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“If they touch our territory, they are touching our bodies”
Carmen Herrera
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Rural and urban women organize to fight against government policies that cede their territories as part of mega-project concessions.

More than a hundred women leaders from 34 national territories and members of women’s organizations, with the support of the non-governmental organization Nicaraguan Network for Democracy and Local Development (Red Local), met in late August to create the National Alliance for Human Rights of Women to defend their territories, threatened by new policies of land ownership, which are backed by the national legal framework and supported by the government for the implementation of mega-projects that are putting stress on the life of rural communities nationwide.

Some of the demands of these  leaders for the government of President Daniel Ortega include the repeal of Law 840 on the Interoceanic Grand Canal, approved by the government in June 2013 without being agreed with the population, the cancellation of mining concessions that already cover 13 percent of the country, an end to the promotion of sugarcane, palm oil and sesame monoculture plants that are affecting food sovereignty to allocate large tracts of land for export crops, and the suspension of permit granting for the construction of hydroelectric dams that affect the environment.

During the meeting — held in Juigalpa, department of Chontales, located 140 km south of Managua — the women said in a message to the nation that “if they touch our territory, they are touching our bodies and our integrity as persons. We do not want them to impose on us where and how we live in our own country.”

Moreover, in their message the women denounced that “we are at the hands of transnationals that buy hearts and minds, that are exiling us from our own territories. Our reserves and protected areas are being destroyed by these invasions, causing irreversible damage to nature and communities. Greed in government is endangering rural culture. In addition to coming face to face with state power, we women face the power exercised by transnationals on our peoples, selling promises and lies, taking advantage of the poverty amongst our people, and using sexual harassment, physical violence, persecution and threats to our sons and daughters, to frighten us.”

The main objective of this alliance is to “provide a bigger space for women who are fighting throughout the country against various forms of exploitation of their territories that threaten to take them out of their land,” told Johana Salazar, Executive Secretary of Red Local, to Latinamerica Press.
Women join forces
The works on the Interoceanic Grand Canal began in December 2014, and to date there have already been 50 big marches in different parts of the country by farmers and other demonstrators who are calling on the government to suspend the project on grounds that the canal will force them to abandon their land and damage the environment.

Law 840, or Special Law for the Development of Nicaraguan Infrastructure and Transport Related to the Canal, Free Trade Zones and Associated Infrastructure, granted the Chinese company HKND Group a concession to build a canal that would link the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea. It would be 278 km long, between 230m and 520m wide and 30m deep. The canal would cross Lake Nicaragua, which has the largest reserve of drinking water in the country.  After the construction of the canal, the water would be used only for navigation.

“Women and men, we will not let them take us out of our communities. They did not ask us if we wanted to leave our communities, our houses where we live,” said Councilwoman Fátima Duarte, a participant at the meeting and representative of the town of El Cangrejal, 117 km southwest of Managua, where the canal would cross.

The expansion of mining activities would also lead to expropriation and relocation of people, even in urban areas.

In the municipality of Santo Domingo, Chontales department, the Canadian mining company B2Gold intends to expand gold mining even to the historic parts of the city, affecting 46 families who would be relocated.

Santo Domingo has a population of 18,000 inhabitants and at least 3,600 people work in artisanal mining, but this changed in 2009 when B2Gold bought large farms from the town’s producers and opened its operation in 2010, under Ortega’s presidency. In Nicaragua the mines were nationalized by the revolution led by the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN) in the 80s and again privatized by former President Violeta Barrios (1990-1996). This mine is an open pit mine and since 2012, B2Gold has been doing underground mining.

Against mining
Walkiria Marín, community leader who heads the opposition to the concessions for the mining company and who represented her town at the meeting, told Latinamerica Press that “we fight against all mining exploitation in Santo Domingo, and now we are facing the danger of mining in urban areas because there is gold here, so the company is interested in stealing this wealth. We are in a vulnerable area and are in the mine’s way, and what they want to do is to move and relocate us, get us out of our homes and start mining.”

“Today, according to an investigation by the Humboldt Center [which focuses on territorial development and environmental management], the water is contaminated. In our area there are five pipelines that lead to one pipeline that supplies drinking water to the city. We are asking the city council to see us to give them the report on the contamination of sources by aluminum, which were found in the Humboldt investigation. If they [the mine] touch this other area of the town’s core, we would be saying goodbye to the right to water that every human has,” said Marin.

According to participants, the women’s meeting was a success and an example for men to follow, since, according to the women leaders, women in the territories are more susceptible to losses of mining plans.

“The majority supporting mega-projects are men, large farm owners, and farmers,” says Duarte.

“For me,” Duarte noted, “another one of the biggest successes of the meeting was the participation of FSLN community leaders, like me, who are supporters of the ruling party and who are ‘Sandinistas’ not ‘orteguistas’. The creation of this network was a success, so that we women do not feel alone in this struggle and to share with colleagues from other areas who are also fighting the new forms of exploitation of our territories.”
—Latinamerica Press.


Women leaders determined to defend their territories from mining expansion and mega-projects. (Photo: Duyerling Ríos)
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