COTUI, Dominican Republic – Twenty people were injured on Thursday when police fired pellets at protesters demanding that Canada’s Barrick Gold hire more local residents to work at its mine in the central Dominican province of Sanchez Ramirez.
Among those hurt were the secretary of the provincial chapter of the Dominican Journalists Association, Ramon Antonio Salcedo Soto, and press photographer Wilson Aracena.
Scores of people mounted a peaceful march to demand more mining jobs for Dominicans, but when they arrived at Barrick’s facility, police resorted to tear gas and pellets to disperse the crowd, according to Leandro Sepulveda, president of the provincial union of neighborhood associations.
Besides obtaining jobs for residents at the mine in Cotui, the protest was aimed at persuading the Dominican government to revise its contract with Barrick Gold, march organizer Manuel Jose said.
Barrick is hiring foreign workers even as the Dominican Republic suffers from alarming levels of unemployment, Jose said, vowing that protests will continue despite police “repression.”
Students among the protesters responded to the police action by setting tires ablaze and blocking roads leading to the Barrick offices.
Barrick Gold and minority partner Goldcorp – also based in Canada – announced last month that ore processing was under way at the Pueblo Viejo mine in Cotui, with commercial production of gold set to begin in the fourth quarter.
Pueblo Viejo is estimated to hold around 25 million ounces of gold.
Barrick Gold’s presence in the country has been criticized by environmental and civic groups, which say Santo Domingo’s 25-year lease agreement with the firm is a bad deal for the Dominican Republic.
The Dominican government insists, however, that the agreement will benefit the nation in the long run.
The controversy intensified after Congress revised the original contract to include a clause allowing Barrick to defer payment of moneys owed to the government until the operation achieves a profit margin exceeding 10 percent. EFE