America's Backyard: The Dominican Republic

The United States has always had a close relationship with the Dominican Republic. During the 19th century, it treated the Caribbean island as "subsidiary" and never hesitated to invade the sovereign nation if its political situation didn't suit their needs. Meanwhile, it provided ample backing to any Dominican regime that was willing to push the US' agenda, even if this meant supporting the cruelest dictator in the history of Latin America. In this revealing and analytic program, we will visit the Dominican Republic's Free Trade Zones, where sweatshop workers will tell us about the slave-like working conditions they had to endure while manufacturing garments for US brands and, many times, even working for US clothes manufacturing companies based at the zone. Besides the Free Trade Zones, we will witness how the mining exploitation of Canada's Barrick Gold, the world's largest gold mining company, is responsible for the extreme devastation taking place in Pueblo Viejo located in the Dominican Republic, approximately 100 kilometers northwest of the capital city of Santo Domingo.

TIME CODE: 00:00_05:00

Narration: In the United States of the 19th century, Manifest Destiny was the widely held belief that American settlers were destined to expand across the whole continent.

In 1904, President Theodore Rooselvelt declared that the United States had to intervene in the internal affairs of Latin America.

In his own words: "if any South American country misbehaves it should be spanked."

All US presidents that succeeded him have, in lesser or greater measure, continued to exercise their perceived right over a region often known as “America’s Backyard”.

The Dominican Republic covers the Eastern side of the Hispaniola island: the place where Christopher Columbus first set foot on when arriving to the Americas. After gaining its independence in 1844, the Dominican Republic went through a period of political instability during which it became indebted to the United States. Narciso Isa is a leftist leader who has been active in the Dominican political scene for several decades.

SOUNDBITE [Spanish] Nariciso Isa, Dominican Politician: “Our relationship with the United States has been a relationship between the empire and its colony.The United States substituted the Spain in its imperial domination.”

Narration: The nation suffered constant political turmoil, which led to US President Wilson sending the Marines to invade the Dominican Republic in 1916.

SOUNDBITE [Spanish] Nariciso Isa, Dominican Politician: “That intervention was aimed at appropriating territory, building railways, sugar factories, mines, etc. It was an expansive intervention from the nascent imperialism. That invasion lasted from 1916 to 1924, when the US troops left, only after setting up the National Guard and picking Trujillo to take command of the period after the US intervention. And, just as they wanted, through tricks and coup d’états, Trujillo managed to prevail as a tyrant from 1930 onwards.”

Narration: Rafael Trujillo is widely regarded as the cruelest dictator in the history of Latin America.

SOUNDBITE [Spanish] Nariciso Isa, Dominican Politician: “Trujillo was created by the United States. He was the head of a tyranny that had no parallel. Its absolutism was indescribable.”

Narration: Amongst many other things, megalomaniac Trujillo renamed cities and landmarks after him, and required all churches to post the slogan “God in Heaven, Trujillo on Earth”. His tyrannical rule was responsible for the death of more than 50,000 people.

SOUNDBITE [Spanish] Nariciso Isa, Dominican Politician: “Trujillo’s rule had a level of cruelty and totalitarianism that was overwhelming.”

Narration: Trujillo encouraged close ties with the United States and, despite all his well-documented acts of brutality and shameless embezzlement of funds, for most of his rule he enjoyed a good relationship with the US: the country that gave him his military training.

SOUNDBITE [Spanish] Nariciso Isa, Dominican Politician: “Trujillo adhered himself to the anti-communist camp, which was the political line championed by the United States: the great enemy of communism.”

Narration:Eventually, mass imprisonments and murders eroded Trujillo's critical support from the US government. Feeling his former ally had become an international embarrassment, President Eisenhower approved the assassination of Trujillo. But the new Kennedy administration didn’t go forward with the plan and, in 1961, Trujillo was assassinated by old Dominican foes.

After a period of instability that followed Trujillo’s death, in 1963 Juan Bosch became the first democratically elected president of the Dominican Republic. Bosch launched a deep restructuring of the country, and promulgated a new constitution.

SOUNDBITE [Spanish] Nariciso Isa, Dominican Politician: “The constitution of 1963 recognized all existing human rights, established that work prevails over capital and that workers should participate of their company’s profit, and protected the national patrimony.”

Narration: But Bosch’s regime wasn’t to last for long. After only seven months in office Bosch was overthrown by a Coup D’état, and, two years later, the Dominican Republic plunged into civil war. Bosch’s “constitutionalists” fought the rightwing former supporters of Trujillo. President Lyndon Johnson said he “feared the creation of a second Cuba on America’s doorstep”, and provided support to the rightwing.

TIME CODE: 05:00_10:00

SOUNDBITE [Spanish] Nariciso Isa, Dominican Politician: “Bosh was part of the democratic left. He didn’t even consider Marxism as a method.”

Narration:In April 1965 the US launched a full sea and air invasion of the Dominican Republic.

SOUNDBITE [Spanish] Nariciso Isa, Dominican Politician: “42,000 US marines disembarked in the Dominican Republic. It was the empire against the will for self-determination of the Dominican people, who were in search of a real democracy. That intervention made a cut in our history. It had an effect that, in a way, explains the events that followed and the process of degradation, deterioration and the increase of our dependency on US imperialism and on the international companies – from the United States, Canada, etc.

We’re right at the center of the old city, which was part of the area controlled by the Constitutionalists – the revolutionaries of 1965. This area was the target of mortar attacks. The American snipers were stationed across the river, atop a very high apartment block.

They killed many people who were crossing that street over there, including some combatants.

On April 28th 1965 [day of the US invasion], our democratic revolution transformed into a war between the motherland and the invaders.

The Americans placed very loud speakers which they used to incite the combatants to surrender. And there was a commander who had actually been the pilot of the Granma, the boat in which Fidel [Castro] and the revolutionaries disembarked in Cuba. He was a Dominican named Pichiliro, and the Americans knew that the strongest revolutionary detachment operating around this area was under his command, so they would call over the loudspeakers: “Pichirilo: surrender!”

And Pichirilo would use his own loudspeakers to reply: “Come and get me, Yankee son of a [explicit]!””

Narration: The US support led to the Loyalists’ victory. With overt interference from the US embassy and the invading forces, the next elections were won by Joaquin Balaguer.

SOUNDBITE [Spanish] Nariciso Isa, Dominican Politician: “Balguer was imposed over Bosch as a result of an electoral fraud, while the country was under foreign military intervention.

SOUNDBITE [Spanish] Francisco Caamano, Military Leader of Constitutional Movement: “There cannot be fair elections in a country that is being occupied by foreign troops.”

Narration: Balaguer went on to dominate Dominican politics for 22 years. Balaguer’s 31 years of service under Trujillo, guaranteed his anti-communist stance, which pleased the United States.

SOUNDBITE [Spanish] Nariciso Isa, Dominican Politician: “Balaguer believed in geographic fatalism: being the Dominican Republic located in the Caribbean, right on America’s backyard, we couldn’t aspire to any sort of independence nor have any fundamental discrepancy with the United States. Balaguer accepted the process to privatize the economy, the intervention of the International Monetary Fund and so on.”

Narration: Ronal Reagan once described the authoritarian leader as “the father of Dominican democracy” In return for implementing Washington-promoted policies, the United States provided generous financial aid to Balguer, much of which was squandered in the many megalomaniac projects he developed.

SOUNDBITE [Spanish] Nariciso Isa, Dominican Politician: “This represented a very heavy burden on the Dominican economy. Over 200 million dollars for this sumptuary monument, which is nothing more than a tribute to the genocide of the indigenous Dominicans, to the conquest and the colonization.

Despite this he still went ahead with the construction of this so-called “Columbus Lighthouse”.

I remember a time when the city was suffering very severe power cuts, but the lighthouse was still working.

It doesn’t work anymore. What it used to do was to project over the night sky an image of the cross – the cross that represents the Spanish conquest.

Right in the middle of a city with no light, with entire neighborhoods in the dark and people suffering all kinds of shortages, there was the cross, illuminating from the sky.”

Narration: The governments that followed Balaguer’s, maintained a close partnership with the US and, during the 1980s and 1990s the consecutive US governments of Ronald Reagan and George Bush Senior actively pushed for the implementation of the neoliberal model throughout Latin America.

SOUNDBITE [Spanish] Pavel Isa, Economist at Santa Domingo Institution of Technology: “The Republican governments strongly influenced the financial organizations in Washington in order to request the Dominican Republic as well as many other countries to liberalize their economy, thus increasing the levels of poverty, social inequality and exclusion.”

TIME CODE: 10:00_15:00

Narration: Washington’s control of the Dominican economy replaced its old policy of military interventions. The presence of US troops in the Caribbean nation now seemed a thing of the past. However in February 2012 the Dominican Navy announced that the United States’ Southern Command was planning to build a naval base in Saona Island, located just a few miles off the Dominican mainland.The US cited as its motivation its interest in reducing drug trafficking and people smuggling.

But this excuse was deemed as non-credible, as the US had recently substantially reduced its counter-narcotics funding to the Dominican Republic.

José Ureña is the vice-president of the Dominican Human Rights commission. As such, he led some of the widespread protests that took part in order to oppose the construction of the base.

SOUNDBITE [Spanish] Jose Urena, Dominican Human Rights Commission: “Since the US embassy first announced they were planning to set up a base in this island of Saona, allegedly to monitor drug trafficking, the Dominican society began a campaign of rejection to any efforts from the US to set up installations here.

This build up to the point where we set up a camp and began efforts to raise awareness amongst the Dominican people. We gave out leaflets encouraging them to reject the intended construction of the base.

When we established the camp US Marines tried to force us out of a public place, such as the Magallanes beach.

Because of the mass rejection from the Dominican people and from the different entities that took part in the protests, the Americans built almost nothing in the way of military installations. But their original intention was to refurbish the old Dominican naval station.”

Narration: After widespread popular protests were jointly carried out by various civil organizations, the US Navy had to back on its tracks.

SOUNDBITE [Spanish] Protester: “The Dominican Republic is free, sovereign and independent! Yes- we’re free!”

SOUNDBITE [Spanish] Jose Urena, Dominican Human Rights Commission: “As you can see right behind us are the old military installations and barracks where the Americans were planning to build their new base and set up their radars. This is also a place where tourists gather.

This is the only thing that we allowed them to build. After all the protests, the only thing they managed to build is this little harbor. As you can see there is a security seal that we’re not allowed to cross.

We don’t understand and are still totally opposed to their intentions, as places like this, which are tourist attractions, should never be the sites for military installations that would destroy such beautiful ecosystem.”

SOUNDBITE [Spanish] Pavel Isa, Economist at Santa Domingo Institution of Technology: “Taking into account the history that, in particular, the Dominican Republic has had, as well as Latin America in general, any actions taken by the US Army or Navy – even if packaged as well intentioned – will always generate many suspicions. The US influence over the Dominican Republic is still huge. However, these days, it’s subtler. We still have a relationship of subordination to the US’ economy, society and politics.

This is due to the links that tie us to them: 40% of our tourism comes from the US; most of the foreign investment in the Free Trade Zones come from the US and, therefore, over 100,000 Dominican jobs depend on such investment.”

Narration: The Free Trade Zones are tax-free areas that were established in the Dominican Republic during the Balaguer years, by the initiative of the US private sector. With the liberalization of the economy the Dominican currency devaluated and the salaries significantly cheapened. This made the cost of Dominican labour very appealing to foreign companies operating in the Free Trade zones.

We’re visiting one of the four Dominican Free Trade Zones, in the town of San Pedro de Macoris. Roberto and Miguel are finishing their work shift at one of the many garment manufacturers that supply the US market.

SOUNDBITE [Spanish] Roberto Suarez: “What’s up my brother? How have you been?”

TIME CODE: 15:00_20:00

SOUNDBITE [Spanish] Miguel Dominguez: “I stitch trousers - all the process from the assembly until the product is finalized.”

Narration: Suprema Manufacturing, the US company they work for, has a very special client.

SOUNDBITE [Spanish] Miguel Dominguez: “Those clothes we make here go directly to the United States. Mainly to the US military.”

SOUNDBITE [Spanish] Roberto Suarez: “Hats, trousers, jackets, camouflages…

My job consists on stitching the Velcro on both legs of every piece. Every day I do a total of 1500 pieces – these are coveralls used by the US Air Force pilots.”

Narration: Despite the extraordinary budget of the US military, Roberto and Miguel work for the minimum wage - just as all the other workers of the Free Trade zones.This amounts to a meager $153 dollars per month.

SOUNDBITE [Spanish] Roberto Suarez: “At present we’re getting paid exactly the same we did over nine years ago.”

SOUNDBITE [Spanish] Miguel Dominguez: “In comparison to other companies this isn’t more or less fair. The point is that the salaries that all Free Trade Zone workers get paid are too low.”

SOUNDBITE [Spanish] Roberto Suarez: “Most people here have to take on two jobs in order to support themselves.”

Narration: With hundreds of reported cases of “sweatshop” labour within the free trade zones, we asked them if the company’s clients ever came to the factory to corroborate that the working conditions were adequate.

SOUNDBITE [Spanish] Roberto Suarez: “They only come here to check that their product is being manufactured according to their requirements. They don’t check on how the workers are treated.”

Narration:Clara Edwards used to work for an even more controversial US garment manufacturer supplying the US government.

SOUNDBITE [Spanish] Clara Edwards: “The Company is called ITIC Apparel, and they make different types of clothing. Amongst them are the coveralls that are used abroad; I believe they are used in prisons – as uniforms for prisoners.”

Narration: ITIC Apparel used to supply the City of San Francisco with orange uniforms for prison inmates. In 2012 the United States’ Workers Rights Consortium investigated I.T.I.C. Apparel. The investigators’ findings were published in a report that made for rather shocking reading. Amongst other things, the investigation found:

Sexual and verbal harassment by top management.

Underpayment of wages.

Occupational safety violations.

SOUNDBITE [Spanish] Clara Edwards: “They treat the workers very bad. When they go through a period when their workload drops, they just send the workers home without pay. The hygiene and safety standards are precarious. Anyone can suffer a work accident and it’d go unnoticed. There’s no sanitary control, the drinking water is very poor and contaminated with amoebas.

I was on the process of setting up a workers’ union when the boss got word that I was about to organize the workers and let them know their rights. As soon as the boss got to know about this I was fired.”

Narration: After the report was published the US’ Workers Rights Consortium pressed for ITIC Apparel to correct the violations. ITIC apparel failed to respond.

Eventually it was the contractor and not the City of San Francisco that terminated the agreement. They cited the fact that the City hadn’t spent enough money in the contract so far. It became evident that for the US contractor supplying the Federal Government, the only concern was profit, and they had little time to care for ITIC Apparel’s workers.

SOUNDBITE [Spanish] Clara Edwards: “On a few occasions American clients would come to visit, but they would just pass by us and only care about their product. They were there only to negotiate.”

Narration: President Obama recently raised the minimum wage for companies that do business with the US government to $10.10 an hour. However these moves apply only to workers in the United States.

SOUNDBITE [Spanish] Clara Edwards: “I understand that in other countries workers are well paid. That’s not the case here.”

TIME CODE: 20:00_25:00

Narration: The US federal government spends over $1.5 billion a year on clothing from factories in countries as Bangladesh, Pakistan, Haiti and the Dominican Republic.

In these countries garment factory workers can earn as little as 50 cents per hour.

SOUNDBITE [Spanish] Clara Edwards: “They are sucking up the worker’s blood because they know there are very few job opportunities for us.”

Narration: Ayda Castillo also works for the minimum wage at a US-owned garment manufacturing company.

SOUNDBITE [Spanish] Ayda Castillo: “These are all the documents that give prove about the accident I suffered. When I was on my way to work, the rear tire of my scooter blew up and the person who was sitting behind me landed on me, and so did the scooter. When I got to work my foot was still bleeding.

I reported this to the company and they sent a paper to the Administration of Work Hazards, who told me that my injury was product of a common illness. After they rejected my claim I had some tests done on my leg, including a magnetic scan. After these test I was prescribed physical therapy, but I’ve got no resources to pay for that. The insurance only covers for part of the treatment, and how am I going to pay for the difference? I’ve got no one I can borrow money from. I earn 1,666 pesos per week (US$ 37). How am I going to pay 480 pesos (US$ 11) each week for physical therapy not covered by the insurance?”

Narration: Ayda used to live in her humble home with her two kids. However, due to the recent extra expenditure she’s incurred as a result of her accident, her children have had to move in with a relative.

SOUNDBITE [Spanish] Ayda Castillo: “This is my home…This is the kitchen, which I have now place inside a bedroom. As my children are not living here at present, I’ve placed the kitchen in their bedroom. Before it used to be in the front room. I work at Bali Dominicana, gluing a trim onto the blouses they make as well as stitching the sleeves on.

I believe they can pay up to three workers’ wages with what they charge for one single blouse, and I make over three hundred pieces each day.

This is my bedroom. It’s rather small. What I earn is not enough to feed myself. My mother saves a meal for me every day. I cook myself breakfast every morning, after which the stove is turned off for the day. This is not fair: the business owners should reconsider what they pay us. Every day more and more people die out of poverty. Every day we see how the rich get richer while the poor get poorer…”

SOUNDBITE [Spanish] Pavel Isa, Economist at Santa Domingo Institution of Technology: “The competitiveness of the Free Trade Zones still mainly relies on low salaries and tax exemptions. And in a situation as this, there’s very little room for social development.”

Narration: David works as a machine operator for a Chinese-owned plastic recycling company based at the Free trade zone.

SOUNDBITE [Spanish] David Castillo: “I work at Soltex Dominicana. They recycle plastic containers; the problem is that they don’t give us any safety or hygiene standards. We even have to deal with bacteria that haven’t even been identified. They collect plastic containers and put them through a cleaning process, then they put them into a mill, which cuts them into small pieces. My job is to sharpen the blades. I place them on a machine and then begin to sharpen them. The blades are approximately 2m long. When I’m sharpening them, little bits could get into my eyes, and I’m not wearing any safety goggles or anything, the blades could slip and cut off my foot. This morning I ran into a supervisor and asked her for a pair of boots, but she saw I had a phone and accused me of recording and took it...I was just waiting for a phone call.”

Narration:David is also the secretary general of his company’s workers’ union. As such, today David has got important matters to attend.

SOUNDBITE [Spanish] David Castillo: “I’m coming to file a complaint to the ministry to see if conditions can improve.”

Narration:According to David, on top of the lack of safety and hygiene, his employer is also guilty of discriminatory practices against workers and, in particular, against those who wish to join the union.

SOUNDBITE [Spanish] David Castillo: “Any worker that complains gets laid off. They are putting everyone against the union. They send the supervisor to collect signatures in order to get the union ousted from the company.”

TIME CODE: 25:00_30:00

SOUNDBITE [Spanish] David Castillo: And I want is an improvement in our working conditions. People are lacking jobs. And that’s why they blackmail the workers by telling them that if the union doesn't leave the company, they will leave the country.

Right now I’m heading to the Ministry. I’ll file my complaint and see what happens, I’ll file my complaint. This one is worse than all other companies. However, the American companies are not too good either. There's too much abusive behavior around here.

All the foreigners that come here to operate their business take advantage of their workers.”

Narration:David is now back from his appointment at the Ministry of Labour”

SOUNDBITE [Spanish] David Castillo:“I filed my complaint at the Ministry of Labour and they gave me a quick reply.They will send an inspector and I hope things will get better. That’s my hope.”

Narration: Besides the Free Trade Zones, other forms of foreign investment were brought into the Dominican Republic during the Balaguer years, further proliferating after the implementation of the neoliberal model.

The mining sector is a clear example of this loosely regulated foreign investment. The first place in the Americas were the Spanish conquistadors set foot on when looking to satisfy their insatiable thirst for gold, once again became the destiny for the greed of foreign gold diggers.

In 2006 Canada’s Barrick Gold, the world’s largest gold mining company, bought the old Pueblo Viejo Oxide mine.

SOUNDBITE [Spanish] Juan Frias, Legal and Environmental Advisor: “The Canadian mining industry’s tentacles reach the US too, because it’s the same emporium, the same project of domination and expropriation.

After signing a hugely onerous contract with the Dominican government, Barrick began operations for gold extraction in 2013.”

SOUNDBITE [Spanish] Pavel Isa, Economist at Santa Domingo Institution of Technology: “The initial contract with Barrick was outrageous. The environmental issue didn’t’ get addressed appropriately.”

Narration: Jesus Adon works for the Dominican Human Rights commission.

SOUNDBITE [Spanish] Jesus Adon: “Barrick Gold’s mining exploitation is responsible for the extreme devastation that is taking place.”

Narration: Jesus is taking us to visit the Maguaca river, which, until recently, was the main source of drinking water for the villages located around the Pueblo Viejo mine.

SOUNDBITE [Spanish] Gonzalo Martinez: “This is the Maguaca river. We had been drinking this water that Rosario Dominicana left us, for 38 or 40 years.

It was for the animals and for us, the people from four communities. When Barrick Gold got here, not fifteen days had passed when they broke the pipes and the dam. Now look at the water, it’s not even suit for the animals. The Galvez family has lost hundreds of animals, and one of my cousins lost 13 cows because they drank that water.

They ran tests on the animals, they ran tests on the people, the Public Health Department came here…”

SOUNDBITE [Spanish] Jesus Adon: “And what did they say is causing all this?”

SOUNDBITE [Spanish] Gonzalo Martinez: “They said they were not responsible for the pollution. I answered back how could they not be responsible if they have their wastewater treatment dam up the river. After the made their investigations and concluded that it was contaminated, they gave us bottled water. I’m going to show you some pictures of the river, so that you can see.”

SOUNDBITE [Spanish] Jesus Adon: “Well let’s go then.”

SOUNDBITE [Spanish] Gonzalo Martinez: “These are the pictures, just look at what we used to enjoy, and what Barrick Gold has taken away from us.”

Narration: Together with the Maguaca river, the Hatillo Dam has also been affected by the contamination from the mining activities.

SOUNDBITE [Spanish] Juan Frias, Legal and Environmental Advisor: “This is the biggest artificial water dam in all of The Antilles and the biggest fresh water reservoir in the country. Two studies were made by the Europen Union and the Dominican Mining Directorate, and they found out that in the mud located at the bottom of the Hatillo Dam, there is cadmium - which is carcinogenic - mercury, arsenic, lead…”

TIME CODE: 30:00_35:00

SOUNDBITE [Spanish] Jesus Adon: “I will take you to see my friend Jaque, one of the many cases of contamination that can be found in this community.

Mr. Jaque how are you? How are you doing?”

SOUNDBITE [Spanish] Jacinto Jaque: “Not so good healthy wise. Very affected by the contamination.”

SOUNDBITE [Spanish] Jesus Adon: “What is your situation?”

SOUNDBITE [Spanish] Jacinto Jaque: “I bathed in the Maguaca river and got some boils. I thought it was nothing, but it’s been two years now and they still have not healed.”

SOUNDBITE [Spanish] Jesus Adon: “Have you been to the doctor?”

SOUNDBITE [Spanish] Jacinto Jaque: “The doctor doesn’t say anything to me, he just cleans the boils and covers them up again.”

SOUNDBITE [Spanish] Jesus Adon: “Have you run some tests?”

SOUNDBITE [Spanish] Jacinto Jaque: “Yes, and the results are OK on sugar levels, and they don’t say...”

SOUNDBITE [Spanish] Jesus Adon: “They haven’t detected the origin of the infection?”

SOUNDBITE [Spanish] Jacinto Jaque: “They haven’t detected the origin of that.”

SOUNDBITE [Spanish] Jesus Adon: “We are very near to Barrick’s wastewater treatment dam...”

SOUNDBITE [Spanish] Jacinto Jaque: “Yes, really close, the dam is right there.”

SOUNDBITE [Spanish] Jesus Adon: “And it contaminates the river.”

SOUNDBITE [Spanish] Jacinto Jaque: “I cannot work anymore because I cannot be standing up, otherwise my foot starts hurting. I have to be sitting down. It’s thanks to this friends and relatives who help me that I manage to survive.”

SOUNDBITE [Spanish] Jesus Adon: “They won’t give you a job anywhere?”

SOUNDBITE [Spanish] Jacinto Jaque: “They don’t employ me because I cannot be standing up for too long. My foot starts hurting and I need to sit down. I still cannot put up my arm properly, as it also hurts. But I believe what I’ve got on my feet is incurable; it hurts more and more every day.

I can tell you this place was wonderful before Barrick Gold came here. It was very different. But after the presence of this company, we have fallen into disgrace, and now every river has been contaminated. It’s no coincidence, we noticed the change after the mine arrived. Fish have died and many other animals too: cows, pigs, horses, chicken, all kinds of animal. The farming production has dropped as well and our agriculture has gone down.

This is an “arepa”, a very nourishing food that is sold all throughout the Dominican territory. Once it’s out of the oven it’s ready to be eaten.

What we are asking from the mine is that we get relocated to a healthy environment, were we can breathe fresh air, as we used to. We are not asking for money.

There are many other cases even worse than mine. If we don’t get relocated they will take us out of here dead, just like the animals that are dying regularly.”

SOUNDBITE [Spanish] Jesus Adon: “Hello Madam. How are you doing? We come to visit because Mr. Jaque told us you were also being affected by the contamination.”

SOUNDBITE [Spanish] Carmen Abreu: “I wasn’t this way, but when I started crossing the river over and over I got this. It started as a little boil and then my foot got like this.”

SOUNDBITE [Spanish] Jesus Adon: “Have you seen a doctor?”

SOUNDBITE [Spanish] Carmen Abreu: “I’ve been, but they won’t tell me anything, it’s my circulation they say. Once they came by and run some tests, but I didn’t get any results back.”

SOUNDBITE [Spanish] Jesus Adon: “Mr. Jaque told us that he got tested as well, but nothing came out on the results. He is afraid the company may have intervened so that the tests wouldn’t show the real results.”

SOUNDBITE [Spanish] Carmen Abreu: “I guess it might be, because they didn’t tell me if I was sick or healthy, and I’m pretty sure I have something serious here...”

SOUNDBITE [Spanish] Jesus Adon: “But of course, with a laceration like that you must have something.”

SOUNDBITE [Spanish] Carmen Abreu: “I cannot sleep at night with this leg, my whole body is sore…”

SOUNDBITE [Spanish] Jesus Adon: “What other problems have the mining activity brought to the locals here?”

SOUNDBITE [Spanish] Carmen Abreu: “Well, the fruits, the mango trees don’t give fruits as they used to. There is too much contamination; one can no longer sleep at night with all that noise, that’s mortifying for us who live in wooden houses. We put up with everything.”

SOUNDBITE [Spanish] Juan Frias, Legal and Environmental Advisor: “They prefer the night to work at great capacity. And the movement of vehicles and trucks, the detonations, all of this is something new for these communities. When we spent some time there we experienced it, the stench, the noise and specially the dust.”

TIME CODE: 35:00_40:00

SOUNDBITE [Spanish] Jesus Adon: “The water you used to consume came from the mountain, it was provided by nature.”

SOUNDBITE [Spanish] Carmen Abreu: “Yes, the water came from up there.”

SOUNDBITE [Spanish] Jesus Adon: “And now?”

SOUNDBITE [Spanish] Carmen Abreu: “Well, now they give us bottled water. Which means they are accepting the water is contaminated, other wise they wouldn’t bring us anything.”

SOUNDBITE [Spanish] Juan Frias, Legal and Environmental Advisor: “The mining company pays so that the communities get bottled water, because before they used to drink water right from the river. And why do they give it to them now? That is conclusive evidence.”

SOUNDBITE [Spanish] Carmen Abreu: “If this place is not suitable to live in I don’t want to be here anymore, because I want to last a bit more. If we cannot be here I would like to be relocated in some place far away, the further from the mine, the better.”

SOUNDBITE [Spanish] Juan Frias, Legal and Environmental Advisor: “The main issue is that this mine should not be operating with people around. The impact on the environment is terrible. This company mistreats the land owners.

The contract gave a risible proportion of money for the state: three percent. It was approved by a political decision. The three parties gave orders to their congressmen so they would vote in favor. The possibility that lobbies and bribes also played a role should not be dismissed. This isn’t unusual in our country for such kind of contracts. But because of pressure from the Dominican people, the Academy of Science began a campaign to show those conditions weren’t acceptable, and demanded that the minimum should be a 50 percent, and thanks to god the President recently, with the support from the people of course, managed to change this situation.”

SOUNDBITE [Spanish] Jesus Adon: “How are you doing Ludovino?”

SOUNDBITE [Spanish] Ludovino Vargas: “Here we are, fighting for our lives.”

SOUNDBITE [Spanish] Jesus Adon: “Let’s sit down so we can talk comfortably.”

SOUNDBITE [Spanish] Ludovino Vargas: “Let’s sit down. The Government gets payed 51 percent from Barrick. Three months ago it received 400 million dollars, and this goes on every three months. The government should take that money and use a part of it, which belongs to us by law, to relocate us.”

SOUNDBITE [Spanish] Juan Frias, Legal and Environmental Advisor: “It seems that the mining company, in order to settle here had to spend excessive amounts of money. They resent this so much, they try to get even with the farmers. They almost say it: if we are giving to the Estate, then talk to them.”

SOUNDBITE [Spanish] Jesus Adon: “So then you are not asking for an economic compensation?”

SOUNDBITE [Spanish] Ludovino Vargas: “We are asking for the relocation of six hundred families, in a place where there’s pure air, not like here, where it’s all contaminated.”

SOUNDBITE [Spanish] Juan Frias, Legal and Environmental Advisor: “Their claim is so legitimate they even have five or six more rights to demand. However they don’t want any of that, they just want to get out of there.”

SOUNDBITE [Spanish] Waiter: “Here, have some water and coffee.”

SOUNDBITE [Spanish] Jesus Adon: “Thank you very much.”

SOUNDBITE [Spanish] Ludovino Vargas: “We have four years fighting with Barrick. We began by organizing ourselves and visiting them. They never said: “Yes we are contaminating”.”

SOUNDBITE [Spanish] Jesus Adon: “Is there a place where you could take us to see the contamination produced by the mining activity?”

SOUNDBITE [Spanish] Ludovino Vargas: “I’ll take you to the Margajita river, which is five kilometers away, but first I want you to see my little two year-old niece, who already has developed skin problems.Look at these blisters. They came after washing her with tap water. Children get bathed and then get these all over.”

SOUNDBITE [Spanish] Jesus Adon: “These are ugly lacerations. In this arm too.”

SOUNDBITE [Spanish] Ludovino Vargas: “Look at this little girl’s arm.”

SOUNDBITE [Spanish] Jesus Adon: “Have they taken her to see a doctor?”

SOUNDBITE [Spanish] Ludovino Vargas: “Possibly. But the doctors here just give away little pills; they have all been paid off.”

SOUNDBITE [Spanish] Jesus Adon: “That’s outrageous.”

SOUNDBITE [Spanish] Zoila Vargas: “Thirty percent of our children are like this.”

SOUNDBITE [Spanish] Jesus Adon: “A girl who is barely two years old.”

SOUNDBITE [Spanish] Zoila Vargas: “And people die here and nobody gets to know the cause of death.”

SOUNDBITE [Spanish] Jesus Adon: “Doctors don’t give any light about the origin of the disease.”

SOUNDBITE [Spanish] Zoila Vargas: “But we cannot blame them, you know why? Because those tests need to be sent abroad, to a laboratory outside the country, and they are not allowed to do so because they have all been paid off.”

SOUNDBITE [Spanish] Juan Frias, Legal and Environmental Advisor: “All over the world, doctors who work in the mining industry are very cautious when it comes to diagnosing a disease. They are influenced by the mining companies’ financial power and the control these companies have over the media.”

TIME CODE: 40:00_45:00

SOUNDBITE [Spanish] Zoila Vargas: “You know why my results came out? Because the scandal was not out yet, like it is nowadays. The results indicated I had four metals in my blood.”

SOUNDBITE [Spanish] Ludovino Vargas: “I’ll show you the river I was telling you about, the contaminated one.”

SOUNDBITE [Spanish] Jesus Adon: “OK.”

SOUNDBITE [Spanish] Ludovino Vargas: “We’re going to check this water, from the Margajita river, which has been contaminated twice. First by Rosario Dominicana and now by Barrick Gold. Water is polluted now. The Margajita river is now a poisonous river; it’s no longer a fresh water river. This is what Barrick left us: smell this Jesus.”

SOUNDBITE [Spanish] Jesus Adon: “This is nauseating, so unpleasant. By the colour it’s evident how contaminated it is; terribly contaminated.”

SOUNDBITE [Spanish] Ludovino Vargas: “That’s true… that’s true. Good water doesn’t smell bad, because God has not given us contaminated water, he gave us water so we could drink it, and nobody dares to drink water from this river.”

SOUNDBITE [Spanish] Jesus Adon: “What is this we can see over here?”

SOUNDBITE [Spanish] Ludovino Vargas: “This is oxide.”

SOUNDBITE [Spanish] Jesus Adon: “Oxide? This is pure contamination.”

SOUNDBITE [Spanish] Ludovino Vargas: “Yes indeed. 394 families depended on the Margajita river, but not anymore. Now there are only three families left; in [the villages of] Los Cacaos and Colorado.”

SOUNDBITE [Spanish] Juan Frias, Legal and Environmental Advisor: “Barrick claims that the contamination that has affected the communities is a result of what is left from previous mining activities, from years before them. But Barrick is operating on the same mineral deposits, so it’s illogical to say that what went on before them is what is causing the damages at present, when it is them who are operating nowadays - cutting off the trees and blowing up the land.”

Narration: After several attempts we couldn’t get an interview with the representatives of Barrick Gold.However, in writing they sent us their posture in relation to the many allegations raised in this film:

Regarding the numerous claims of health-related issues from local farmers:

They consider these to be: “Allegations without any scientific support.”

They added that: “The regional unit of the Dominican Medical College.... had found that the health conditions of the villagers living next to the mine were no different from those of any other rural area unrelated to mining activities.”

In these regards, we contacted the President of the Dominican Medical College, who manifested to us that investigations in relation to the farmers’ health issues are still inconclusive.

Moreover, there is an on-going court case being fought in the Dominican courts, between the affected farmers and Barrick Gold.

In relation to their supplying of bottled water to the communities that surround the mine, Barrick stated: “The distribution of bottles of water... was part of a temporary initiative... to support the farmers during a time of cyclical drought that affected the region.”

However, after consulting an expert, we were told that cyclical droughts have always been a regular occurrence in the region in question. But in the past, the lack of rainwater was supplemented with the flow from the rivers, which can no longer be used due to contamination.

In respect to the obvious and intolerable noise pollution, Barrick replied: “We keep monitoring the noise levels generated in the area permanently..... The recorded cases of excessive noise have usually been produced by sources unrelated to our operations.”

In their reply the company failed to provide examples of the unrelated sources of noise.

About the issue of relocation of villagers affected by the mining activities, the mining company said: “At present, there are 1500 homes requiring to be relocated. In accordance to the contract signed with the Dominican government, the latter will determine if these claims are fair and if they can be justified by technical criteria.”

They also added that: “The Dominican government is contractually responsible for cleaning the existing residues that form part of the historical liabilities.”

TIME CODE: 45:00_51:56

SOUNDBITE [Spanish] Jesus Adon: “Now we are heading to an area were exploitation hasn’t started yet, thanks to the great resistance from the community that surrounds it – Loma Miranda. What you just saw [near Barrick Gold] is what we don’t want to occur in this area.”

Narration: Jesus is directly involved with the campaign to get Loma Miranda named as a national reserve, thus banning all the prospected mining activities that Falconbridge plans to carry out.

SOUNDBITE [Spanish] Jesus Adon: “There’s a big struggle against this company of Canadian and American capitals named Falconbridge, because it wants to exploit Loma Miranda. It’s a fight that has been going on for many years.”

Narration: Falconbridge has been absorbed by Glencore, the anglo-swiss multinational currently listed as the 10th biggest company in the world. Glencore is also considered to be one of the world’s biggest polluters and has a history of environmental issues in different continents. We’re arriving at the campsite set up spontaneously by the population.

SOUNDBITE [Spanish] Jesus Adon: “Hello Fain, How are you?”

SOUNDBITE [Spanish] Rafael Fain: “Welcome!”

SOUNDBITE [Spanish] Jesus Adon: “Thank you, thank you.”

SOUNDBITE [Spanish] Rafael Fain: “How are things?”

SOUNDBITE [Spanish] Jesus Adon: “All good. How are things at the campsite?”

SOUNDBITE [Spanish] Rafael Fain: “We’re still resisting, carrying on with the struggle to achieve our objective, which is to get Loma Miranda declared a national park.

There are over three hundred mining concessions that the governments have given, and all of them are located in strategic places near sources of water. If, through our resistance, we don’t allow for Loma Miranda to be exploited, the other mining concessions will also be put into question.”

SOUNDBITE [Spanish] Lady:We want to live peacefully, just as we’ve been doing so. If the road is in a bad state and with no bridges, that’s fine with us. If we have to cross through the river and get our feet wet, we’ll do so. But our river will have good water. We drink that water without any need for it to be treated, so we’re not interested in their money or their deeds.”

SOUNDBITE [Spanish] Old Woman: “What I’m looking for with this struggle is well being for the young people. How are they going to live here if they cannot have clean water?”

SOUNDBITE [Spanish] Rafael Fain: “85% of the Dominican people manifested themselves in favor of not allowing for Loma Miranda to be exploited, and having it named as a national park instead. Let’s go now to the all the natural riches that we’ve got up the hill and which we’re defending.”

SOUNDBITE [Spanish] Jesus Adon: “That’s good. Let’s go.”

SOUNDBITE [Spanish] Rafael Fain: “We have to demonstrate the government that it’s the people who are sovereign and that the people have said that Loma Miranda should not be exploited.

The Lower House of Parliament approved the project [to name Loma Miranda a national park] three times, and the Upper House did it twice. Despite this, the President, because of his commitment to foreign investment and, in particular, to mining investment, repelled the law that had been approved by the lower and upper houses of congress.”

SOUNDBITE [Spanish] Jesus Adon: “It’s important to say that some international organizations intervened as well. For instance the Embassy of the United Estates publicly spoke in favour of the exploitation of Loma Miranda, and the Canadian Embassy too.”

SOUNDBITE [Spanish] Rafael Fain: “The fight is not only against the mining company, but against the government too.”

SOUNDBITE [Spanish] Jesus Adon: “We are ready to support this fight even with our blood if necessary.”

SOUNDBITE [Spanish] Rafael Fain: “Look at this river, prime source of water and riches given to us by nature. It’s not possible that all of this gets mistreated and disappears because of the ambition of foreign companies who just want to make more and more money, with no concern for people’s lives.”

SOUNDBITE [Spanish] Jesus Adon: “Due to the natural riches we get from the water, over fifty thousand jobs are generated permanently, derived from agricultural activities. We cannot trade 150 jobs given by the company for exploiting Loma Miranda, for over fifty thousand permanent jobs, aside from preserving nature’s balance.

What do you think of the American Embassy?”

SOUNDBITE [Spanish] Rafael Fain: “The American Embassy always plays its role, throwing the stone and hiding the hand.”

Narration: The United States in particular and the West in general, are still very influential in determining the Dominican political agenda.

But things might be gradually changing.

SOUNDBITE [Spanish] Pavel Isa, Economist at Santa Domingo Institution of Technology: “Latin America is finally putting on some trousers, and their influence is being limited as time goes by, although it is still very large and important, but it is not as decisive as it used to in the past.”

Narration:The Dominicans and their fellow Latin Americans seem every day more willing to stand firmly for their right to dictate their own future.

Share this item