- Lorraine Arroyo
- BBC World, @bbc_arroyo
Dressed in a baseball cap, T-shirt, jeans and sports shoes, Rogelio Cruz is an unconventional priest. The religious is touring the Dominican Republic to unite the opposition of the population to a controversial mining project in Loma Miranda, in the north of the country.
Despite the fact that Cruz says he has been in a «permanent fight» for three years to prevent his country from «handing over the resources of that mountain to a transnational company,» a cause shared by many Dominicans who have taken to the streets in recent months to protest, his name did not make headlines until the beginning of the month, when they called on citizens to practice «civil disobedience.»
It was after President Danilo Medina vetoed a law, already approved by the Congress of the pro-government majority, which provided for turning Loma Miranda into a National Park, a movement that would prevent the Dominican company Falcondo, a subsidiary of the multinational Glencore, from exploiting the mountain.
But now, with the objections presented by the president, the green light is given to the possible exploitation of that hill located in the province of La Vega, where it is estimated that there are some 20 million tons of ferronickel.
The president alleged legal impediments for Loma Miranda to be declared a Natural Park, but argued that this does not imply that the government authorizes its exploitation.
And now many wonder if this dilemma between nature and mining will take its toll on Medina, who, according to polls, is the president with the highest approval ratings in Latin America.
Call for civil disobedience
For Rogelio Cruz, the face that Dominicans identify with the fiercest opposition to the exploitation of Loma Miranda, there is no doubt: the time has come to stand up to the president.
«You have to open ways for people to face the situation of non-conformity that this decision left behind. People were left in shock in the country,» says the leader of the protests, referring to the objections to the law presented by the president that they were subsequently approved by the same Congress that days before had given the go-ahead to the standard.
«The Dominican state does not respond to the people but to international organizations and the country’s oligarchic class, the country’s rich. And the senators of this country are so incapable that a law they create in less than fifteen days, they throw it back and they violate it themselves, which shows that they are at the service of the executive branch,» Cruz said in statements to BBC Mundo.
And despite the fact that he was harshly criticized for some statements in which they supposedly called on Dominicans to break windows in the streets, the priest assures that in his movement «there is not the least possibility of breaking down the country.»
«Civil disobedience is the right of citizens to deny ourselves, to disobey and put up resistance to a government when it is tyrannical or does not walk according to the people,» Cruz points out, noting that Loma Miranda has water reserves of which, according to estimates , «2 or 3 million people» are supplied and with which «160,000 hectares of rice, a basic product in the country, are irrigated.»
«My priority is not my image»
But, the president argued just the opposite when vetoing the law: «I have been analyzing all the arguments. Thoroughly. My priority is the present and the future of the nation, not my image,» the president wrote on his Twitter account @ Danilo Medina, where he said he complied «with the law and his conscience.»
In the letter addressed to the president of the Senate, Medina justifies his observation of the law by having «serious doubts about its compatibility» with the Constitution and with international commitments acquired by the country regarding the protection of investments.
In that, the government had previously announced that making Loma Miranda a National Park would imply the payment of a large compensation to the Falcondo mining company.
And despite the fact that Medina includes among his justifications the «adverse effect for the country of the development of a law that established a National Park that prohibits the future possibility of natural resources» of Loma Miranda, he assures that the exploitation of those lands will arise from what what the environmental impact studies say.
The «real debate»
In this sense, the pro-government senator Felix Nova defends that observing the law opens the door to what he calls «the true debate.»
«I believe that a democratic country has to decide what it wants, where it is going, what it wants to do with its natural resources. And from there we believe that there is a responsible mining that we should aspire to in the country. That is the great discussion that takes place can open,» says the senator, in statements to BBC Mundo.
But for the doctor in Dominican sociology and professor at Temple University in Philadelphia, Rosario Espinal, what the government is going to do is «delay the matter» until the mobilizations against the exploitation of Loma Miranda dissolve.
As Espinal explained to BBC Mundo, despite the fact that the surveys that have been carried out so far show that a majority of the country is against the mining project, Loma Miranda is not the priority of the population.
For this reason, the analyst does not believe that the case will greatly undermine the president’s popularity: «As he is not going to start an exploitation project, the negative effect that it could have on Medina will be nothing or very little,» the analyst maintains.
And, despite the fact that Rogelio Cruz promises to continue touring the country organizing demonstrations against the exploitation of Loma Miranda and warns that his movement «is growing every day», the ruling Dominican Liberation Party (PLD), this does not seem to worry him. the loss of popularity of the president.
This is highlighted by Senator Nova when recalling that the latest polls published in the country – from early September – show that 91% of the Dominican population approves of the two years of Danilo Medina’s government. «He is giving the best of his life to the country and that is what ends up generating support for him,» he concludes.