Nicaragua Canal Over-reach

Lawndale News Chicago's Bilingual Newspaper - Commentary

by Daniel Nardini

Tens of thousands of Nicaraguan farmers and peasants demonstrated in the town of Juigalpa over the Nicaraguan government’s proposed trans-ocean canal that will bisect Nicaragua itself. The Nicaraguan government gave the Chinese company, the HKND Group, full rights and permission to build the canal through Nicaragua. The canal will also include going through Lake Nicaragua—the largest fresh water lake in the country and in Central America. The whole project, said to be worth billions to the Nicaraguan government, has a number of problems with it. First, no objective environmental study was done on the canal. Second, the people of Nicaragua were not allowed to vote on it. Finally, the canal will run through thousands of farmers’ lands without their permission. The worst part about the deal is that the HKND Group can pay whatever it wants to the farmers and peasants for their lands. In other words, the company can just steal the land and pay a pittance for it.

To put it mildly, this has many Nicaraguans angry beyond belief. An estimated 15,000 people joined in the protest against the Nicaragua canal. With a population of six million, this is a somewhat large number. The number may in fact grow. Many Nicaraguans do not want to be displaced from their lands—lands many of them have been on for generations. More to the point, will the project really benefit Nicaraguans as a whole? This is the question that remains to be seen. The Nicaraguan government promises it will being in lots of cargo ships and an estimated 50,000 jobs. Construction for the canal began late last year and continues. Opponents of the project say that the project will displace 27,000 people and cause widespread environmental damage. They may have a point. I personally to not have a high opinion of any Chinese companies’ record for environmental integrity.

Could the building of this proposed canal lead to a greater revolt against current Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega and the Sandinistas? If the canal causes the huge displacement of the people whose lands could be confiscated and if the environmental damage it causes materializes, then we could see a bloody feud as bad as the Nicaraguan civil war in the 1980’s. If the canal is an economic success? It will mean that not only Nicaragua will greatly benefit for at least a generation and China will have a foothold in Central America. There are so many factors in this that it will be hard to measure. One thing is for sure, and that is we will see what happens between now and the year 2019 when the canal is said to be finished.

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