Editor’s note: story updated with comments from mayor of Santo Domingo
(updated March 19, 4:15 pm)- The National Police today released a group of 12 Nicaraguan gold prospectors who had been incarcerated for more than a month for protesting a Canadian mining company’s concession in the community of Santo Domingo, Chontales.
The miners were released as part of a dubious accord penned between representatives of B2Gold and the “El Cafetal” prospectors’ group. The agreement, which has been heavily criticized by the Nicaraguan Center for Human Rights (CENIDH), commits the miners to renounce all forms of protest against B2Gold in exchange for the freedom of their dozen incarcerated comrades.
The miners were granted conditional freedom this morning, but are forbidden from leaving their municipality prior to their April 25 court date, when they will face half a dozen charges related to violent protest. In the meantime, they have to check in with a judge every 15 days.
“There community is happy to have their loved ones home, but they also feel duped because the agreement they signed called for complete freedom of the miners and to have all charges dropped,” Santo Domingo Mayor Nelson Alvarez told The Nicaragua Dispatch in a phone interview.
Alvarez, one of only a handful of opposition mayors left in Nicaragua, says the freed miners appeared shell-shocked when they were turned over by police.
“They were all pale white—they looked intimidated and fearful,” Alvarez said. “None of them have said anything yet, they are all at home with their families too afraid to talk about what happened. I have to go visit them tomorrow.”
Alvarez says the Sandinista political authorities in Juigalapa, the department capital, are protecting the interests of the B2Gold mining company and putting the profits of gold before the rights of the people and the environment.
“The Sandinistas are protecting the transnational company and trying to leave us in ruins, because the mining company is taking all the money out of Santo Domingo,” the mayor charged. He said the community is concerned the mining company will clear-cut their forest and pollute their river.
CENIDH’s Gonzalo Carrion shares those concerns. He says the police’s release of the dozen miners today is further evidence that the authorities are “at the service of the transnational mining company.”
“First they repress and incarcerate the miners at the request of the mining company, and now they release them because the mining company told them to let them out of jail,” Carrion says.
Both Alvarez and Carrion say tensions remain high in Santo Domingo as riot police remain on alert for further protest.
Those tensions have not escaped the notice of children in town, the mayor says. “Today on my way to work I heard kids playing in the street, chasing each other around. One said to the other, ‘You be the miner, and I’ll be the riot police’.”