On a blustery Sunday in November, the wind tore down East 86th Street from the hills of Central Park, whipping leaves and debris around a handful of protestors gathered in front of the 28,500-square-foot townhouse of hedge-fund billionaire John Paulson, one of America’s wealthiest men and biggest gold investors. Silvia Pena, 32, a tall, big-eyed beauty from Bucharest who came to New York from Romania three years ago to attend the Stella Adler Studio of Acting, held a giant poster board aloft.
It bore photographs of a pensive Paulson, a verdant Romanian valley, the moon-faced landscape of an open-pit gold mine, and a scowling stick figure with one arm pointing fiercely off the page, “GTFO” scrawled in red block letters beneath it. “Get the fuck out,” Silvia explained with a curled smile and a wink in her eye.
Silvia and a coterie of Romanian expats were assembling in front of Paulson’s home for the seventh Sunday in a row to demand that the billionaire withdraw his investment from Gabriel Resources. The Canadian company has been trying for fourteen years to get the Romanian government to green-light its development of Europe’s largest open-pit gold mine in a picturesque and historic town called Rosia Montana. (Hundreds of lawsuits from NGOs over the years have held it up.)
Paulson drew the protestors’ ire because he is the biggest financial backer of Gabriel, with a 16 percent stake. Then they discovered his wife, Jenny Zaharia, is Romanian. “That was another slap on our faces, so to speak,” said Simona, an educational therapist who works with special-needs kids and is a regular at the Sunday protests. Paulson’s hedge fund Paulson & Co. has made big bets on gold in recent years but unloaded some of its holdings this summer as prices tanked. Still, Paulson has said he remains long-term bullish on gold.
Brandishing handwritten signs and poster-board collages, the Romanian protestors handed out flyers to well-dressed passersby with strollers and little dogs. Some stopped to chat. A petite older woman wearing a black leather jacket, her white hair tied up in a ponytail, leaned in confidentially to speak with a couple of the activists. “Have you contacted the fracking groups? They might come out and protest with you,” she said, noticing their meager ranks. The group is upset that more New York Romanians haven’t come out.
Tens of thousands have reportedly gathered in the streets of Romanian cities since late September in the biggest demonstrations the country has seen since the Romanian Revolution of 1989. The catalyst: a draft law proposed by the Romanian government that would have conferred special status on the Rosia Montana project (pdf), allowing Gabriel to move ahead with the permitting process.
Giant marches against development of the mine have also erupted in major cities all over Europe in the past two months. On Monday, the country’s parliament voted the draft law down — but they also recommended the creation of a new legal framework (pdf) for gold and silver mining projects, which prompted Gabriel Resources to predict it might begin work as early as 2014.
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