Geologists extrapolating from depth and strike reports estimate at least 1 million ounces of gold at two sites.
Last month, prospectors found the first significant silver ever reported in Haiti: between 20 -million and 30 million ounces.
However, in the end it could be copper that turns out to be the most lucrative: Geologists suspect that there could be more than 1 million tonnes in just one of many areas under exploration.
The prices of precious metals have been volatile in recent years, with copper selling for about US$8,000 per tonne, silver at US$30 an ounce and gold at US$1,600 per ounce.
“Ultimately, I think mining is going to dwarf anything else in Haiti,” said Michael Fulp, a New Mexico-based geologist who visited the drill sites.
“Usually you’ve got about a one-in-1,000 chance of making a mine from the exploratory stage, but those odds are much better in Haiti because of the lack of any previous modern-day exploration and very, very promising samples,” he added.
Gold was last mined in Haiti in the 1500s, after Christopher Columbus ran the Santa Maria onto a Haitian reef. Spaniards enslaved the Arawak Indians to dig for gold, killing them off with harsh conditions and infectious diseases. When the Spaniards learned of even more lucrative deposits in Mexico, they moved on.
In the 1970s, UN geologists documented significant pockets of gold and copper, but foreigners were not willing to risk their cash in a country where corruption and instability has long discouraged outside investment.
Ironically, it was only after the catastrophic 2010 earthquake that investors saw real opportunity. Fifteen days after a seismic jolt brought down much of Port-au- Prince, a Canadian exploration firm acquired all of the shares of the only Haitian firm holding full permits for a promising chunk of land in the northeast.
“Investors want to get in at the bottom,” said Dan Hachey, -president of Majescor Resources, a Canadian company, “and I figured after that earthquake, Haiti was as low as it could get.”
Hachey was also betting that the US$10 billion in foreign assistance promised for earthquake recovery would force change and accountability.
“The eyes of the world will not allow the government to fool around,” he said.
Three firms are considering mining in Haiti, but so far only, SOMINE, has full concessions to take the metals out of the mountains. Those permits, for 50 square kilometers, were negotiated in 1996 under former Haitian president Rene Preval and require the firm to hire Haitians whenever possible.
In exchange for minimal permit fees, SOMINE committed to spend US$2.25 million in the first two years. In addition, it will pay US$1.8 million after a feasibility study, according to the contract. Bottom line: Haitians should get US$1 out of every US$2 of profits, compared with about US$1 out of US$3 that most countries get from mining firms.
Discoveries of rich resources, whether diamonds, oil or gold, often prompt great economic booms, but come with great risks of environmental, health and social problems. Chile, one of the wealthiest nations in Latin America, is the world’s largest copper exporter, deriving a third of its income from the metal.