Pueblo Viejo, Dominican Republic
The conflict between the people of Cotuí, the Dominican Republic and Barrick Gold over their Pueblo Viejo mine dates back to the project’s start in 2001[i]. Primary concerns include a lack of consultation, water contamination, working conditions and preservation of local heritage. Many local community members feel that they were not given a choice in approving the project, and that it was approved only due to the corruption of local officials[ii].
Barrick Gold and Goldcorp acquired the Pueblo Viejo mine in 2006, and it is currently operated by their joint venture company, Pueblo Viejo Dominicana Corporation [iii]. The previously state-owned Rosario mine was abandoned in 1999 without proper environmental restoration. Barrick claims that it is now “re-mediating significant environmental damage left behind by previous operation at the site”[iv]. According to their official reports, they have been conducting quarterly sampling events in 18 communities, and have noticed a significant improvement in water quality[v]. However, community leaders say they have no knowledge of such events, and residents are suing Barrick Gold for poisoning rivers, leading to the illness and death of farm animals[vi]. They ask Barrick Gold and the Dominican government for compensation for more than 70 dispossessed families [vii].
Since production began, the mine has repeatedly come under attack for alleged environmental abuses, particularly water contamination. The Pueblo Viejo mine generates 6,736 million cubic meters of waste water every year, and this water is highly acidic and contains significant traces of lead, mercury, nickel and other heavy metals[viii]. Studies have confirmed a significant risk to the local water supply, due to contamination from this runoff[ix]. In March 2010, the Dominican Republic’s Minister for the Environment, Jaime David Fernandez Mirabel, stated that Barrick’s mining concession needed to be reviewed for environmental reasons. Mirabel cited the risk of acid mine drainage resulting from the oxidisation of sulphides in the waste rock as a key concern[x]. The high rainfall in the region aggravates the situation, spreading contaminated water and wastes, and putting pressure on local dams. In May 2011, thousands of people had to be relocated because of fear of flooding caused by heavy rains and the possible overflowing of the El Llagal dam[xi]. Pollution concerns have not only impacted community members, but also mine workers, with over 100 employees poisoned due to exposure to toxic chemicals in 2012[xii].
In February of 2010 a court case declared that part of the land Barrick was occupying was occupied illegally, and the court forced Barrick to pay compensation[xiii]. In August of 2010, a new local government was elected in Cotuí whose first act was to take legal action against Barrick, forcing them to pay for their illegal land use[xiv].
Labour relations have been another source of conflict at the mine. In November of 2010 workers went on strike demanding better working conditions and violence broke out between the striking workers and local security forces. The strike and its subsequent violent outbreak resulted in the death of one striker and many more injured[xv]. In September 2012, residents of Cotuí organized a march to demand that Barrick give more jobs to local community residents instead of foreigners. The violence that ensued led to at least 25 injuries. In April 2013, people marched in the city of Santiago demanding the expulsion of Barrick Gold and the nationalization of the mine[xvi].
Pueblo Viejo achieved commercial production in January 2013. Only weeks after, President Danilo Medina announced that the terms of the contract between PVDC and the Dominican Republic were unacceptable given the inequitable revenue-sharing scheme[xvii]. He demanded that the contract be revised or he would raise taxes on PVDC’s profits. The Special Lease Agreement (SLA) was amended in September 2013 to guarantee additional and accelerated tax revenues to the Dominican government (Barrick RFI 26) [xviii].
Health and environmental hazards have continued to be an issue since the mine achieved commercial production. In September 2014, residents of six communities located next to the mine protested against the health repercussions of soil and air contamination. Tests of residents in four communities revealed their urine and blood contained high levels of cyanide and other heavy metals[xix]. The population affirms that the smell of bitter almonds, which is in fact due to cyanide, causes respiratory problems and skin and eye irritation. Other long-term effects of high cyanide levels are urinary problems and cancer. Members of the communities complain that the proximity of the mine causes fever, headaches, chronic cough, sore throat and stomachaches[xx]. On July 1st 2014, residents protested against the side effects on people’s health and on agriculture, asking the government to relocate them[xxi].
[i] Vecinos de Cotuí contra proyecto Pueblo Viejo de Barrick Gold. OCMAL. http://www.olca.cl/ocmal/ds_conf.php?nota=Conflicto&p_busca=160
[ii] Asegura funcionarios recibieron 20 millones de dólares de la Barrick Gold. OLCA. http://www.olca.cl/oca/rdominicana/mineras015.htm
[iii] “Sickness and Wellness : Shiny New Mine, Rusty Pollution Problems.” The Economist, September 21, 2013. Accessed October 27, 2014. http://www.economist.com/news/americas/21586560-shiny-new-mine-rusty-pollution-problems-sickness-and-wealth.
[iv] “Pueblo Viejo: Environmental Remediation and Water Treatment Fact Sheet.” PUEBLO VIEJO (2013): Barrick. Web. <http://www.barrick.com/files/pueblo-viejo/Pueblo-Viejo-Environment-Water-Fact-Sheet.pdf>.
[vi] “Sickness and Wellness : Shiny New Mine, Rusty Pollution Problems.” The Economist.
[vii] Lilian, Tejeda. “Continuarán Protestas En Contra De La Barrick Gold.” Listin Diario, July 2, 2014. Accessed October 30, 2014. http://www.listindiario.com/economia-and-negocios/2014/7/1/328212/Continuaran-protestas-en-contra-de-la-Barrick-Gold.
[viii] Barrick: 6 mil millones de litros de agua residual por año. No a la Mina. http://www.noalamina.org/latinoamerica/republica-dominicana/item/6811-barrick-6-mil-millones-de-litros-de-agua-residual-por-ano
[ix] FALPO advierte explotación Barrick dañará salud y medioambiente. Cibao Aldia. http://www.cibaoaldia.com/falpo-advierte-explotacion-barrick-danara-salud-y-medioambiente/
[x] Dominican court rules against Barrick Gold in land dispute. Dominican Today. http://www.minesandcommunities.org/article.php?a=9921
[xi]”Reportaje de Nuria Piera sobre la situación de la presa El Llagal”. Barrick Pueblo Viejo. 2011. YouTube. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8Yx-DmZJfg4
[xii] Nuevamente se intoxican numerosos trabajadores de Barrick Gold. OCLA. http://olca.cl/articulo/nota.php?id=101540
[xiii] Dominican court rules against Barrick Gold in land dispute. Mines and Communities. http://www.minesandcommunities.org/article.php?a=9921
[xiv] Regidores de Cotuí dispuestos a enfrentar la Barrick Gold. Accion Verde. http://www.accionverde.com/tag/pueblo-viejo/
[xv] Muere trabajador en manifestación de obreros de Barrick Gold. No a la Mina. http://www.noalamina.org/latinoamerica/republica-dominicana/item/5405-muere-trabajador-en-manifestacion-de-obreros-de-barrick-gold
[xvi] “Dominicans Protest Against Canadian Miner Barrick Gold.” April 22, 2013. Accessed October 30, 2014. http://www.laht.com/article.asp?CategoryId=14092&ArticleId=751397
[xvii] Koven, Peter. “Dominicans Protest Against Canadian Miner Barrick Gold.” Financial Post, January 31, 2013. Accessed October 30, 2014. http://business.financialpost.com/2013/01/31/new-government-threat-for-barrickgoldcorp/?__lsa=547b-4cda.
[xviii] Lazenby, Henry. “Goldcorp Q3 Earnings Drop Sharply on Low Gold Price.”Engineering News, October 24, 2013. Accessed October 30, 2014. http://www.engineeringnews.co.za/article/goldcorp-q3-earnings-drop-sharply-on-low-gold-price-2013-10-24
[xix] Morel, Maria Teresa. “Cianuro Daña Salud De Residentes En Zona Minera De Cotuí – See More At: Http://www.elcaribe.com.do/2014/09/23/cianuro-dana-salud-residentes-zona-minera-cotui#sthash.TfZQ3c9J.dpuf.” El Caribe, September 23, 2014. Accessed October 30, 2014. http://www.elcaribe.com.do/2014/09/23/cianuro-dana-salud-residentes-zona-minera-cotui.
[xx] Perez, Ruddy German. “Contaminación Con Cianuro Afecta Animales Y Vegetales En Seis Aldeas Cotuí.” El Nacional, September 25, 2014. Accessed October 30, 2014. http://elnacional.com.do/contaminacion-con-cianuro-afecta-animales-y-vegetales-en-seis-aldeas-cotui/.
[xxi] Suanny, Reinoso. “Campesinos De Cotuí Afectados Por La Barrick Gold Exigen Al Gobierno Que Los Reubique.” 7 Dias, July 1, 2014. Accessed October 30, 2014. http://www.7dias.com.do/el-pais/2014/07/01/i167124_campesinos-cotui-afectados-por-barrick-gold-exigen-gobierno-que-los-reubique.html#.VFU0xPmG9Qd.