Lakwev, Haiti is riddled with hand-dug tunnels, some as deep as seventy feet. Residents in this border town are carving out a living through mining. Daily they dig, pan and, if lucky, find specks of gold to sell to the gold buyers that visit once a week.
Five hundred years ago, Columbus found gold on the island he named Hispaniola, now divided into Haiti and the Dominican Republic. Over the next twenty-five years Spain mined this gold, killing off most of the enslaved indigenous population through hard labor and disease.
Today, new mining technology and rising gold prices are driving large-scale miners back to the island. This year, Barrick Gold's Pueblo Viejo mine is moving into full production in the Dominican Republic. Barrick is hoping to pull 23.7 million ounces of gold from this mine, which at current gold prices will be worth $37.2 billion dollars. Across the border in Haiti, American and Canadian companies are buying up mining exploration permits.
The question remains whether or not large-scale mining will be to the island's benefit. Previous mining attempts in the Dominican Republic have polluted rivers and lakes with acid runoff and in Haiti, exploratory mining is being conducted on farmland and watersheds. Dominican activists believe their government is being under-compensated by Barrick.
(This story was funded by the Pulitzer Center for Crisis Reporting as a collaborative project with two writers. See their written stories here).