People and parliament are almost unanimously opposed to mining in one of the country's exceptional natural reserves. But the nation's president insists the mining must proceed.
BOGOTA — Some 80% of the Dominican Republic's fresh water comes from Loma Miranda, a mountainous area that the late dictator Rafael Trujillo sold in the 1950s to Falconbridge, a Canadian mining firm that used the land to extract nickel and ferronickel.
Falconbridge is now owned by another multinational, Glencore, which is determined not just to cash in on its mining "rights," but to extend them, even though the area in question has been declared a biological corridor.
Because the initial mining permit didn't cover the entire area of Loma Miranda, Glencore sought permission in 2011 to expand its mining operations, provoking a fight that is reaching a decisive phase now. Loma Miranda is one of the Dominican Republic"s most biologically diverse areas. Unanswered questions regarding the safety of the project and its potential impact on the environment have fueled widespread opposition. The firm has also come under fire from the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), which rejected as incomplete the environmental studies Glencore presented to justify its activities.
And yet on Sept. 2, Dominican President Danilo Medina, in a move that honors the memory of the dictator who played Monopoly with the countryside, vetoed a parliamentary bill that looked to turn Loma Miranda into a natural park.
Mocking the will of his country's legislative branch, whose attending members voted nearly unanimously (28-1) to protect Loma Miranda, Medina also decided to disregard the opinions of environmentalists, farmers and broads segments of civil society that have organized protests since 2011. He has trampled on democracy, in other words, to defend a multinational miner.
Now the dictator Trujillo — sorry, I meant President Medina — is hiding behind the threat made by the mine's lawyers, who say the country will have to pay $4 billion in damages if the firm is not allowed to mine. Or so they say, as no legal action has been taken yet.
The president says that in blocking the nature reserve, he is simply implementing the law. But he has failed to specify exactly which part of the law or constitutional article he is defending with such zeal. It is a weak excuse. What Medina should also explain is why he is defending Glencore's interests over those of his people.