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Central American University - UCA  
  Number 408 | Julio 2015



“Let’s say a huge NO to mining”

In his Encyclical “Laudato Si” “on care for our common home” Pope Francis refers to the damage produced by mining. The Canadian gold mining company B2Gold is already causing damage and will cause more in the Matagalpa municipality of Rancho Grande. The population, organized as “The Guardians of Yaoska,” is opposing the company, joined by the bishop of Matagalpa. Here are his words.

Rolando Álvarez

The Bishops’ Conferences throughout Latin America, especially here in Central America—Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua—have always opposed open-cast mining. It’s a Latin American position common to all bishops.

In a document we presented to the Nicaraguan gov¬ernment a year ago, we commented on the mining issue. We said that in the remote places where mining operations exist (El Limón, La Libertad and Bonanza), the workers’ safety and professional development should be guaranteed, the laws that have obsolete aspects should be revised and the environment should be respected. And where no mining operations exist, as is the case in Rancho Grande, a license should be denied the company wanting to exploit the resources.

Who in Rancho Grande
will benefit from mining?

Those of us who know the municipality of Rancho Grande know that not a single iota of the land is not under production. Here they raise cattle and cultivate beans, corn, citrus fruit, plantains, bananas, coffee and cacao. The peasants in Rancho Grande, although poor, live decently. They have their daily bread, their land, their clean air and their virgin forests. Who will mining benefit in Rancho Grande if its populace lives with dignity, has its daily bread and produces for the rest of Nicaragua? It’s thanks to them that we eat the best beans, which also go for export. They understand that the great wealth produced by mining will only go into the pockets of foreign big business and some powerful Nicaraguan leaders.

We propose a referendum

Our closeness to the people shows us that the large majority of Rancho Grande inhabitants oppose mining. Because of this, we, as Church, have radically said NO to mining.

We know that since mining has no mass appeal in Rancho Grande, people from elsewhere, strangers to the municipality, are the ones promoting marches and demonstrations [in favor of mining] with people from other municipalities. This seems extremely unfair to us.

Because this confusion exists, we want to be clearer, more transparent and more concrete and thus propose a social referendum headed by the municipal government, with the participation of all sectors of Rancho Grande, but only Rancho Grande, including all NGOs working in the municipality and the Church. From the start it should be the people of Rancho Grande who take part in organizing it, identifying voters, setting up the polling stations, counting the votes and being the observers of a transparent vote. They should be the ones who, with this transparent process, decide their future. And if after this process the majority says YES to mining, I have said publicly that I will be the first to accept this YES.

The Church is in a position able to guarantee a fair, transparent social referendum in Rancho Grande. But with clear conditions: a social referendum that, from the first moment to the last, is organized by everyone. Let the municipal government oversee it, because this is what the law states. The Supreme Electoral Council (CSE) authorities may also take part, but on condition that we’re there from the outset. And I don’t mean me; I mean the 500 pastoral staff we have in Rancho Grande. We must be there from the first moment. The vote count may be handled by municipal government’s technical staff and the CSE, but also by our technical staff.

The diocese has the capacity to guarantee a transparent process if we do it this way. And if that process shows, as we believe it will, that the majority of people in Rancho Grande say NO to mining, the mining company should leave the area graciously.

B2gold must finance the referendum

The gauntlet has been thrown down and the municipal, national and electoral authorities know what they must abide by. We also know what we must abide by. First the process of identifying voters must be defined so that people from outside can’t come and vote. The people of Rancho Grande know each other; they know who lives in the communities. If people from outside come and vote, the referendum would be ruined, it would immediately be invalid. The Church’s pastoral staff also knows who lives in the community.

They won’t bring voters in from other places or annul votes for no reason and there will no crashing of the computer system or votes ending up in the garbage or double votes... That can’t happen because the ballots will be scrutinized by all those involved. If it’s done like this, we’re not afraid we’ll lose.

People are asking an interesting question: Who will pay for this process, as it’s so costly? The answer is easy: B2Gold. B2Gold has insisted on two things with us: that they won’t come in without people’s consent and that they’re ready to fund social projects. So, what better social project than getting the population’s consent, than pacifying the Rancho Grande population? They should thus be the first to finance this referendum.

B2gold has wanted to buy us off

The mining company bought consciences and even made offers to the Church. We clashed on this point and felt highly offended because after learning our position, they offered the parish priest a vehicle and the construction of infrastructure.

I’m sure I’m right in saying that if we had agreed to the company’s shameful offers, today all the Rancho Grande chapels would be brand new and we would have pastoral halls or a new church; Rancho Grande would have the best parish infrastructure in Matagalpa. They also came to offer publicity. In exchange for what? In exchange for our support. I found this offensive.

We, as the Bishops’ Conference of Nicaragua, are building our offices and it’s costing us dearly. In fact, construction has come to a standstill. So a lot of people associated with the mining companies came to one of the bishops’ public fund-raising dinners for evangelical works, and one of them said to me: “Look, ask the miners to build you that little shack you want and these people will have it ready in a few months.” But the price is that, as Church, we would have to support mining. And obviously we won’t do that.

The Church has its principles and they’re not for sale. There are issues we won’t accept, even if they’re put on the table for discussion. The only way the diocese of Matagalpa would say YES to mining is if the population of Rancho Grande says YES. As long as the people of Rancho Grande say NO to mining we have nothing to talk about.

The people are our strength

With regard to freedom of expression and communication, we’ve been blocked since we started talking about mining in November 2014. Only two national media outlets have supported us: one openly and the other, almost so as not to withhold information, has reported our statements and position on the mining issue. The rest have frozen us out. We support the people and that is our strength. After God, our greatest strength is the people. The mining company and authorities need to understand that we’ll continue to say NO to mining, clearly and radically.

From an interview with Rolando Álvarez, bishop of Matagalpa, by Luis Castrillo, member of the Center for Communication and Social Studies (CESOS), in May 2015.

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