Newly sworn-in Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe said the Haitian government is drafting legislation to regulate the country’s nascent mining industry. His statement on Tuesday came shortly after the Associated Press reported findings in the northeastern mountain region of precious metals—including gold, silver and copper—potentially worth $20 billion.
According to Lamothe, the new legislation will lay out rules allocating a portion of royalties to the Haitian government and putting in place protections for the people and environment that could be affected by the mining. “The most important thing,” he said, “is to have the correct mining law.” The legislation is expected to be sent to Parliament soon.
Gold was last gathered in Haiti by the Spanish in the 1500s. After they moved on to Mexico, Haiti’s reserves remained largely unknown. In the 1970s United Nations geologists documented notable pockets of gold and copper, but foreigners remained unwilling to invest in the industry within Haiti because of the country’s long history of corruption and instability. Since the 2010 earthquake, though, U.S. and Canadian companies have invested $30 million in exploratory drilling, worker camps, new roads, and laboratory studies.
Haiti’s current mining laws date back to 1976, although in 1996 the firm SOMINE negotiated permits with President René Preval to extract metals out of the mountains. Lamothe said the legislation currently being drafted is designed to benefit Haiti while also attracting foreign investment with the promise of profiting from the mines. He said he hopes Haiti will receive “as much as possible” of the mining revenue “without hampering the profit motive of the mining company.
Lamothe officially became prime minister on Monday, after Parliament approved his Cabinet and policy plan. He filled a vacuum left by former Prime Minister Garry Conille, who resigned three months ago after only four months on the job, due to differences with President Michel Martelly. In addition to the mining legislation, Lamothe emphasized social investment, including garbage clean-up, better roads and programs to help mothers living in poor neighborhoods in the capital city of Port-au-Prince.
A 19-year old Haitian man who accused six Uruguayan UN peacekeepers of sexually assaulting him testified in a closed Uruguayan civilian court on Thursday. According to the victim, Johnny Jean, the six marines who were serving with the UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) raped him on a UN base in Port Salut last September.
The peacekeepers involved, including one who recorded the incident with his cell phone, were recalled to Uruguay and imprisoned shortly after the case began making headlines. A preliminary investigation conducted by the UN and the Uruguayan Navy concluded that the peacekeepers had acted indecently but had not raped the Haitian man. As a result, the peacekeepers were released in late 2011, pending the outcome of the current investigation. According to Uruguayan Supreme Court spokesman Raul Oxandabarat, next steps in the case will depend on how Judge Alejandro Guido received Mr. Jean’s testimony
Tensions between UN peacekeepers and the local Haitian population have run high since Nepalese peacekeepers were found to be the source of the 2010 cholera outbreak. Less than two years later, the disease has spread across the country and spilled into the Dominican Republic, killing over 7,000 Haitians and infecting 530,000 more—roughly 5 percent of the total population. To make matters worse, the Centers for Disease Control report published last week shows that the cholera strain is evolving to circumvent immunity, igniting fears of a potential second wave of the epidemic.
Despite rising antagonism toward the UN presence in Haiti—and the potential for violence if the accused Uruguayans are found not guilty—newly confirmed Haitian Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe ruled out the possibility of a hasty removal of UN troops. "Once we increase our security forces, the number of MINUSTAH troops will gradually fall," Lamothe said.
Haitian legislators yesterday approved President Michel Martelly’s nominee for Prime Minister, Laurent Lamothe, ending a confirmation standoff that has brought Haiti’s federal government to a virtual standstill for nearly two months. Lamothe, a former special adviser to President Martelly before being appointed foreign minister in September 2011, was confirmed by a vote of 62–3 after a six-hour long debate centered on whether he met residency requirements for public officials stipulated in the country’s constitution.
In an interview after the vote with the Associated Press, Lamothe vowed to immediately begin working to get Haiti’s post-earthquake recovery back on track saying, “We have a lot of work to do now… I feel that the country finally has the opportunity to work on the people’s problems. We have a lot of different issues to deal with and finally we have the team in place to start solving the people’s problems.”
The confirmation will also ease concerns in the international community—particularly among donors and aid organizations—which had grown weary of dealing with a government partner hobbled by political infighting. In remarks delivered before the vote, UN Special Envoy to Haiti Bill Clinton weighed in saying officials needed to set aside self-interest for the good of the country and “restore confidence in Haitian institutions so that donor funds can flow again and attract new investment.”
Observers note that even with the confirmation, it could still take weeks before the legislature finally approves Lamothe’s government plan and his choices for Cabinet positions.