The decision of the United States Government to impose sanctions that threaten the mining industrycould affect Nicaraguan gold exports in the first place, and other items in the future, said the deputy assistant secretary for Western Hemisphere Affairs of the United States Department of State, Ricardo Zúniga.
Three quarters of these exports are destined for the United States, the official explained, explaining that President Joe Biden’s guideline, which amends executive order 13851“imposes restrictions on any action that has to do with the General Directorate of Mines (DGM), which complicates the ability of any entity to have a relationship with the gold market in Nicaragua.”
In 2021, Nicaragua received 880.5 million dollars for its gold exports, according to the Center for Export Procedures (Cetrex), whose data shows that the 708.7 million exported as of September 30, 2022, represent an increase of 8.6% compared to to the same period of 2021 so, if that proportion is maintained, the sector could close the year with revenues of 955.9 million, very close to the 1 billion with which the industry planned to close 2023.
The largest companies in the sector (by the number of hectares received in concession) are Grupo Mineros (Colombia); Caliber Mining Company and Blue Stone Gold Mining (both from Canada), and Condor Gold SA, from the United Kingdom. There are also Nicaraguan, Honduran, and American capital investments.
Check the Nicaraguan mining sector
The US decision aims to prevent the regime of Daniel Ortega and Rosario Murillo from continuing to “avoid sanctions,” says Amaru Ruiz, president of the outlawed Fundación del Ríowhich for many years has denounced the damage that mining activity causes to the environment.
Ruiz believes that the US decision is a version of the cat and mouse gamein which Ortega appoints a new official to replace the one who has just been sanctioned, and the United States responds by sanctioning the new one.
Ruiz refers that, when Ortega reformed the Mining Law as a reaction to the imposition of direct sanctions against the Nicaraguan Mining Company (Eniminas), transferred to the Ministry of Energy and Mines (MEM) -and therefore, to the General Directorate of Mines (DGM)- the establishment of public-private investments, mining concessionsand the management of mineral reserves.
Given that Ortega could create another ministry, or pass those powers to any other entity, the United States sanctions the DGM to limit the MEM’s ability to decide on reserve areas, and new mining concessions, Amaru believes.
Additionally, it details that the modification of executive order 13851 opens the possibility of sanctioning American businessmen who invest in that sector, although it suggests that Biden issues a warning -and not a direct sanction against any investor from his country- because it is necessary to analyze who are closest to the regime, and benefit from the corruption with which that business is managed.
Although imports from the Nicaraguan mining industry can be sanctioned, Ruiz points out that the possibility that gold exports to the United States will be sanctioned does put the entire sector in check because, even if they look for new buyers, “the change cannot be made easily, because there is already a logistics to export gold to the United States”.
Concern among businessmen and investors
“Investors are concerned because they see a qualitative change in the threat that hangs over the country,” he told CONFIDENTIAL a business consultant who asked to keep his identity anonymous for security reasons.
This new package of sanctions is seen as “a quite relevant change in the position” of the United States, which occurs in the context of the US elections in the coming weeks, he added.
This expert recalls that “there is bipartisan pressure in Congress to do something about Nicaragua. Biden responds with an executive order that says ‘we can proceed this way’, with which he threatens trade, imports, exports and investments” in the mining sector.
He explains that the US government is not saying whether it will use these tools, or whether they will only be available for use by the State Department, the Treasury Department, and eventually the Commerce Department, without ruling out that it will eventually serve as a negotiating card.
“What we see is a bell, a qualitative change in the framework of sanctions that were previously directed against people, and now they are beginning to affect various sectors. It remains to be seen if, in effect, they are applied against mining or any other sector”, he valued.
The idea that these decisions could be a ‘call to sanity’ stems from the fact that the executive order “could be saying ‘let’s negotiate’. It remains to be seen if the Government of Nicaragua opens up and makes things more flexible, or if it hardens its position and raises the stoppage,” which would lead to a further deterioration of the situation, since “we are finishing off the country,” he warned.
This expert explains that he sees a similar behavior of the United States with the three dictatorships of the continent, mentioning how the pressure against Venezuela is relaxed, “but without releasing it”, while talking with Cuba about migration issues.
Proof of this uncertainty is the fact that the companies in the sector were unable to react in the following twelve hours after learning of the new round of sanctions. “People are just making their own conclusions and analyzing what this is about, which was very surprising. The lawyers are reviewing everything, because there are many legal issues that have to be seen in depth,” said a source who provides services to the mining industry.