The Curse Of The Jarabacoa Gold Rush
See the Spanish version of this article here.
Thus the legend is told by the old of Baraco and Yujo:
When the Spanish came to Jarabacoa searching for gold, they found tiny bits in the Yujo river, a small stream flowing into the Jimenoa. Following the route along the Yujo they found Baraco creek that came from out of a hill. Certain to have found a gold mine, they began to excavate the mound, using local Taino natives as slaves.
Soon they realized the mine they had discovered was to become the most prosperous on the island. Or so they thought.
A Cacique, a Taino leader who often served both as chief as well as medicine man, stood up to the Spaniards and cursed anyone who would seek gold in Jarabacoa to fail miserably and perish trying.
A few days after the curse was issued the mine collapsed, burying both Spanish and Taino, and the few survivors escaped only with their lives and little gold. The curse had taken its first victims…
Although it is only a legend it is interesting that the stories about gold in Jarabacoa do not end here. In fact, it was only the beginning of the Curse of the Jarabacoa Gold Rush.
Of course, we don’t believe in curses…
In the 70s Spanish researchers found maps and information on where this legendary mine was originally located. It did not take long until they came to the township with equipment and began an extensive excavation. But the rush did not last and the amount of gold that was found did not justify the investment, as they only found what are called ‘chiripas’ — small chips of gold without much value. Again the Spanish failed to extract gold from Jarabacoa.
It is said that in the 80s an Italian came bringing his own equipment, a kind of vacuum gold dredge that separates dirt from gold in a river. But after just a few months, a flash flood washed away the equipment and the Italian left the operation in defeat.
In the 90s a group of Germans decided to approach the problem of finding gold in a different way: instead of extracting gold directly from the river they brought tourists, showing them how to wash and extract it the old fashioned way.
For a few weeks tourists came and paid for a short adventure trip up the Yujo on horseback, found and took with them chiripas and returned having had the gold-digger experience. But thanks to the all-inclusive system most resorts offered, most tourists did not feel willing to pay extra for a gold-mining-trip and the project died.
Again a failure to extract gold from Jarabacoa.
Over the years few actually managed to find any gold at all. Most were locals who by pure chance happened to come across chunks or chips of the precious metal, yet nobody actively seeking gold ever managed to find more than chiripas.
Undeterred by past failures, the Canadian mining company GoldQuest Corporation invested more than $5 million US searching for gold in Jarabacoa and other parts of the country. In the end they invested around $14 million US in the Dominican Republic, only to explore the idea of possible mines in these areas.
These studies argue that in Jarabacoa only the Yujo river holds copper, zinc, gold and silver. They estimate a possibly 1.6 million tons of ore in general, of which 3% are copper, 3.5% zinc and possibly 2 grams of gold and 30 to 35 grams of silver per ton.
Chemical Details of the GoldQuest finds
Of all potential mining projects GoldQuest is pursuing on the island, Jarabacoa would be the smallest compared to projects in San Juan and other areas.
For now GoldQuest is still considering the possibility of extracting gold from Jarabacoa, specifically in the area of the river Yujo, in a project known as Las Animas — which is interestingly located on the same site where the legendary Taino mine may have been located.
Gold remains one of the most precious metals in the world, and since the conquistadors came to our island, this gold rush has not seized. On the contrary.
With gold prices rising, further exploration for gold and other metals is expanding on Dominican soil. The most famous mine is of course Barrick Gold, with its gigantic and much disputed mine at Pueblo Viejo. But several other smaller companies like GoldQuest, Envirogold, SantoMining and others are exploring the land, many using plans and maps of old gold mine sites already explored in the times of Columbus.
Overall gold has brought both blessings and curses to the mining areas. A mine means prosperity for some, work for a few, and problems for others. As evidenced with the controversial Barrick projects, while there may be many who can benefit, often in the end it is the environment that suffers the most.
GoldQuest is very clear in its intentions of doing everything by international standards of environmental friendliness. If excavations were to begin in Jarabacoa, it would be in the form of an underground mine, meaning that only the mineral is removed, without the need of moving a lot of earth or even a treatment plant like the giant plant that was built in Pueblo Viejo.
With the little success gold mining has had in Jarabacoa, there is little fear that large operations could disrupt the picturesque little township. For now, it would seem, the Curse of the Cacique has seen to that.
See here a video by GoldQuest and their official opinions regarding gold mining in the DR.