The Rancho Grande experience: Environmentalism in rebellion
Rancho Grande’s victory over the B2Gold mining company
and the government is historic, exemplary and enlightening.
Thousands of people organized and succeeded in stopping
the company’s mining concession in Cerro Pavón two years ago,
But B2Gold has seven more mining concessions in that municipality.
We’re confident that the high level of maturity attained in Rancho Grande
will bolster its determination to continue fighting to defend its territory.
This article, which tells how they managed to win the first round,
supports our conviction that they will again defeat
the invasion of international mining.
Mario Sánchez González
On October 12, 2015, the mining project of B2Gold, a Canadian transnational mining company, in the Cerro Pavón area of the municipality of Rancho Grande, was declared “unviable” by the Nicaraguan government. That decision was the result of a decade of ongoing nonviolent struggle by the largely peasant population of that municipality, located in the department of Matagalpa. They formed a social movement they called the Guardians of Yaoska after the area and river of the same name that would be destroyed by the mining, and its successful leadership of this struggle established an historic precedent. One of several motors that mobilized them was religion.
What mining has left us
Ever since metal mining began in Nicaragua over two centuries ago, it has functioned as an enclave economy focused on the international market and accumulating wealth only for the investing company. Mining has traditionally been a predacious industry, plundering communities’ natural assets and livelihoods and generating conflict and polarization within them.
Nicaragua is Latin America’s fourth greatest country of destination for mining investment and the second most attractive for the tax exemptions and other advantages it offers investors. Joint research by Nicaragua’s Humboldt Center and Institute for Strategic Studies and Public Policies published in April of this year revealed that mining companies have concessions for just short of 10,700 square miles of Nicaragua (23% of its total land). Succeeding Nica¬raguan governments have actively promoted an extractivist model for years, and the Ortega-Murillo con¬sortium that took power in 2007 is no exception.
The imbalance is clear: metal mining causes environmental disasters in the Nicaraguan countryside while scarcely representing 1.14% of its gross domestic product, according to 2015 Central Bank data. Moreover, Ministry of Energy and Mines data from that same year shows that it barely employs 0.15% of the total employed population. In addition to this unequal cost/benefit economic relationship, Nicaragua’s environmental vulnerability, which the 2017 Global Climate Risk Index ranked fourth highest in the world, should be another criterion for discussing the feasibility of an extractivist development model, especially one based on mining.
With awareness-building and organization
Even though the governing FSLN promised to resist mining in its 2012 municipal electoral campaign, the new Rancho Grande Municipal Council, won by the governing party, made a radical about-face shortly afterward by announcing it would develop mining activity in its territory. The new political directive had been handed down from the central government on Daniel Ortega’s orders.
The local Catholic priest, Teodoro Custer, one of the anti-mining movement’s main motivators, was among the first to realize the danger of mining in Rancho Grande. He told me this abrupt change disconcerted him, “When I got started in this struggle I was supported almost exclusively by local Sandinistas… yet once they got into power they changed their minds…. How could they now be supporting mining?”
Father Custer, whose awareness of the effects of mining came from the Maryknoll Sisters’ experience in Guatemala, had already undertaken various actions to share his knowledge and foster organization within Rancho Grande’s communities and among Catholic pastoral agents—Ministries of the Eucharist, Delegates of the Word and catechists—so they would fight against it.
Subsequently, the Matagalpa-based Association for Communal Agricultural Diversification and Development (ADDAC) got interested in the parish’s efforts and began its own intensive anti-mining awareness-raising and organizational strengthening efforts. One of the founders and leaders of the Guardians of Yaoska told me: “We were helped a lot by the good information provided by ADDAC, which has 39 organized communities here. We hadn’t even yet formed as a commission and ADDAC was already telling people how bad mining was.”
The sensitization included an intense exchange of experiences about metal mining’s effects on community members in Nicaragua, El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala. Both local development organizations and religious leaders took an active and multiplier role. As one Delegate of the Word in the San Antonio de Kuskawás community said, “We’re witnesses to the fact that where there’s mining there’s a lot of destruction and regret. This is what we’re basing our struggle on.”
“I was motivated by seeing so much nastiness”
A key element in the emergence of the Guardians of Yaoska was access to more information, especially from other Nicaraguan communities affected by the mining industry. The strategy of learning and seeing the socio-environmental disaster in other communities worked as “shock therapy” to develop a comparative analysis and the discernment of cause and effect. As one of the founders of Guardians of Yaoska explained, “I was motivated by seeing the El Limón and Santa Pancha mines. I also know the mines in Chontales. It pained me a lot and made me think it isn’t right for them to come here to Rancho Grande, such a beautiful municipality with lovely scenery, and do the same nastiness they’ve done in other places. Since then I’ve thrown myself into the struggle, and I haven’t stopped; I haven’t even paused.”
The Guardians of Yaoska allied with Matagalpa’s Strategic Group against Mining. One of its members said, “You shouldn‘t dupe people. They know and understand what an activity of this size means in an area.”
In such an adverse political context in which the B2Gold-Nicaraguan government alliance was close and determined to prevail, the community’s Catholic leadership, in alliance with local NGOs, coordinated awareness-building, training and communication activities about the risks of having the mining industry in Rancho Grande. This dynamism contributed to the cohesion of the Guardians of Yaoska and the empowerment of the municipality’s communities.
“Biblical considerations inspired us”
Several of the most recent declarations in the Catholic version of the Christian tradition have been issued in support of the environment. Some are based on eco-theology, whose main sponsor has been the Brazilian theologian Leonardo Boff. Others grow out of the tradition of the Church’s social doctrine and are included in the Aparecida Document, developed by the Latin American Episcopal Conference in 2007. More recently, Pope Francis’ encyclical “Laudato Si” has consecrated a discourse that the Guardians of Yaoska and its allies have turned into practice.
Studies such as the one by Rose Spalding in the case of El Salvador and by Javier Arellano-Yanguas in the case of Peru, acknowledge that the tradition of certain Catholic sectors of defending and protecting the environment has played an important role and helped legitimate social mobilization against mining.
Rolando José Álvarez Lagos, the bishop of Matagalpa, told me, “Biblical considerations have motivated and encouraged us to be aware that we are the custodians of creation… Then Pope Francis’ encyclical “Laudato Si” consolidated our struggle and our efforts for the common good of Rancho Grande’s population. It consolidated our mystique and widened our horizons even further and, of course, it gave us greater hope in the possibility of struggle and achieving what we proposed, what we’re convinced was and still is right and just.”
“It was a matter of life or death”
In addition to doctrinal support, the Church’s leadership and community clearly understood that stopping mining in Rancho Grande was a question of survival. That’s the viewpoint of the vicar general for the diocese of Matagalpa, Monsignor Edgar Sacasa Sierra, of the San Isidro-Sébaco parish. Well-schooled in the legacy of Monsignor Óscar Romero, he told me that “the Church is pro-environment and so are our flocks. We came to realize that the case of Rancho Grande was a matter of life or death. We also felt it as an institutional deception; a supposed development project that was trying to sell the people a siren song, a mirage. The people drew us in and we can’t fail them. If we weren’t with the people, we’d have nothing to do in Rancho Grande. We couldn’t stand back. It was the people who committed us.”
Opting for the environment didn’t just involve incorporating environmental actions into the pastoral plan or creating operational agencies such as the Diocesan Commission for Ecology and Life. It was something more: it was a political commitment by the diocese. As Monsignor Sacasa explains, “For the past three years there’s been a new pastoral option: the environmental option. It started very gently with reforestation, building plant nurseries, founding environmental clubs. It started with positive environmentalism. But when it came to mining it was no longer positive environmentalism but environmentalism in rebellion, in protest, environmentalism that shocks, denounces, confronts the powerful. And, thank God, the government has reacted with due caution.”
The Catholic Church’s option in Rancho Grande transcended the diocese and reached the national level when the Episcopal Conference took it up in solidarity by including it in the letter the bishops delivered to President Ortega in May 2014. “It reached the highest levels an appeal can reach and all the bishops contributed to it and supported it,” said Monsignor Sacasa.
“I would give my life for the environment”
According to the Spanish economist Joan Martínez-Alier, most environmental social movements come out of poor peoples’ struggles for survival. The poor defend their natural resources and their struggle to survive mobilizes them to protect the ecosystems where they have survived all kinds of threats knowing that their subsistence, food security, cultural identity and, in the case of indigenous peoples, territorial rights depend on them. The peasant or indigenous poor are closely connected to the ecosystem where they obtain their sustenance and build their social and daily life strategies. They’ve managed to stabilize their social relationships and their relationship with Nature in that habitat.
One risk underlying the theoretical proposal of the environmentalism of the poor is that certain important aspects, such as sustainable agriculture, aren’t made explicit in it. In Rancho Grande, and in other experiences of environmental struggle, however, they were included and the idea was sown that agricultural sustainability and life strategies in the countryside substantially depend on using, conserving and recovering the resources that nourish them.
These ideas injected energy into many peasants in their mobilization in defense of their territory. As one member of the Guardians of Yaoska in the community of Manceras reflected, “I’ve been looking after the forest on my property for many years. I’ve had training and guidance from an organization called ADDAC, which taught us a long time ago to take care of the environment, the water, forests and land—not to burn it. I started to care for the forests thanks to an exchange of experiences in Guatemala. I would gladly give my life for the environment. That’s why the teaching about caring for and conserving this forest appealed to me. This forest won’t be cut down as long as I live.”
The appropriation of good productive practices using the sustainable agriculture approach has given a fertile heft to peasant environmentalism in Rancho Grande. The roots of this agro-ecological model go back to a 1989 initiative of artists and agronomists in Matagalpa who decided to promote a “movement to counterbalance the agrochemical model, one seeking cultural and productive alternatives to agricultural modernization.”
Two agencies generated and developed this process: ADDAC and the Rural Cultural Encouragement Movement (MACRU). They’ve been committed to ongoing, in-depth and systematic work in Rancho Grande for more than a decade, promoting organic agriculture, environmental protection, peasant organization, the gender approach, alternative marketing and alternative credit. Some of the beneficiaries have been cooperatives producing basic grains, cocoa and coffee.
According to Roberto Rodríguez and Monika Hesse, the sustainable agriculture approach “isn’t limited to addressing ecological and environmental issues in isolation, ignoring the structures that cause poverty and marginalization. Instead it integrates development strategies that mobilize conflict-negotiation power, agrarian policy impacts and the creation of more just and dignifying living conditions.”
Understanding environmentalism in this way generates awareness-building and decolonizes Nature, enabling us to relate to it in a different way, which also acquires an inter-generational aspect. This whole linkage was instrumental in consolidating the social movement that prevailed over mining in Rancho Grande.
One of the Guardians of Yaoska’s youngest leaders questions civilization’s discourse from the peasant environmentalism perspective: “They’d tell us we were ignorant and that we needed civilization. That remark was drilled into us daily. But we don’t need a lot of civilization to love the land and to know that it’s the land that provides us with food, water and all other resources.”
“The land is like a mother’s womb”
The way many Rancho Grande women express themselves reveals their affective and spiritual relationship with the land, felt to be a living being, like a mother, and also felt to be a sacred gift. They feel the land is a female being because of its generous fertility. A Delegate of the Word in the community of San Antonio de Kuskawás explained it this way: “Studying the Bible, I see how we should value, care for and defend Mother Earth because it says there that she’s like a mother’s womb.”
It was largely from this experience of faith and for reasons of survival that the Rancho Grande social movement, an expression of the environmentalism of the poor, took its stance against extractivism. As one woman said, “I could never support mining because I’m against destroying the environment. What motivates me is that I have to love Mother Earth because she’s the treasure God left for us.”
This worldview contrasts with the modern Western worldview that divorces culture from nature, objectifying and focusing on everything’s commercial value. This is the core characteristic of extractivism, especially mining extractivism, which represents one of the most voracious forms of capitalist production with the greatest power for social and environmental destruction in the enclaves where it’s ensconced.
In times of advanced capitalism
Over the last ten years, in this second phase of neoliberalism, Central America has become an area of great interest for the extractivist model. Regardless of their political-ideological orientation, the governments of Nicaragua, Honduras, Guatemala and, until a few months ago, El Salvador have adopted the extractivist model as the fastest route for attracting foreign direct investment and increasing income. There has been no discussion of the intrinsic logic of this development model, and its socio-environmental impacts in the communities are routinely ignored. Social movements in both Central America and the rest of Latin America have been unable to find effective dialogue channels with governments to engage in a serious debate about the local, national and even regional development models that best meet human needs and aspirations.
Argentinian sociologist Maristella Svampa argues that another characteristic of the extractivist model is that the socio-environmental conflicts it causes at local, national and global levels are “the result of the globalized reproduction of capital; the new international division of labor; social inequality and, especially, the geographic displacement of the sources of both resources and waste.” It’s the relationship between advanced and traditional capitalism, whose link is marked by the extraction and destruction of resources, common goods and people.
According to the US-Dutch sociologist Saskia Sassen, this capitalism views the natural resources of most Southern countries and particularly those of the periphery as more important than the people who live in them. The result is the clashing of this new imposed dynamic of accumulation and dispossession with the emergence and growth of communities in resistance, and the diversifying of the latter’s strategies and arenas of struggle: National Board against Mining in El Salvador, Las Crucitas in Costa Rica, Cerro Colorado in Panamá, Rancho Grande in Nicaragua….
A legacy of colonial violence
In “El adversario: su genealogía de violencia colonial,” (The adversary: its genealogy of colonial violence), the Argentinian sociologist Horacio Machado Aráoz points out that “Modernity, capitalism and very modern colonialism were generated by that peculiar enchantment gold arouses in the gaze, the souls and the hearts of the conquerors, by greed as the dominant habitus.”
Modern mining has “colonial violence” in its genealogy. In recent decades, the increased demand for minerals and their progressive depletion in certain territories became one of the factors that have intensified the levels of structural violence. Furthermore, they have led many companies, with the complicity of governments, to develop fraudulent mechanisms and increasingly sophisticated technologies of socio-cultural penetration to ensure the social license needed to operate in the new territories. It’s what mining trans¬nationals and their partners do, even knowing that when they enter a territory they always cause damage to the ways of life, cultures and policies that ensure the social reproduction of the populations living there.
In Rancho Grande the first step was the creation of a state-mining company alliance. According to a leader in Matagalpa’s Communal Movement, “the government was complicit in everything the mining company did there, because it allowed the company to manipulate the govern¬ment’s own projects: if the government was donating sheets of zinc roofing, it wasn’t the political secretary who gave them out; it was a representative of B2Gold. About two years ago a brigade of Army doctors came to the area but it wasn’t the military who presented them; it was B2Gold, as propaganda for what it was doing.”
Buying lands, hearts and minds
The company developed image-building policies to further its propaganda. Public school teachers and health staff distributed baseball caps with the B2Gold logo and T-shirts with messages about corporate social responsibility. Company officials propagandized a forestry nursery it had financed. The company broadcast messages on local radio stations about the benefits of “green mining” and its supposed contribution to job creation and to the economic development of the municipality and country.
B2Gold promised bonanza and prosperity to the owners of diners and lodging houses in Rancho Grande’s urban center, assuring them that mining activities would attract workers and technicians from other areas. It even offered economic support so the owners could improve their facilities and the services they offer. Some of these owners, an unorganized minority, came out in favor of the mining project. For a poor municipality like Rancho Grande, neglected by the State, the offer of new economic opportunities became a crucial issue.
The company offered jobs and perks, and even bought land through front men. One Guardians of Yaoska leader explained that the job creation promises were a fake. “They only gave someone work for a month. Then he’d be out and another would take his place but they kept the one who left on the payroll as if he was still working. They only had 80 people working, but 200-300 on the payroll. There were even times when they said they had 400 employees.”
As for the perks, a Communal Movement leader said the mining company used them to try to buy people’s “hearts and minds” and thus gain their support. And regarding the strategy of buying lands, the Rancho Grande residents confirmed that this was one of the mining company’s dirtiest lines of action. One Guardians of Yaoska coordinator described how “the company would go to some little farm in Yaoska, and say to its owner: ‘Stay here since you want to work the land and later we’ll buy it from you.’ So, these front men came and sweet-talked the farmer into selling his land then turned around and sold it to the mining company.”
Violence against the resistance
The state-mining company alliance saturated the local media trying to persuade and create pro-mining public opinion. At the same time they closed the media space to opposing voices and didn’t cover any of the actions and demands by the municipality’s social movement.
It’s been proved that extractive companies also resort to violence. Criminalizing protests and manipulating fears are mechanisms of domination to quiet the conflict the companies cause in the communities. As several authors have pointed out, a bloody battle between corporate or private interests and “the wellbeing of citizens who become Nature’s spokespeople, advocates and militants” lies behind each socio-environmental conflict. It’s not surprising that Global Witness dedicated its Report on 2015 to Berta Cáceres, the courageous Honduran environmental activist murdered in her home town on March 2, 2016, for helping expose the alarming number of people being killed and threatened simply for defending their rights to their ancestral lands. Its founders went on to say that “Global Witness has documented that globally at least two people a week—ordinary citizens—are murdered for defending their land and way of life against unwanted exploitation by agro-industrial, plantation, mining, oil and logging companies, among others, and that this tragic trend is rising.”
In Rancho Grande, Guardians of Yaoska, community members, the Matagalpa Strategic Group and even Catholic Church leaders were subjected to different forms of violence. María Auxiliadora, of Matagalpa’s Communal Movement, was prosecuted in an arbitrary case for having daubed a protest on the B2Gold office wall in Yaoska. The scheduled hearings were repeatedly suspended until the case was finally closed with a financial settlement. Those supporting her collected the money to pay the fine.
Another leader described other, more violent, actions constituting human rights violations suffered by some of the municipality’s farming families. “There was a lot of intimidation,” she said. “People told me about it. People disguised with hoods came to their houses and asked them if they had guns, or if they had drugs. One was detained for a month after they found a gun he had, but he had bought it legally and hadn’t committed any crime. They stole C$10,000 (US$300) from this man’s house and fondled his wife and forced her to get undressed saying she was hiding guns and drugs…. Others were taken to B2Gold premises rather than the police station for interrogation. They sent people to convince local inhabitants not to go against mining, saying that if they did they would suffer reprisals.”
The bishop speaks up about the pressure and coercion
The hostility and threats didn’t have the expected effect on either the general public or the Church’s pastoral agents. Father Pablo Espinoza, the Rancho Grande parish priest, told me, “Rumors are always circulating about what they’re planning, but they don’t scare me. Death threats just give us priests more courage. Many Delegates of the Word have been detained by the police at the crossroads when they leave their communities to see if they have their documents with them and they’re in order and they tell them, “Oh, you work with the priest from there!”
The instrumentalization of violence failed to erode or dismantle the social movement against mining, but while it didn’t succeed, it’s important to acknowledge its harmful processes, such as the one Horacio Machado calls “social mineralization.” He understands it as “taming and habituating, [creating] acceptance and adaption to forms of violence and social and environmental destructiveness in order to make life tolerable in a mining environment. The dynamic of compensations works as social anesthesia, making the pain of territorial amputation bearable.”
This strategy was unsuccessfully tried by B2Gold on the bishop of the diocese of Matagalpa, José Rolando Álvarez Lagos, who told me about it. “At first they wanted to convince us of the feasibility and importance of mining. The second time they tried to approach us with ignoble intentions, disrespecting our criteria and our positions. On the third occasion I would call it coercion, because they wanted to pressure us from different angles, using upper-level personalities from the ecclesiastic, political and economic world to lobby us.”
The school strike: a milestone in the struggle
Given the nature of its adversary, the social movement developed various strategies of its own that shed light on the political dispute’s dynamic. The most significant actions took place throughout 2015, when the social penetration strategies of the state-mining company alliance became more evident.
B2Gold began doing propaganda in the health centers, at municipal government activities and even in the public schools. Rancho Grande’s social movement saw this as an opportunity to take decisive action. If the mining company insisted on giving talks to students in the schools about the benefits of mining, the parents would hold a school strike: no child or adolescent would go to school until they stopped doing it.
This is what one of the movement’s leaders reported: “There are communities where the schools were closed for three months; 90% of the municipality closed its schools because the children didn’t go; their parents didn’t send them. We know the company has money and it’s easy to deceive a child, so it would go to a school supposedly to provide training. It would give the children a snack and then start asking them, “Sonny, who’s your daddy? Who’s your mummy? How many people live in your house?” Then they would go to the house. That’s why the school strike started and it was quite successful, because even the education minister herself had to come out and resolve it.”
With the school strike, the social movement began to be known beyond the municipality’s borders. Despite the social and human cost it represented for the peasant families, the social movement considered this action one of its most effective pressure strategies and the one with the greatest impact on the struggle against the state-mining company alliance.
One of the effects of the strike, which began on July 13, 2014, was the visit by high-ranking ministerial officials and municipal government authorities to Rancho Grande, including Rancho Grande Mayor María Isabel González, Deputy Minister of Energy and Mines Lorena Lanzas; Minister of the Environment and Natural Resources Juanita Argeñal, Minister of Education Miriam Ráudez and Matagalpa Mayor Zadrach Zeledón. These public authorities tried to persuade the Guardians of Yaoska leaders to suspend the school strike and support the development of mining activity in the municipality. But their effort failed because they hadn’t even engaged in a public consultation exercise first to socially legitimate the mining concession in Cerro Pavón. On the contrary, the words of Deputy Minister Lanzas raised even greater concerns when she informed people that the Nicaraguan government wanted to guarantee that all foreign investment in mining exploration would recover their investment and make a profit in the country.
Pilgrimage for life: A political referendum
In response to the public officials’ visit, the alliance between the Catholic and Evangelical Churches and the discontented and abused population called for a massive march against mining for the first days of October 2015, strategically called a Pilgrimage for Life. It received strong support from Matagalpa’s NGOs. Although there’s no precise record of the number of participants, organizers say more than 10,000 people attended, demonstrating a resounding rejection of metal mining.
Monsignor Edgar Sacasa interpreted the pilgrimage as a “political referendum”: “If the government decided to support the mine, the people decided to reject it.” The images of the massive pilgrimage and the voices of the social movement were heard in Managua through many national media. Interpreting them as a threat to other important interests, the government declared mining activity in Rancho Grande “unfeasible” only a week later, on October 12.
The information, training, awareness-building, organizational strengthening and mobilizations around the mining threat enriched the social movement’s resistance capacity and empowerment. The Rancho Grande population became aware that nobody other than them and their local supporters could be counted on to defend and ensure their rights and those of Mother Earth.
As I was told by one of the Guardians of Yaoska founders, “The social movement is us. We’re a social movement that arose to protect Rancho Grande, to protect our environment, to fight so they listen to us, because here in Rancho Grande we don’t have anyone inside the government or municipal government who is looking out for what’s happening in the communities.”
“You can fight and win,” just as they did
Maturely putting aside individual interests and differences and overcoming religious and ideological barriers gave the social movement cohesion, strength, legitimacy and representativeness with the communities, and to some degree aroused respect and recognition in its adversaries. According to the words of one Guardians of Yaoska coordinator, “We showed the government and the world that you can fight and win. How did we do it? By uniting, setting aside parties, everyone together, Liberals and Sandinistas, Evangelicals and Catholics, through a single cause and with nonviolence.”
The integration of sympathizers from different political parties didn’t happen spontaneously. It responded to a politically mature process of standing back from certain structures and refuting the challenges and exclusions of the state-mining company alliance. There were a few cases where some peasants even left the parties they belonged to. Here’s what happened to one of the Guardians of Yaoska founders: “I belong to the FSLN. I’ve been active in this party since I could think for myself, just like all my family. But from the moment all this began here, I haven’t attended a single meeting of the party or the municipal government. They used to meet here in my house but I told them, ‘I don’t want you to come back here until this is fixed.’”
This doesn’t mean renouncing a political ideology, but reclaiming its most radical meaning. As a former FSLN political secretary from Rancho Grande explained to me, “You are who you are but you have to be a Sandinista with dignity and not interested in money, because you work for the community, for the young people, the adults, everyone who lives in the community, and you struggle so the community advances, not so it will be destroyed.”
The social movement’s communication strategy was expressed in many ways. Communicating ideas via alternative communication media was effective. The organizations supporting the social movement also recognized that Rancho Grande had an autonomous leadership, with territorial identity and roots, and respected that autonomy.
And the Catholic Church leadership in Matagalpa appreciated the courage the social movement showed in confronting the threats and adversities, which contrasted with the political parties, with the governing FSLN openly supporting mining, and the other major parties at the time, the Constitutionalist Liberal Party and the Independent Liberal Party not taking sides on the issue.
People are capable
The erosion of the political parties has moved the people of Rancho Grande beyond party structures. As Monsignor Edgar Sacasa said, “We believe the people of Rancho Grande are now capable of doing what the political parties can’t do and that we’re wrong in saying the people are afraid. I don’t know if they are or not, but they’re capable of mobilizing and when they do they can move the nation.”
Even the threats themselves became opportunities to strengthen peasant cohesion and solidarity. Above and beyond frightening them, the organization is stronger, more united as a group, and more consistent ideals have been created between Catholics and Evangelicals, between Sandi¬nistas and Liberals. “I think that when social movements really see a cause,” María Auxiliadora told me, “when they see injustices and are threatened with projects like this, their reaction is very sure, united and coherent.”
The social movement’s struggle showed an enormous ability to recreate itself, even conceiving of other ways of doing politics than through the customary top-down authoritarianism. As a Guardian of Yaoska leader put it, “They thought the mine would happen, whatever the cost simply because it was an order from above: ‘The comandante said so and that’s the end of it! We always said they can say anything they want up there but we’re saying something else in Rancho Grande. Rancho Grande was going to respond.”
According to the bishop of Matagalpa, Rolando Álvarez, “this struggle grew out of recognition of this people, of their dignity as people. There’s a history and a tradition of communal struggle, which has been clarifying and consolidating, increasingly beyond political colors, ideological tendencies or religious affiliations.”
An unprecedented struggle that’s “a beacon for many”
Even though the government backed down on the mining concession in Cerro Pavón, the social movement has remained vigilant. The triumph it achieved consolidated a common identity and project: defense of the environment. It was an unprecedented struggle in Nicaragua.
Monsignor Edgar Sacasa, vicar of the diocese of Matagalpa, contends that “Rancho Grande has become a beacon for many people, just as we were lit by the beacon of El Tule’s struggle against the canal. Rancho Grande and what we did is now illuminating many other communities. I think they will have to think hard about another project like this… It’s now part of grassroots awareness that one cannot go against the Earth, against Nature, against God’s Creation. And that awareness has a lot of heft.”
Mario Sánchez González is the director of the University of Central America’s Center for Socio-Cultural Analysis. This article was first published in Volume 42 of the 2016 Anuario de Estudios Centroamericanos titled “Los recursos en disputa. El caso del conflict minero en Rancho Grande, Nicaragua.” Edited by envío for publication here.