The Ministry of Environment has given farmers in the Valle Nuevo area until 29 January 2017 to harvest their crops and stop working in the 910 square km mountain area at more than 2,000 meters above sea level. Farmers in the area claim property rights and are demanding compensation payments from the government in return for leaving. The government is also pushing for all laborers to leave the area. The Ministry has said it will begin a reforestation project to restore the forests.
The leading environmental organization in the Santiago area, the Sociedad Ecológica del Cibao (SOECI) has called for the farmers to be evicted from the Juan Bautista Pérez Rancier National Park (Valle Nuevo). SOECI executive director Luis Polanco says that the area must be protected from farming, as the sources for the country’s main watersheds – Nizao, Yaque del Sur and Yuna – are in Valle Nuevo.
“At SOECI we believe that our protected areas need to be protected and our civil society will never accept the presence of a group of predators that are destroying the assets of the Valle Nuevo National Park,” said Polanco. He offered SOECI’s support for the Ministry of Environment’s call for the farmers to stop their work in the area and the eviction of the occupants.
In an interview in Hoy, environmentalist Luis Carvajal says that the government has prohibited land transactions and exploitation in the area since 1961, meaning that the property titles being presented today are illegal. He said when late President Joaquín Balaguer took office, the tree-cutting enterprises in the area allowed by murdered dictator Rafael Leonidas Trujillo were banned and this was confirmed by the government that passed national park laws. Carvajal says that any title transferred since 1961 is illegal.
Local farmers, mainly the Guzmán family, have called for negotiations with the government or for financial compensation for their loss. However, Carvajal says that on the contrary, these farmers should reimburse the country for the environmental damage they have wreaked in the area.
Several days before the end of his term in 2004, former President Hipólito Mejía made compensation payments of more than RD$200 million to members of the Guzmán family for the property. Other members of the family are also demanding compensation for 450,000 tareas of land. The Guzmán Silverio, Mora, Villaman, Crouch and Mercado families represent the Ganadera del Valle, Sociedad Agrícola del Valle, Granja Mora, Flores Purama, Flores Antillanas, and Explotación Maderera de Constanza companies.
Mejía has taken the side of the landholders. In a letter to President Danilo Medina dated 30 December 2016, Mejía called for talks that will lead to a satisfactory solution to the conflict in the Valle Nuevo National Park.
Mejía wrote: “What has happened in Valle Nuevo is a case that illustrates very well what happens when the state absents itself irresponsibly and later reappears in a repressive manner. The Dominican experience has demonstrated to us, that as a result of this behavior, the results obtained are frequently contrary to the objective that is being pursued.”
Ministry of Environment Resolution 14-2016 gave farmers 120 days to cease their activities and leave the area. It is said to affect more than 400 farmers in 33 communities throughout Valle Nuevo, regarded as the main water source for at least seven rivers and five springs.