Foreign Mining Companies Are Eager to Buy
In May 2020, the Oakland Institute published an independent report that documented the incessant violence facing the Indigenous and Afro-descendant communities in the North Caribbean Coast Autonomous Region (RACCN) and provided in depth information about the actors involved — foreign gold mining firms, national and international actors in logging and cattle ranching industries, as well as prominent Nicaraguan officials.
Nicaragua is For Sale - Intro
Whereas widespread human rights abuses in Nicaragua have garnered international attention in recent years, violence faced by the Indigenous and the impunity granted to colonos (non-Indigenous settlers who illegally occupy Indigenous lands) by the national police and the government has gone largely ignored. Meanwhile, Indigenous communities continue to face the seizure of their ancestral lands through the use of force, including murders, kidnappings, rapes, attacks, burglaries, and the burning of homes and crops.
The Caribbean Coast Autonomous Regions are particularly affected and targeted by settlers and land grabbers. Since 2015, 46 Indigenous people have been killed, dozens have been injured, kidnapped, disappeared, and thousands displaced due to land invasions. Having lost the forests and the lands where they have farmed, hunted, and fished for generations, the Indigenous and Afro-descendant communities now face hunger and disease.
Gold Rush Amidst the Promise of Autonomy
The report names gold mining by colonos and transnational corporations as one of the key drivers of violence against the Indigenous communities, as well a cause of serious environmental degradation. A handful of transnational corporations have taken control over the country’s vast mining concessions — key among them being Canada’s B2Gold and Calibre Mining and the UK’s Condor Gold.
Along with the foreign companies, the promise of precious gold and silver in the remote, rain-forested RACCN has lured thousands of colonos, further intensifying the Indigenous struggle for autonomy and communal property rights.
Despite the many severe negative externalities — both human and environmental — associated with gold mining, the Nicaraguan government encourages the expansion of this industry. In fact, Nicaragua is lauded by foreign mining executives for its welcoming regulatory environment.
The Oakland Institute report reveals that the Nicaraguan government has not only failed to enforce legal protections of Indigenous land, but actually plays an active role in colonization and exploitation by transnational firms and colonos. While a number of officials affiliated with the ruling FSLN (Frente Sandinista de Liberación Nacional) party are identified in the report as being involved in illegal land sales to settlers, the report exposes how the government has also passed numerous laws in the hopes of enticing foreign mining companies to expand their operations in Nicaragua. For instance, in 2001, the government passed Law 387, a law specifically designed to encourage investment from foreign mining companies. Law 387 granted numerous 25-year-long land concessions to mining companies and created a special tax scheme under which multinational corporations benefit enormously from generous exemptions.
A 2017 law created ENIMINAS, the Nicaraguan Mining Company, which helped increase state involvement in the mining business through joint ventures with private firms. Within a month of the new law, the total land under mining concessions increased from about 1,200,000 hectares (ha) to 2,600,000 ha — over 20 percent of the country. About 853,800 hectares of this land is in the buffer zone of the Bosawás Biosphere Reserve.
The government publicizes that over 7.1 million hectares of land are available for mining companies to exploit. This equates to roughly 60 percent of the total landmass of Nicaragua. Numerous foreign companies have taken advantage of the lavish tax incentives to acquire vast concessions despite the well-documented human rights abuses that arise from the mining industry in the country.
The three communities of Siuna, La Rosita, and Bonanza in the RACCN are rich in mineral resources and constitute much of the so-called Golden Triangle in Nicaragua — an area of particular interest to multinational gold mining companies, who have acquired hundreds of thousands of hectares of mining concessions within these areas. The same has lured colonos into the mining areas with hopes of making a living as artisanal miners.
Indigenous Land Rights Under Nicaraguan Law
The Caribbean Coast Autonomous Regions — RACCN and RACCS — are Indigenous and Afro-descendant autonomous regions protected under Nicaraguan Law 28 of the Constitution, which guarantees the inalienability of Indigenous and Afro-descendant land rights and recognizes these communities’ right to exercise full control over their lands. Under Law 28, Indigenous lands cannot be donated, sold, taken over, or taxed. Any decisions about the use of natural resources on the land must be made by the community.
Law 445, the Law of Communal Property Regime, supplements Law 28 by clarifying the rights of Indigenous and Afro-descendant communities in the management and use of communal land. Under Law 445, concessions for natural resource use in communal lands can only be granted after the affected communities are provided a public consultation and give their consent, but Indigenous leaders allege this is not enforced. The law calls for Indigenous and Afro-descendant communities to share in the profits from any projects in their lands and establishes that, at a minimum, communal governments must receive 25 percent of government revenues from projects within their lands. The law also requires Saneamiento, which requires clearing the Indigenous territories of the colonos and corporations who use and benefit from the territories without a legal title or a lease agreement with the community. Despite this, the Nicaraguan government has not taken any concrete steps towards implementing Saneamiento.
Instead, Indigenous and Afro-descendant community members allege that government officials form parallel communal governments, which claim to represent these communities in order to provide the necessary approval for land concessions. The Oakland Institute report identifies numerous instances where these state-sponsored parallel governments have usurped Indigenous land rights in order to gain control of the issuance of land titles and concessions.
Amidst the escalating violence against vulnerable communities, multinational corporations continue to operate across Nicaragua. This raises the question: are these companies complicit in the human rights abuses faced by Indigenous and Afro-descendant communities in Nicaragua?
Foreign Companies Profiteering from Gold Mining
Calibre Mining Corporation
Traded on the Canadian and American stock exchange under the symbols CXB and CXBMF respectively, Calibre Mining Corporation is a Vancouver-based Canadian company, which operates exclusively in Nicaragua. Calibre, currently led by Russell Ball (CEO), John Seaberg (CFO), and Darren Hall (COO), owns several Nicaraguan subsidiaries, including Central Sun Inc. (formerly Minera Glencairn S.A.), CXB Nicaragua S.A., and Triton Minera S.A.
Calibre acquired the Borosi Project (previously named the NEN concession) — totaling 71,000 ha and including the La Luz and Rosita mines in the RACCN — in 2009 from another Canadian corporation, Yamana Gold Inc. Today the concession covers 87,627 ha of the Mining Triangle. Following the 2019 agreement between Calibre and B2Gold, another Canadian company, B2Gold owns an approximate 31 percent direct equity interest in Calibre. The agreement enabled Calibre to acquire the producing El Limon (21,347 ha located in northwestern Nicaragua) and La Libertad Gold Mines (several mining concessions totaling 16,746 ha located within the municipality of La Libertad in the Chontales Department) and Nicaragua assets (Pavon Gold Project and additional mineral concessions in Nicaragua held by B2Gold) for US$100 million.
In addition to the profitability of the El Libertad and El Limón projects, Calibre has entered into a highly lucrative partnership with Rio Tinto Exploration, an Anglo-Australian mining company — notorious for human, labor rights abuses, and environmental degradation around the globe for decades. This partnership offers Rio Tinto the option to gain up to 75 percent interest in the Borosi project for incurring US$45 million in qualifying expenditures over eight years. Calibre, designated as the initial operator of the field work being completed under the Earn-in Agreement, is to receive a fee equal to 10 percent of expenditures. This funding could allegedly allow Calibre to expand its mining operations and accelerate exploration of the Borosi concessions.
Calibre, like other foreign mining companies, conceals the origins of its concessions behind a smokescreen of local subsidiaries and frequent changes in ownership. Thus, documentation of public consultation and consent from Indigenous communities is nearly impossible to obtain or verify. For instance, it is unclear how its Borosi concessions, located in the RACCN, expanded from 71,000 ha in 2009 to 87,627 ha today.
The Oakland Institute reached out to Ryan King, Vice President for Corporate Development and Investor Relations and Calibre’s CEO, Russell Ball, to better understand the process for consultations and consent since the acquisition of the Borosi project from Yamana Gold (then listed at 70,976 ha) to its current concession listed as covering 87,627 ha of the Mining Triangle. Company executives did not keep the planned phone appointment or provide a response to the questions sent by email. The determination of Calibre and other mining companies to keep the concession-granting process as opaque as possible is quite telling.
The lack of transparency is inherently damaging and hinders self-determination and autonomy of the Indigenous communities. Without a clear way to demonstrate that the rights of Indigenous communities are being respected and protected, the circumstances surrounding mining activities in the Caribbean Coast Autonomous Regions are called into question. Nicaraguan civil society and local communities assert that transnational corporations have employed corrupt practices to secure large concessions for gold mining with devastating impacts on the communities and their environment. Law 28 and Law 445 have been reduced to empty promises by the country’s economic and political elites, who have allowed transnational corporations to control and exploit natural resources.
Furthermore, the involvement of the Anglo-Australian mining corporation Rio Tinto in the Borosi project — a mining company infamous for its long and troubling human rights record in apartheid South Africa, Namibia, Cameroon, Madagascar, Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, and the United States — raises serious concerns about the human and environmental impact of planned exploration activities.
Allegations against Rio Tinto include paying Black workers in South Africa “slave wages,” forcibly evicting thousands of Indonesian villagers from their homes, discharging cyanide and millions of pounds of contaminated waste rock into local rivers, and colluding with various national security forces to violently oppress local communities that protest Rio Tinto mining operations. Even in its home country of Australia, Rio Tinto recently destroyed a rock shelter that had been used by Aboriginal people for 46,000 years, leading to a federal parliamentary investigation into its Aboriginal consultation practices. Now, Calibre is working alongside Rio Tinto in a protected, autonomous Indigenous region of Nicaragua.
Calibre’s rapid expansion of operations in Nicaragua and the company’s close ties with fellow mining corporation B2Gold raises additional questions. Calibre gained ownership of the La Libertad and El Limón mines from B2Gold in 2019. Since then, the company has aggressively pursued new territory. In February 2020, Calibre Mining Nicaragua S.A. (Calibre’s Nicaraguan subsidiary) applied for mining concessions totaling 12.8 percent of the total land area of the country.
In fact, mining companies have sought concessions so voraciously that if Calibre is granted the land it is seeking in 2020, the total area of concessions owned by all mining companies in Nicaragua will cover 33 percent of the country’s surface area. Already, growing mining concessions have destroyed traditional livelihoods and driven people out of their ancestral lands to live with poverty and hunger. Calibre’s excessive requests for new mining concessions are indicative of the mining industry’s insatiable desire for land — even if it disregards people who inhabit it.
B2Gold Corporation, a Vancouver-based Canadian company, owns mining concessions in Burkina Faso, Colombia, Mali, Namibia, Nicaragua, and the Philippines. It is traded on the Canadian and American stock exchanges under the stock symbols BTO and BTG, respectively. The company is led by Clive T. Johnson (CEO), Mike Cinnamon (CFO), and William Lytle (Senior VP of Operations). B2Gold has a number of Nicaraguan subsidiaries, including Desarrollo Minero de Nicaragua S.A. According to Calibre’s website, B2Gold owns a 34 percent stake. The two companies are closely related in management as well — Randall Chatwi, Vice President and the Associate General Counsel of B2Gold, serves on Calibre’s Board of Directors.
B2Gold has indirect stakes in both the La Libertad and El Limón mines through Calibre. B2Gold purchased both mines from Central Sun Inc. (formerly Minera Glencairn S.A.) in 2009 and operated the mines until 2019 when it sold both to Calibre in a US$100 million transaction consisting of cash, common shares, and a convertible debenture. B2Gold also owns an indirect stake in Calibre’s Borosi project and previously owned a 20 percent stake in UK-based Condor Gold’s La India project. Through its stake in the Borosi project, B2Gold is also indirectly involved with Rio Tinto which has partnered with Calibre to explore the Borosi concessions.
B2Gold is the largest producer of gold in Nicaragua. The company anticipated the final gold production of the La Libertad and El Limón mines in 2019 to be roughly 150,000-160,000 ounces of gold. With price of gold in August 2020 at US$1,944.27 per ounce, potential gross income from these mines would be US$291-US$311 million in just one year.
Due to B2gold’s stake in Calibre’s Borosi project, and the close relationship between the two companies, B2Gold is also implicated in the expansion of the Borosi concessions in the RACCN and partnership with Rio Tinto.
Mining in Nicaragua is one of the drivers of community displacement, land invasions, and forced land sales. Although all mining concessions granted from Indigenous lands are required by Law 445 to pass through a rigorous community consultation and approval process, Indigenous community leaders attest that foreign corporations, with support of the government officials, regularly bypass this process. Further, as seen in the La Libertad mining project, non-Indigenous smallholders near Indigenous lands have been forcibly displaced in Chontales, a region bordering the Indigenous and Afro-descendant territories of the South Caribbean Coast Autonomous Region. According to several studies, approximately half of all settlers from outside the autonomous regions who have invaded the Rama-Kriol Territory came from Chontales in search of land, demonstrating the risks that further displacement of smallholders for industrial mining pose for nearby Indigenous and Afro-descendant Peoples. In a 2014 technical report, B2Gold openly stated that its wholly-owned subsidiary Desarrollo de Minero S.A. obtained a court order to force an untitled resident to sell land to the company in order to expand the Jabali project at La Libertad. It is not uncommon for residents to lack a legal title to their lands in Nicaragua, in part because many people lack identity cards. Typically, it is challenging to acquire formal land ownership without an identity card, and the cards are difficult to obtain as access is heavily restricted and politicized.
B2Gold has also been implicated in the repression of peaceful protests. In 2013, hundreds of local artisanal miners gathered in El Cafetal to protest the expansion of B2Gold’s projects at La Libertad and Santo Domingo. In response, police fired tear gas and rubber bullets and arrested over 40 protestors. In 2014, 500 community activists were detained in the town of Santo Domingo and prevented from participating in a nonviolent march protesting the destructive impact of B2Gold’s El Pavón project on the environment and traditional livelihoods.
Although community consultations are necessary for the leasing or expansion of mining concessions, government officials and corporations have failed to ensure that these processes are fair and transparent. An example is the way in which B2Gold conducted a mandatory public consultation in 2018 with the community of Santo Domingo to present the findings of an environmental impact report on a planned expansion of the Jabali project. Centro Humboldt, a Nicaraguan environmental NGO present at the consultation, observed that the room in which the public consultation was conducted was far too small to accommodate the community. The majority of people allowed inside to view the presentation were employed at the La Libertad mine. During the questions and comments, members of the community rose to express their opposition to the expansion of the project. Almost immediately, the representative from the Ministry of the Environment and Natural Resources announced the consultation was over and no more people would be allowed to speak. According to the official schedule for the consultation, the planned conclusion was much later in the day.
Additionally, given most foreign mining companies operate through local subsidiaries, such as Desarrollo de Minero S.A., which have fewer public reporting requirements than foreign companies, there is very little documentation available on the consultation processes with the local communities.
B2Gold brands itself as a responsible mining company. The Vice President of Government Relations at B2Gold, Neil Reeder, serves on the Board of Directors of the Mining Association of Canada (MAC), which governs Towards Sustainable Mining, a program that seeks to ensure Canadian mining companies operating abroad follow social and environmental responsibility standards. The presence of mining executives on the board of an organization that claims to ensure these standards in the mining industry is a conflict of interest and allows mining companies to evade accountability.
Some of the Towards Sustainable Mining guiding principles include, “Respect human rights and treat those with whom we deal fairly and with dignity” and “Be responsive to community priorities, needs and interests through all stages of mining.” Not only do B2Gold’s operations in Nicaragua directly contradict these principles, but they also run counter to the Canadian government’s corporate social responsibility standards (CSR) for extractive companies working abroad. The MAC, Towards Sustainable Mining, and Canada’s CSR standards have no enforcement mechanisms.
UK-based Condor Gold, publicly traded on British, German, and Canadian stock exchange, under the symbols COG, W5XA, and CNR respectively, operates exclusively in Nicaragua. Condor Gold is led by Mark Child (CEO), Jeffrey Karoly (CFO), and Dave Crawford (CTO). Its subsidiaries are La India Gold S.A. and La India Inversiones S.A. B2Gold previously owned a 20 percent indirect stake in La India Gold S.A. The second largest shareholder of Condor is Nicaragua Milling Company with a 9.8 percent stake. Nicaragua Milling is owned by the American mining executive Randy Martin.
Condor Gold owns three major mining projects in Nicaragua — La India, Estrella, and Rio Luna — totaling 66,066 ha. The Estrella project is located in the RACCN, an autonomous Indigenous and Afro-descendant region established under Law 28 and the Nicaraguan Constitution. The La India project is the largest of the three and possibly the most controversial mining site in Nicaragua.
The net value of the La India project is estimated to be somewhere between US$92 million and US$187 million. The La India project is an exploitation concession, but some environmental permits are still pending and gold recovery has not commenced. Estrella and Rio Luna concessions are currently approved for exploration. Artisanal mining continues at both sites; however, Condor does not consider either concession to be “material.” There is very little information about either mine on Condor’s website or in the company’s public documents, and no exploration activity has taken place since 2018.
The La India mining project has been a site of significant controversy and outrage. Between 2017 and 2018, community leaders in the town of Santa Cruz de La India led a number of peaceful protests against the permitting of the mine. Their concerns included the environmental impact of the project and the potential need to resettle much of the community.
The Movimiento Comunal de Santa Cruz de la India, a community organization opposed to the construction of the mine, has been subjected to harsh retaliation from both the Nicaraguan police and Condor. Peaceful demonstrators were faced with riot police, death threats, arbitrary arrests, and intense surveillance. Condor Gold’s subsidiary, La India Gold S.A., accused seven demonstrators of destruction of property, but eventually dropped the charges after the individuals were arrested and subjected to a pre-trial. The company claimed that it had reached an extra-judicial agreement with the activists; however, the defendants have denied this claim, requesting that the company “show the agreement document signed by the defendants.”
Condor Gold received US$10 million in funding from the International Finance Corporation (IFC), the private investment arm of the World Bank Group, to build the La India mine. IFC’s support — given its performance standards — was critical in bringing international attention to the plight of the community leaders. In July 2018, IFC Compliance Advisor Ombudsman (CAO) received a complaint from eleven community members, supported by the Centro Alexander von Humboldt, Centro Nicaragüense de Derechos Humanos (CENIDH), and Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL). A detailed investigation was launched into the La India project and while the full findings of the investigation were not made public, the IFC divested from the project in June 2019 citing, “red flags in terms of the client’s ability to meet IFC E&S [Environmental and Social Performance] standards during mine development, construction and operation [...] the potential relocation of the La India village and economic displacement of artisanal miners.”
Condor Gold continues to develop the La India project despite community resistance.
Randy Martin, Mining Executive
Randy Martin, founder and executive of a number of mining companies in Nicaragua, has played a major role in the expansion of the mining industry in the country. B2Gold and Calibre own many concessions that formerly belonged to companies operated by Randy Martin. Nicaragua Milling, a privately held milling company, majority-owned by Randy Martin, is the second largest shareholder of Condor Gold. Randy Martin’s past mining companies include Greenstone Resources (Chairman and CEO), Hemco Nicaragua (Chairman), RNC Gold Inc. (Founder and COO), and Desarrollo Minero de Nicaragua S.A., which was a subsidiary of RNC Gold. Now defunct, Greenstone Resources and RNC Gold were both Canadian companies. Randy Martin is also involved with an agro-forestry company, MLR Forestal and a hydro-power company, MLR Hidro, in Nicaragua. He previously served as the COO of Para Resources (now Soma Gold), a mining company that operates primarily in Colombia.
Randy Martin, through his companies and their subsidiaries, has previously owned full or partial stakes in almost every major mine in Nicaragua, including La Libertad, El Limon, and Bonanza. Some mines were even owned by all of his companies, each at different points in time. La Libertad was previously owned by Greenstone Resources, Hemco Nicaragua, Desarrollo Minero de Nicaragua, and RNC Gold. The Bonanza concession in the RACCN has been owned by all but Desarrollo Minero de Nicaragua.
All of Randy Martin’s mining companies in Nicaragua have either gone bankrupt or have been sold to larger, more successful companies. Greenstone Resources declared bankruptcy after four years of operations. RNC Gold regularly ran yearly deficits ranging between US$4 million and US$13.5 million, before ceasing operations in 2005. Hemco Nicaragua was sold to Grupo Mineros S.A. in 2013 and renamed Hemco Mineros Nicaragua S.A.. Desarrollo Minero de Nicaragua is currently owned by B2Gold.
|Company||Year||Reported Size (Exploitation & Exploration)|
|Hemco Nicaragua||1994||12,400 ha|
|Greenstone Resource||1994||12,400 ha|
|Hemco Nicaragua||1998||12,400 ha|
|RNC Gold Inc.||2003||N/A|
|Yamana Gold Inc.||2006||N/A|
|Calibre Mining Corp.||2009||70,976 ha|
|Grupo Mineros S.A.||2020||197,935 ha|
When Hemco Nicaragua gained the Bonanza concession in 1994, it was a 12,400 ha exploitation concession. Between 1994 and 2020, Bonanza changed hands between three of Randy Martin’s companies — Yamana Gold (which merged with RNC Gold the same year), and Calibre. The Bonanza concession is currently owned by Hemco Mineros Nicaragua S.A. Grupo Mineros S.A., the parent company of Hemco Mineros Nicaragua, now lists the size of the concession as 197,935 ha. The concession also increased in size under Calibre, which listed the size of the concession as 70,976 ha in 2009.
The story of the Bonanza concession raises a number of questions, both about Randy Martin's involvement and about the concession-granting process in Nicaragua. Why was the concession passed back and forth between three different companies run by Randy Martin? How did the concession increase in size by more than ten times? Why is there no formal documentation on how these concessions are granted? The Oakland Institute reached out to Calibre, Randy Martin, and the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources. No response has been received.
Towards Transparency, Accountability, and Justice
Mining Interests Must Respect the Rights of the Local Communities
Although many foreign mining companies claim to follow socially and environmentally responsible standards, they routinely demonstrate disregard for the land rights of Indigenous and Afro-descendant Nicaraguans. Institutions like the IFC, which funded exploitative mining projects in Nicaragua, sanitize the actions of the companies they fund even as they quietly divest. Government officials and ministries in Nicaragua encourage and facilitate corruption in land concessions and use brutal force to repress those who speak out against them. With the unwavering support of the government, foreign mining companies perpetuate the human rights abuses in Nicaragua. As long as foreign mining companies continue to operate in Nicaragua with impunity, Indigenous and Afro-descendant communities will suffer, and their demand for Saneamiento will remain unfulfilled.
Governments in countries where mining companies are registered and financial institutions that fund mining projects have major leverage to prevent this outcome. They should use the tools at their disposal to demand and ensure:
Transparency: Governments and financial institutions should establish requirements of mining companies operating in Nicaragua to make information publicly available on a) the officers and substantial shareholders of those companies, b) the ownership history of any Nicaraguan subsidiaries, and c) the size, administrative history, legislative history, and past holders of any concessions currently held by those companies.
Accountability: Governments and financial institutions should insist that mining companies operating in Nicaragua and the government of Nicaragua provide thorough documentation of consultations and negotiations with Indigenous and Afro-descendant communities held under Law 445 for all mining concessions (for exploration or exploitation) and operations in their lands. This documentation should include evidence that free, prior, and informed consent was reached with the appropriate representative communal and territorial governments — not parallel governments created by political party figures to rubberstamp consultation processes. It should also give evidence that the technical advisors of the communities’ choosing were involved in the consultation process as required under Law 445. Governments and financial institutions should then evaluate compliance with the agreements reached during the consultation and negotiation processes by the company or companies that hold the concession and are conducting mining operations. Non-compliance should result in the withdrawal of funding, penalties, and/or other actions designed in coordination with affected Indigenous and Afro-descendant communities to pressure the companies and the government of Nicaragua to resume compliance.
Justice: In cases where mining companies have caused environmental and social harms in Nicaragua, and especially when Indigenous and Afro-descendant communities are affected, governments and financial institutions should support the communities in seeking reparations from any responsible parties, including mining companies and the government of Nicaragua. Evaluations of harms should include cases where mining concessions and operations have incentivized settlers to colonize Indigenous and Afro-descendant communal lands. Governments and financial institutions should also demand that the government of Nicaragua pay the statutorily required 25 percent of government revenues from mining concessions and operations in Indigenous and Afro-descendant territories to the representative communal governments in whose lands they fall. Lastly, governments and financial institutions should demand that the government of Nicaragua follow through on its legal obligation to conduct Saneamiento in Nicaragua’s Indigenous and Afro-descendant territories as a pre-requisite to further investment in mining in Nicaragua.