic activity. Gold is inert. It has an everlasting shine because it does not react with other substances. It has become popular knowledge in Haiti that gold jewelry does not irritate the skin while numerous other metals can cause inflammation and are derided as krizokal- inferior jewelry. Apart from its use in jewelry, gold is used for making electronic components in numerous products.
Gold is not dispersed throughout the country. The southern mountains are not known to contain gold as they are mostly limestone. Some of the northern mountain ranges were made by volcanoes caused by the same type of tectonic plate activity that caused the earthquake of 2010. Gold occurs predominantly in areas that once had volcanoes. This is how mining companies knew to search the north of Haiti for gold. As Haiti contemplates large scale gold mining, it must do so thoughtfully and in full recognition of the damage that such an undertaking can and has already brought to the island. The annihilation of the original people who inhabited the island began with forces financed by the Spanish monarchy and by the Pope to find gold. Beginning with Christopher Columbus, Spanish sponsored expeditions, decimated the population and ravaged the island in the quest for the gold that was too deeply hidden beneath their feet.
1.*By popular knowledge in Haiti, pirates and colonists were the ones most known for burying their treasures. However, the practice seems to have been more widespread. Under order from Napoleon, his forces tortured Suzanne Louverture, Toussaint Louverture’s wife, while she was imprisoned in France. She was stripped, beaten, and had her nails pulled out her persecutors wanted her to reveal where Toussaint buried his wealth and precious documents. (Adams Centinel 2/5/1805, Gettysburg, Penn. USA.)
2. Dirty Metal Mining, Communities and the Environment. A report by Earthworks and Oxfam America. 2004
3. Jane Regan. Haiti's rush for gold gives mining firms a free rein over the riches. The Guardian. May 30, 2012