MAC: Mines and Communities

Nicaragua: Community resistance defeats Canadian mining project

Published by MAC on 2015-10-15
Source: Beacon Reader (2015-10-15)
Community resistance defeats Canadian mining project in Nicaragua

Sandra Cuffe

13 October 2015

Communities in northern Nicaragua have won a long, hard-fought battle against a Canadian mining company’s plans to open a gold mine. After years of protests and local resistance, the Nicaraguan government nixed the project.

Residents of Rancho Grande, a municipality in the department of Matagalpa, have been fighting to protect their lands and waterways from Vancouver-based company B2Gold’s ‘El Pavón’ open pit gold mining project. Locals have organized marches, boycotts and other actions to demonstrate their overwhelming opposition to mining.

On October 12, the Nicaraguan government announced that the mining project would not proceed. Environmental officials determined the project was non-viable, government communications coordinator Rosario Murillo told reporters at the daily press briefing.

“The conclusion of all the environmental experts is that the project is not viable due to the impacts it would have on the surroundings, on nature, on the environment, on people’s way of life, [and] on water sources in general,” said Murillo, who is also the wife of Nicaraguan president Daniel Ortega.

Ministry of the Environment and Natural Resources officials deemed the project non-viable after wrapping up studies last week, according to Murillo. Ortega approved their recommendations, she said.

The news was welcomed by Matagalpa bishop Rolando Álvarez, who has been an outspoken supporter of Rancho Grande residents’ opposition to mining in the area.

“I believe that on this occasion, the government has respected the will of the population and has listened to the popular clamour,” Álvarez said. He received advance notification of the decision one day prior to Murillo’s announcement, but expressed surprise at the claim that government officials had recently conducted environmental studies in the area.

The bishop and other church leaders marched against mining in Rancho Grande alongside thousands of residents on October 3. “We’re beset by foreign mining companies interested in gold exploitation, which now gives rise to the threat of losing everything,” Álvarez said during his sermon to march participants.

Rancho Grande residents had been demanding a popular referendum to officially confirm the local population’s rejection of B2Gold’s activities. More than 90 percent of the municipality’s 30,000 inhabitants oppose mining, according to Rancho Grande community leader Carlos Siles, coordinator of the Yaoska Guardians community environmental defense movement.

“Rancho Grande doesn’t need mining,” Siles told me in an interview earlier this year.

The local economy of Rancho Grande is based largely on agricultural production, with exports to other parts of Nicaragua and beyond national borders. There are more than 300 water sources in the lush, mountainous area, said Siles. “We’re in the buffer zone of the Bosawás Biosphere Reserve,” he said.

The Nicaraguan government granted the mining concession in Rancho Grande in question in 2007, according to the government. B2Gold has a presence and several dozen employees in the area, and in recent years, it has stepped up its efforts to persuade locals to support mining, according to residents.

Siles credits the unwavering opposition of the majority of Rancho Grande residents for keeping mining activities at bay.

“They haven’t been able to begin [mining] because of the resistance,” he said.

The government’s announcement that B2Gold’s mining project is non-viable is an about face. “We have all of the state institutions in favour of mining,” Siles said earlier this year. Police cracked down on Rancho Grande residents on their way to a protest against mining in the capital. Government officials are accused of coordinating a local counter-protest with public employee participation in response to the massive October 3 march against mining.

Over the years, Rancho Grande community residents have held countless marches in the municipality of Rancho Grande, in the departmental capital of Matagalpa, and in Managua. They have also engaged in other, creative acts of resistance.

Rancho Grande communities engaged in a boycott campaign in 2014. The vast majority of local parents refused to send their children to school, in an attempt to force the government to address the issue. The school boycott continued in early 2015. When the Minister of Education came to Rancho Grande to address the boycott, thousands of local residents gathered to voice their opposition to mining.

The school boycott made the news in Nicaragua, but the Rancho Grande boycott went beyond education, said Siles, who referred to the actions as a campaign of civil disobedience. The boycott was in fact directed at all state institutions, said Siles, explaining that residents collectively refused to meet with state institutions or sign any documents.

The Nicaraguan government’s announcement that B2Gold’s ‘El Pavón’ gold mining project is not viable made no explicit reference to the local communities’ vocal opposition to mining in Rancho Grande. However, there is little doubt local resistance was a key factor.

The Humboldt Center, a prominent Nicaraguan environmental organization that has been accompanying the Yaoska Guardians, hopes the government’s announcement will be followed by formal resolutions.

“We consider that the Ministry of the Environment and Natural Resources (MARENA) should emit a Ministerial Resolution declaring the ‘El Pavón’ project non-viable,” Humboldt Center advocacy representative Tania Sosa said in a statement by the organization following the government announcement.

“If the government is really listening to the people of Rancho Grande, the Ministry of Energy and Mines (MEM) should publish a Ministerial Decree suspending the concession for this company and for any other company interested in exploitation in the future,” said Sosa.

The Humboldt Center also expressed its hope that the government will study the environmental and social viability of other mining projects in the country.

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