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Can buried treasure finally save Haiti?

In this April 10, 2012 photo, Daniel Hachey, president resources MAJESCOR, left, and geologist Francisque Pierre, right, examine samples of stone for minerals and metals at a drill site in the department of Trou Du Nord, Haiti. Haiti's land may yet hold the solution to centuries of poverty: there is gold hidden in its hills, and silver and copper too. Now, two mining companies are drilling around the clock to determine how to get those metals out, and how much it might cost. (AP Photo/Dieu Nalio Chery)

TROU DU NORD, Haiti – Its capital is blighted with earthquake rubble. Its countryside is shorn of trees, chopped down for fuel. And yet, Haiti’s land may hold the key to relieving centuries of poverty, disaster and disease: There is gold hidden in its hills – and silver and copper, too.

A flurry of exploratory drilling in the past year has found precious metals worth potentially $20 billion deep below the tropical ridges in the country’s northeastern mountains. Now, a mining company is drilling around the clock to determine how to get those metals out.

In neighboring Dominican Republic, workers are poised to start mining the other side of this seam later this year in one of the world’s largest gold deposits: 23 million ounces worth about $40 billion.

The Haitian government’s annual budget is $1 billion, more than half provided by foreign assistance. The largest single source of foreign investment, $2 billion, came from Haitians working abroad last year.

A windfall of locally produced wealth could pay for roads, schools, clean water and sewage systems for the nation’s 10 million people, most of whom live on as little as $1.25 a day.

“If the mining companies are honest and if Haiti has a good government, then here is a way for this country to move forward,” said Bureau of Mines Director Dieuseul Anglade.

In a parking lot outside Anglade’s marble-floored office, more than 100 families have been living in tents since the earthquake. “The gold in the mountains belongs to the people of Haiti,” he said, gesturing out his window. “And they need it.”

Until now, few Haitians have known about this buried treasure. Mining camps are unmarked, and the work is being done miles up dirt roads near remote villages, on the opposite side of the country from the capital. But U.S. and Canadian investors have spent more than $30 million in recent years on everything from exploratory drilling to camps for workers, new roads, offices and laboratory studies of samples. Actual mining could be under way in five years.

AP