nicaragua canal 3Posted: August 27, 2013
The Great Oceanic Canal continues to make waves in Nicaragua. The news outlets from the country report the ‘progress’ being made on deciding on the route, and assessing its suitability. The best summary is usually put out by our friends in the US Nicaragua Network. Their recent Environmental Delegation reports, from a visit in June (see here) includes updates on what Nicaraguan organisations are thinking about the canal.
NicaNet’s news summaries also give frequent reports on the canal. Their latest update, on August 20, carried news of two conferences held in Managua by gatherings with diverging viewpoints:
Opposition figures, among them losing 2011 presidential candidate Fabio Gadea and his running mate Edmundo Jarquin, filed at the Nicaraguan Supreme Court over 30 different challenges to the National Assembly June 2013 law that gave a concession to the HKND company to perform feasibility studies and build a shipping canal across Nicaragua. Gadea said that the concession had been awarded before the studies were made, noting “To use a Nicaraguan phrase, they are putting the cart before the oxen.” Supreme Court general secretary Ruben Montenegro said that the Court would rule on all the challenges at the same time but gave no date.
Bill Wild, principal advisor to the canal company, returned with a multinational team on Aug. 17 from a helicopter and boat trip of several days reviewing the possible routes for the canal. He told reporters, “At this moment the selection of the route is beginning.” He said they had visited a number of villages in the South Atlantic Autonomous Region as well as various nature reserves. He remarked that in the villages they were received with “open arms” and that he was most impressed with the Indio Maiz Nature Reserve, adding that a priority of the studies is the conservation of Nicaragua’s environment.
Two conferences were held on Aug. 13 in Managua to discuss the canal. The Nicaraguan Academy of Sciences invited Nicaraguan environmental engineer Pedro Alvarez, who teaches at Rice University in the United States, jurist Alejandro Aguilar, and water ecologist Salvador Montenegro to speak about the environmental impact that the canal could have on Lake Cocibolca (Lake Nicaragua) and on the rest of Nicaragua. That conference was held in the morning. In the afternoon was the conference organized by the American-Nicaraguan Chamber of Commerce (AMCHAM) where the principal speakers were Ronald MacLean-Albaroa, spokesman for the canal company HKND, and Alberto Vega of Environmental Resources Management (ERM) which is carrying out the environmental impact study for the canal. Recurring themes at both conferences were the continued strength of the half millennium long Nicaraguan dream of a canal, the concern about the impact of a canal on the environment, and a concern about the lack of information for the public about the canal concession including how confiscation of property on the eventual canal route would be carried out. (El Nuevo Diario, Aug. 13, 17; La Prensa, Aug. 14; Informe Pastran, Aug. 16; Radio La Primerisima, Aug. 16)
In the meantime Envio, in its July edition, carried an article by Victor Campos Cubas, Deputy Director of Centro Humboldt, Nicaragua’s leading environmental organisation. The article – The Canal will irreversibly damage Lake Cocibolca (see here) – raises many concerns about the impact of the canal on one of the largest lakes in the Americas. In particular it asks whether the lake will best serve the Nicaraguan people’s interest as a shipping route, as a source of irrigation for agriculture, or as a source of drinking water.
Our past posts have raised issues concerning how the canal will affect the Caribbean Coast’s indigenous people. In 2003 Campaign members produced a short film about Nicaragua called ¡Viva! Young People, Nicaragua and Globalisation, to be used in schools. Below is an extract with the interviews with Ariel, a Rama who lived in Rama Cay at the time of the interview, and Simon, a Miskitu who lived in Bilwi.
Two things should be remembered about the clips. Firstly they are over a decade old, so the conditions, and the Nicaraguan government’s attitude to the Coast, have changed markedly since then. Secondly, Rama Cay is to the south of the favoured route for the canal, and Bilwi far to the north. Both communities will not be affected directly. However the concerns they raise about control over their lives, and the impact of a ‘dry canal’ (Nicaragua’s dream of a canal is an ever present reality in the country) will be shared by many indigenous people as they see the consultants criss crossing the country – and their land – to see if the canal is ‘feasible’.