The Grand Canal Project as it is known, is a mega-project, a canal that will cut a 178 mile long swath across Nicaragua. It will destroy almost a million acres of rainforest and wetland, heavily dredge and potentially salinate Lake Cocibolca – the largest source of freshwater in Central America – and remove hundreds of indigenous communities in its path, including the village of Bangkukuk.
It is seen as an environmental and human rights disaster.
Lake Nicaragua is the largest reservoir of drinking water in Central America, not to mention an important source of both irrigation water and eco-tourism revenue for one of the poorest nations in the region.
The canal, which will also include a rail line, an oil pipeline and deep water shipping terminals at either end.
An article in Nature by Axel Meyer, professor of zoology and evolutionary biology at the University of Konstanz, Germany, and Jorge A. Huete-Pérez, director of the Centre for Molecular Biology at the Universidad Cenroamericana, Managua, Nicaragua, and the president of the Nicaraguan Academy of Sciences, highlighted the lack of any independent environmental assessment reports of the proposed canal, and no requirement to make the assessments undertaken by the HKND Group available to the Nicaraguan public.
This canal could create an environmental disaster in Nicaragua and beyond. The excavation of hundreds of kilometres from coast to coast, traversing Lake Nicaragua, the largest drinking-water reservoir in the region, will destroy around 400,000 hectares of rain forests and wetlands. The accompanying development could imperil surrounding ecosystems. Some 240 kilometres north of the most likely route of the canal lies the Bosawas Biosphere Reserve — 2 million hectares of tropical forest that is the last refuge of many disappearing species. Less than 115 kilometres to the south is the Indio Maiz Biological Reserve, with more than 318,000 hectares of tropical dry forest. Worse still, the probable canal route cuts through the northern sector of the Cerro Silva Natural Reserve.
Such are concerns over land rights that it has united ranchers previously loyal to the right-wing Contras and small-holder indigenous farmers who have, until now, supported the left-wing president and former Sandinista revolutionary Daniel Ortega, and they are threatening to take up arms against the government, potentially reigniting the conflicts that led to civil war in the 1980s.
The Chinese Hong Kong based company Hong Kong Nicaragua Canal Development Investment Commission (HKND), will have a lease for fifty years, with the right to extend for a further fifty years. Effectively the Nicaragua has been ceded to a foreign corporate entity. It has been pushed through without any consultation.
HKND Group is a private company led by billionaire lawyer Wang Jing, there have long been rumours that the project is being directly supported by the Chinese government as a means to gain geopolitical influence in Central America.
Voting like mindless sheep along party lines and with only a perfunctory nod at due democratic process, Sandinista lawmakers on last year unilaterally passed into law a presidentially mandated canal concession (Law 840) that gives unknown Chinese firm HKND-Group a 50-year contract to “design, develop, engineer, finance, construct, possess, operate, maintain and administer” the Great Nicaragua Canal megaproject. The upstart canal company, which is based in Hong Kong but registered in Grand Cayman Island, would own the project for the first 50 years and become a minority partner for the second 50 years.
The concession law, which was written in English and opposed by every opposition party in Nicaragua, was rushed into the books in less than a week, without any public debate or consultation from indigenous groups whose lands will be expropriated, in violation of the Atlantic Coast Autonomy Law. The one Sandinista lawmaker who abstained (she may have nodded off before the vote) was fired from her elected office the following week, which came as a surprise to those who thought they were living in a democracy.
Opposition groups argue the concession violates 40 articles of the constitution related to national sovereignty, independence, the environment, and indigenous rights. Critics claim it also violates 10 international treaties and agreements and 15 instruments of the Central American Integration System. More than 30 constitutional challenges were filed against the canal law, but Sandinista judges summarily dismissed them all in one day without consideration.
The Sandinista government is reportedly planning to expropriate up to 7,000 homes to make way for the 172-mile canal, but it’s still anyone’s guess who’s on the hit list. The canal law says that the government can expropriate any land deemed necessary for the Chinese canal, which will cut a 13-mile wide swath through the middle of the country, affecting 12 municipalities, 6 of which will be cut in half to make way for shipping commerce, golf resorts, free-trade zones, “Coast Relaxing Resort,” and other crap that Nicaragua didn’t know it needed.
Some 282 rural settlements totalling more than 24,100 homes will be directly affected by the canal, according to an independent report by the Centro Humboldt.
What the report doesn’t say is that the canal will cut right through the middle of “contra country;” and these anti-Sandinista hardliners says they aren’t willing to surrender their property without a fight. Though the concessioners are offering to pay a small amount for the expropriated land, the campesinos says their land is not for sale. As they say in Nicaragua, sometimes it’s better to have a good fight than a bad deal.
Retired general and revolutionary hero Hugo Torres, known as “Comandante Uno” from the Sandinistas’ guerrilla assault on the National Palace in 1978, says the army that he helped to turn into a professional fighting force is now playing a “sad role” by protecting a Chinese businessman.
The concession law exempts the Chinese company from complying with any of Nicaragua’s environmental laws, exposing the country to possible “irreversible destruction of fragile ecosystems.”
The canal passes through a seismic zone, will be prone to flooding and there may not be enough water in the country to fill the canal.
Environmental study. what environmental study? None has been carried out.
As documented by Naomi Klein in This Changes Everything, we see indigenous people at the battle lines with global corporations, with corrupt politician lining their pockets.
No amount of money, can compensate for lost land, polluted waters.
Sandinistas did not liberate their country to hand it to the Chinese and to line the pockets of a corrupt political elite.
Daniel Ortega is a corrupt bastard who has sold out his people, his country for dirty Chinese money.
Daniel Ortega forgets the people have long experience of waging guerilla warfare against foreign occupiers and those on their payroll.
- Nicaragua: A Canal At What Cost?
- Andres Oppenheimer: Nicaragua’s trans-oceanic environmental scandal
Why Nicaragua’s canal could spell environmental disaster, and possibly revolution
- Conservation: Nicaragua Canal could wreak environmental ruin
- 10 things to know about China, Latin America and the environment
- Expropiaciones del canal van en 2015