FEATURE-Dominican gold rush hits a bureaucratic slowdown

Sun Dec 22, 2013 5:38pm EST
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By Ezra Fieser

COTUI, Dominican Republic Dec 22 (Reuters) - Little more than a decade ago, one of the world's largest known gold deposits sat abandoned in the foothills of the Dominican Republic's Central Cordillera mountain range. Car-sized boulders leached heavy metals into what locals called the "blood river," its waters ran so red from contaminants.

Today the mine, which reopened as Pueblo Viejo this year, hums with activity. Trucks with tires twice the size of an SUV roll through its massive open pits on roads that cut through the 11-square-kilometer site (4.24 square miles), transporting tons of rock to a processing facility.

Some 2,000 people already work here, churning out shimmering gold bars that are exported to Canada and the United States, but the mine has the potential to create 12,700 more direct and indirect jobs and contribute $1.3 billion a year in exports.

This dynamic, foreign-operated enterprise is part of the country's effort to develop an industry that could help boost and diversify its tourism-dependent economy.

Yet despite robust commercial production by two of the world's largest gold mining companies, Canada's Barrick Gold Corp and Goldcorp Inc, development of the mining sector is vexed by bureaucratic delays and agitation by activists still concerned about pollution and government deals with foreign companies to exploit the nation's riches.

At stake are billions of dollars and thousands of jobs in a country of 10 million with high levels of unemployment and poverty.