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New investigation sheds light on foreign mining issue, despite U.S. sanctions: 'There's been an increase in concessions'

The sanctions aren't being fully enforced, and numerous mines are operating as usual or even expanding.

The sanctions aren't being fully enforced, and numerous mines are operating as usual or even expanding.

Photo Credit: iStock

Despite U.S. sanctions, Nicaragua's exploitative mining industry continues to expand, threatening local communities.

What's happening?

In 2022, the U.S. imposed sanctions on Nicaragua's mining industry in an attempt to combat human rights abuses against local Indigenous and Afro-descendent communities. 

However, the sanctions aren't being fully enforced, and numerous mines are operating as usual or even expanding, according to a report from the Oakland Institute, a think tank that focuses on social and environmental issues. 

In fact, the amount of Nicaraguan land concessioned for mining more than doubled between 2021 and 2023. Meanwhile, the U.S. was Nicaragua's largest gold importer in 2023, bringing in about 79% of the country's share of this metal.

"This is something that we've been speaking out about a lot," Amaru Ruiz, head of Fundación Del Río, told Mongabay. "There's been an increase in concessions in Nicaragua. The Ortega-Murillo regime has granted more concessions than ever before."

Why is the report concerning?

Ruiz told Mongabay that industrial mining in Nicaragua is largely done without adhering to environmental and public health regulations, including waste disposal and toxic chemical storage.

Industrial concessions also attract artisanal mining by non-indigenous Nicaraguans, who set up shop in regions belonging to indigenous communities. In many cases, this has led to violence against local residents. In fact, indigenous communities in the Mayangna Sauni As territory reported at least nine murders and nine kidnappings in the first half of 2023.

Gold is classified as a conflict mineral, and the violence is not limited to Nicaragua — in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the mining and trade of gold and other conflict materials is helping to fund ongoing violence.

Irresponsible mining can also impact Indigenous communities through the loss of cultural resources. In Nicaragua, expanded mining concessions have resulted in pollution and the destruction of ancestral land, Mongabay reports.

Meanwhile, tribal communities in Nevada are opposing the construction of a lithium mine on land that is culturally important. The groups say they were left out of the discussion.

What's being done about Nicaragua's mining problem?

The U.S. government issued sanctions against Nicaraguan state-owned mining company ENIMINAS in June 2022, saying the Ortega-Murillo regime was using gold revenue to oppress the people of Nicaragua. President Biden expanded these sanctions in October of that year with an executive order authorizing the U.S. Treasury to sanction any entity with financial connections in the U.S. involved in Nicaragua's gold sector. 

However, the Oakland Institute's report revealed that the U.S. government has failed to enforce these measures. 

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