Dominican Republic: The people say “no” to the cement factory at Los Haitises!
The “Los Haitises National Park” located between the Provinces of Samana, Monte Plata and Hato Mayor, has been classed as a protected area since 1976. Its distinctive features as a subtropical rainforest make it not only an important sanctuary for the country’s native flora and fauna but also the most important expression of Caribbean mangroves.
Its importance, however, is not only due to its qualities as an ecosystem hosting extraordinary and unique biodiversity and cultural resources – making it the habitat of numerous endangered endemic species– but also because of its very special interconnected groundwater system, that makes it an irreplaceable water reserve. This location is where the Payabo, Los Cocos and Naranjo rivers converge and it is also the outlet for the Yuna River.
Another important aspect of Los Haitises is its cave system where pictographs and petroglyphs created by the island’s distant ancestors have been found, making it a world heritage area. For many people visiting it, the experience is that of a trip to pre-history.
But at present all these values are endangered as the area is to be turned over to produce cement. At the location where the area’s main aquifers converge, a cement factory is being built with the sponsorship of the Dominican Mining Consortium.
The project will not only ruin the Los Haitises area, but also affect the health of the inhabitants of the neighbouring villages by contaminating the rivers Comate, Yabacao, Cambita, Almirante, Casuí, Boyá, Socoa, Sabita and the underground Brujuela, which supply over 50% of the water used in the country.
This is why the inhabitants of the area have voiced their total rejection of the project, considering that it will have negative impacts on agricultural production, that provides them with their main sources of food. The United Communities’ Small Farmers Movement (MCCU – Movimiento Campesino de la Comunidades Unidas) has started judicial proceedings demanding the annulment of the licence enabling the cement factory to be installed. This implies suspending work until the judicial proceedings have finalized.
However, on 30 June most of the inhabitants of Gonzalo that had been leading and participating in the struggle for the preservation of Los Haitises and against the installation of the cement factory received notices that they were to be evicted from the plots they occupy within the following 10 days, alleging that these plots belong to the State Sugar Council (CEA – Consejo Estatal del Azúcar). According to the small farmers, these lands were transferred to them and many farmers possess CEA loan documents while others initiated a process over 8 years ago to obtain the deeds from the institution. They consider the evictions to be a clear reprisal for having participated actively in the struggle against the cement factory.
In addition to the small farmers’ movement there is a youth movement that, with guitars in hand, one day in May camped in the Gonzalo Municipal District, Province of Monte Plata. Since then they have attracted the attention of the country and of the cybernetic world. They refute the myth that youth “don’t care about anything.” The Gonzalo camp has become an effervescent call for action, a cry of concern, a statement of hope that much of the game is yet to be played. With guitars and ciphered codes, contemporary youth movements practice new forms of social mobilization, with different strategies to face the excesses of those who, in the name of progress lead the country back into the past.
The Gonzalo camp has become a place of resistance, of encounters and unstructured articulation to reject the cement factory of those who, believing themselves to be the owners of the country, relentlessly want to install it in Los Haitises.
From the Camp for Solidarity with Los Haitises, they are demanding the annulment of the concession allowing the Dominican Mining Consortium to build the cement factory in the vicinity of Los Haitises and that the land granted to the Consortium be returned to the small farmers who have been evicted.
Article based on material sent by Alexander Mundaray, a member of the MCCU small farmers’ movement and information available at the webpage Ecolucha http://www.ecolucha.org/ and Clave Digital http://clavedigital.com.do/