It was nearly seven years ago, but Monico Abreu vividly remembers Barrick employees being met with stones and knives during a visit to a local community near the Pueblo Viejo mine in the Dominican Republic. The hostile reception wasn’t a result of anything Barrick had done. Indeed, the company had not even begun to operate the mine yet. But the people weren’t thinking about Barrick; they were thinking about their experience with the mine’s previous operator—and worried that history was about to repeat itself.
Pueblo Viejo’s previous operator, a government-run entity, operated the mine for decades before closing the site in 1999. During that period, it evicted people from their homes and contaminated the local environment. So when Barrick acquired a majority stake in Pueblo Viejo in 2006, and announced plans to restart mining, the surrounding communities were understandably wary.
Abreu, now Barrick’s Superintendent of Corporate Social Responsibility at Pueblo Viejo, was among the skeptics, questioning whether the company was truly interested in supporting the communities near the mine. It didn’t take long, however, before he both saw and had a hand in the positive change that Barrick has helped create.
I have seen a different way of working that I really didn't expect from a mining company
He’s most proud that people who once didn’t know how to read or write now have good-paying jobs in their own communities. Rickety wooden houses have been replaced by concrete buildings on paved streets, not muddy paths. That means no more “donkey stops,” so called because you needed a donkey to navigate around many areas of the community, carrying your shoes in a plastic bag and water to wash your feet.
“With Barrick, I have seen a different way of working that I really didn't expect from a mining company,” Abreu says. “Barrick is doing real things to benefit the community. It makes me feel good to know I am taking part in it.”
In the seven years since that angry encounter, Barrick has built strong relationships with Pueblo Viejo’s host communities, many of which are located less than 15 miles from the mine, including Piedra Blanca, Maimon and Cotuí.
Abreu understands the area. Born in Cotuí and raised in Maimon, he learned his ABCs in a school near the entrance to the mine. He is married and raising five children in Maimon; two brothers live in Cotuí, as do many cousins.
Abreu’s own family was evicted by Pueblo Viejo’s previous operator, and the experience led to a life-long interest in creating positive social change.
“I was director of a library at the age of 14, and we put on plays to raise funds to buy books,” Abreu says. “I was a spokesperson for local protests when there were needs in Maimon, and I was a student leader in college.”
Abreu also served as a town councilor in Maimon from 2006 to 2010. He first heard of Barrick when the company asked to present community development plans at a town hall, and the mayor assigned him to represent the town.
“I had a lot of questions,” he says. “I asked if Barrick would address the community’s needs and priorities or whether we were going to be left with a problem as we were in the previous generation of mining.”
Abreu acted as coordinator for the municipal development plans for Piedra Blanca, Maimon, Fantino and Cotuí. The plans helped the communities prioritize their needs and develop the capacity to manage and allocate mining revenue in a transparent and democratic way. When Barrick saw how well Abreu managed the process, the company offered him a job as a Social Responsibility Officer in 2009.
“At first, I had my reservations,” he says. “But I saw the opportunity to use the company’s help to do a lot for the community.”
In his current role, Abreu works with his team to manage and coordinate various social responsibilities, including land acquisition, environmental issues, local employment and procurement, and community engagement and development.
“For me to work in Pueblo Viejo is an experience that I never imagined,” Abreu says. “Barrick pays me to do what I love.”
Many projects prioritized by the community are aimed at fostering self-sufficiency. These include updating electrical, water and road infrastructure, entrepreneurial and skills training, and support for health care and education, to name just a few things.
“In 25 years, the mine may no longer be here, so our challenge is to ensure that people realize the community must be strengthened so they can continue with or without it,” Abreu says. “Companies like Barrick can support the initiatives people define as priorities, and work together to ensure the future of coming generations.”
The partnership between Barrick and its host communities is becoming stronger every day, underpinned by open and continuous engagement, Abreu says. Most important to him is the change of mentality that he sees in the communities.
“People think differently, and that change has been generated from the work led by Barrick Pueblo Viejo,” he says. “Children never dreamed of touching a computer, and today children as young as six know how to use them. That is so important, that they feel there are no limits.”