Nicaragua turns to China for ALBA refinery —but opens interior to corporate "gold rush"

The Chinese firm Camc Engineering (CAMCE) was awarded the contract to build a major oil facility on Nicaragua's Pacific coast—a key project of the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America (ALBA). The contact was announced in a Managua press conference April 27 by representatives of CAMCE and ALBA Nicaragua SA (ALBANISA). The complex to be built at Miramar outside Puerto Sandino, León department, is a key initiative of the Venezuela-led ALBA, but has languished since being first announced in 2007. The facility will have a storing capacity of 1.8 million barrels of oil, and a processing capacity of 150,000 daily barrels. In addition to a refinery, it will include 15 tanks for fuel oil, diesel, jet-al (aviation fuel), gasoline and liquid gas. It is projected to double Nicaragua's oil intake capacity, as well as supplying the other Central American nations. Venezuelan engineers will help oversee construction. (Inside Costa Rica, April 28; La Voz de Sandinismo, April 26; Downstream Today, Oct. 25, 2011)

Despite the anti-imperialist ideological content of the Miramar project, Nicaragua is putting out the welcome mat for Western companies too—especially in the mineral sector. The Wall Street Journal's Market Watch April 28 reported that a "gold rush" underway in Nicaragua has accelerated since President Daniel Ortega was reinstated for another term in office last year. "Since then, the country has reaped the benefits of his pro-mining policies that have only continued to act as a catalyst to today's impending production boom," the account crows. Mostly Canadian firms are working in three "major project areas"—in León and the interior departments of Nueva Segovia and Chontales. (See map.) Vancouver-based Golden Reign Resources is exploring its San Albino-Murra Property and El Jicaro Property, both in Nueva Segovia. Vancouver-based B2Gold Corp (BTO) has two fully operational mines: Limón Mine (León ) and La Libertad Mine (Chontales), with plans to develop four more. Vancouver-based Cassius Ventures has acquired Nicaraguan-owned Fortress SA, with four concessions each in León and Chontales, and another eight in Nueva Segovia. The acquisition gives Cassius 16 concessions spanning an area in excess of 137,000 hectares.

Harsh conditions at the mines were exemplified in a harrowing incident last June, in which rainy season flooding halted underground operations at Limón and led to the death of a miner. (Mining Weekly, Business Today, Vancouver, June 24, 2011)

See our last posts on Nicaragua, Central America, Latin America's alternative integration, China in Latin America, the global mineral cartel and the struggle for control of oil.

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