‘Please tell people about this:’ London students’ horror at Dominican Republic mines
Three London students were shocked by what they found last winter during a trip to the Dominican Republic.
Canadian mining companies, they say, are destroying lives in the country.
“We visited the Barrick Gold mine, and while we were there, we spoke
with a woman named Juliana (Rodriguez). She is 82 years old and has
lived in the area for all of her life,” Klaire Gain said. “She told us
the last four years, which (has seen) Barrick Gold mining in the region,
have been the worst years of her life.”
Now, Gain, Claire Morrow and Natasha Jimenez — all recent graduates
of the social justice and peace program at King’s University College —
are working to show the world what they witnessed.
Using their own money, and some brought in through fundraisers, the trio travelled back to the region this summer.
They spent two months living in the area, working on farming co-ops,
meeting and talking with as many residents, along with environmental and
academic experts, as they could. They also hired former CBC cameraman
Mark Visser, and flew him to the region where he filmed more than 100
hours of footage for a documentary expected to be ready by spring 2015.
The mine that’s the focus of their work is located in Pueblo Viejo.
It’s 60 per cent owned by Barrick with the remaining 40 per cent owned
by Goldcorp, another Canadian mining company.
In 2013, the mine produced 488,000 ounces of gold, making it the
largest in Barrick’s operations — and the company says it’s doing good,
not bad, things for the community.
Barrick’s mine was built on the site of an abandoned state-run
operation, and, when the company moved in, waterways were polluted and
causing problems, spokesman Andy Lloyd said.
All waters that have a direct connection to the Barrick site have
since been cleaned up, Lloyd said, noting the company’s involvement has
served as a “catalyst for a huge environmental cleanup of the whole
area” and has pumped money into the economy.
Barrick has also offered King’s students and staff a chance to come
to the mine itself and meet with people working on the effort, he added.
The mine in Pueblo Viejo. (Contributed)
Still, people like Juliana Rodriguez, the woman the students met on
their first trip, aren’t happy. Rodriguez had a clear message she wanted
the group to bring back to Canada.
“She looked at us, with tears in her eyes and said, we are dying
because people in your country want to wear gold rings on their
fingers,” Gain recounted.
She told them: “Please do something, please tell people about this,
please tell your government, because people here are not listening to
us,” Gain said.
The communities in peril “are rural communities, the residents live off the land and their farms were sustainable,” Morrow said.
One man they visited had been farming livestock and growing
pineapples for years. Now, Morrow said, the livestock are dying and he
can’t sell the pineapples because they are grown on contaminated land.
A mango taken from one of the Dominican Republic farms is used to spell out concerns during a mining protest. (Contributed)
The trio’s expectations for the documentary are realistic.
“We understand that we are not going to make this documentary and all
these companies are going to stop,” Morrow said. “We understand all of
these companies are going to be there for at least another decade. We
understand the hypocrisy of having our computers here.
“What we are passionate about, is, hopefully, (the documentary) will
inspire other people to think about their consumerism and hopefully spur