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Inter-oceanic Canal Project Leads to Doubt and Rejection in Nicaragua

The announcement that the Nicaraguan government has granted a concession to the Chinese company HK Nicaragua Development (HKND) to build an inter-oceanic canal has caused controversy and discussion in all areas of Nicaraguan society, and to date there are more questions than answers.

The President of Nicaragua, Daniel Ortega, signed the law granting the concession – the law of the Statute of the Great Inter-oceanic Canal, or Law 800 [es] – on June 14, 2013, sparking discussion in the country's blogging and Twitter community. Some users have shown their support for this initiative, but most of the reactions on the internet were of discontent.

The programme De Humo TV prepared a report on the subject, explaining what the canal project consists of and the environmental impact it could have on the country.

Although the law for the construction of the canal has been passed, feasibility studies have not yet been conducted, and environmental impact studies on effects of the construction are pending.

Blog La Nicaragua Linda [es] shared an opinion article by Nicaraguan politician Edmundo Jarquín:

Como todos los nicaragüenses, quisiera que el canal por Nicaragua sea factible, porque sería una palanca poderosa para impulsar el desarrollo del país, pero no son pocas las razones que cuestionan la realidad del anuncio.

En primer lugar, su factibilidad. El propio asesor ambientalista de Ortega, y principal científico nicaragüense, Jaime Incer, salió al paso del anuncio de Ortega diciendo: “Un estudio medianamente serio, descartaría su posibilidad”.

Like all Nicaraguans, I would like to believe that a canal through Nicaragua is feasible because it would be a powerful lever for promoting the country’s development, but there are many reasons to question the validity of the announcement.

Firstly, its feasibility. Ortega’s environmental assessor, and principal Nicaraguan scientific advisor, Jaime Incer, deviated from Ortega’s announcement saying: “a reasonably serious study should rule out the possibility”.

The matter of expropriation of lands through which the canal would pass and the invasion of indigenous territory on the country’s Atlantic coast has also been discussed by Nicaraguans. The blog Bitacora de un nicaragüense [es] shared:

Primero: las comunidades indígenas, su forma de vida, su forma de propiedad, y todos los derechos especificados otorgados por el estado bajo el estatuto de autonomía; a las que no se ha consultado y dada la posibilidad de expropiación ha de hacerse sin dilación…

Segundo: El daño medioambiental será indudable, todo proyecto tiene esa carga, están los derivados de la mera construcción como el despale de reservas de la biosfera, de la destrucción de zonas de reproducción de fauna como es el caso de las tortugas marinas que además se encuentra en peligro de extinción, de la reconducción de agua dulce para la funcionalidad del canal mismo que puede dar lugar a desecación de cuencas hídricas agredidas por el proyecto. Luego, el peligro a largo plazo es la contaminación irreparable de nuestras cuencas por vertidos de sustancias nocivas, como los hidrocarburos, en especial de ese inmenso patrimonio que es el lago Cocibolca; sin menospreciar el nocivo efecto que tendrían los sonares en la fauna del gran lago.

Tercero: De ponerse en marcha el proyecto se estaría violando la ley general del agua, especialmente en lo que se refiere a la condición actual del Cocibolca en el que se especifican sus usos y su protección en el Título VII; de la protección de las aguas; queda recogido del siguiente modo:

Artículo 97.- Es responsabilidad del Estado con la participación de los Gobiernos Municipales, Asociaciones de Municipios, Sector Privado, Organizaciones No Gubernamentales y población en general, la protección, conservación y destino de las aguas del Gran Lago de Nicaragua o Cocibolca.

First: Indigenous communities, their way of life, their form of ownership, and all specified rights granted by the State under the Statute of autonomy, have not been consulted and given the possibility of expropriation this should be done without delay…

Secondly: Environmental damage will be unavoidable, every project has its burden, there are by-products of construction like clear-cutting of reserves of the biosphere, the destruction of wildlife breeding areas, for example of sea turtles that are also in danger of extinction, of the renewal of fresh water for the functionality of the same canal that can result in drying of water catchment areas harmed by the project. Next, the long-term danger of irreparable contamination of our waterways, especially of the immense heritage area of Lake Cociboca, by dumping harmful substances such as hydrocarbons, not forgetting the harmful effect sonar would have on great lake’s wildlife.

Thirdly: Starting the project would be a violation of the general water law, especially in what refers to the current condition of the Cocibolca which specify its uses and its protection in Title VII; protection of waters which is outlined as follows:

Article 97 – The protection, conservation and destination of the waters of the great Lake of Nicaragua or Cocibolca is the responsibility of the state with the participation of municipal governments and associations, the private sector, non-governmental organizations and the general population.

Foto compartida por Mildred Largaespada en Facebook.

“Ortega – Seller of Our Heritage” Photo shared by Mildred Largaespada on Facebook.

Rodrigo Peñalba [es] also wrote about the project on his blog. Rodrigo pointed out, among other things, the history of the company's spokesman:

El grupo HKND, responsable del proyecto del canal (por cuya licencia pagarán solo U$100 millones de dólares a Nicaragua por una concesión de hasta 100 años) estrenó sitio web. Ahí podemos conocer a su vocero: Ronald Maclean-Abaroa.

Maclean-Abaroa es un político boliviano, 4 veces alcalde de La Paz, ministro de información durante el gobierno de Hugo Banzer, candidato presidencial de ese mismo partido en el 2002. En el año 2000, mientras era parte del gobierno, se aprobó la ley 2029 que privatizó los recursos hídricos, desencadenando fuertes protestas nacionales. Por ejemplo, esta ley permitía a la empresa aguadora cobrar hasta por recoger agua de lluvia para uso personal. [...]

¿Si este es el vocero, qué podemos esperar de sus jefes en HKND con licencia para cambiar la ley?

HKND, which is responsible for the canal group project (whose license will pay only US $100 million to Nicaragua for a grant of up to 100 years) premiered its website. There we can meet its spokesman: Ronald Maclean-Abaroa [es].

Maclean-Abaroa is a Bolivian [es] politician [es], four times Mayor of La Paz, Minister of Information during the Government of Hugo Banzer, presidential candidate from the same party in 2002. In the year 2000, while he was part of the government, the 2029 law privatising water resources was approved, triggering strong domestic protests. For example, this law allowed the water carrier company to charge for collection of rain water for personal use. [...]

If this is the spokesman, what can be expected of their bosses in HKND licensed to change the law?

Hashtags #canalnica [es] and #canalinteroceanico [es] are being used to comment on the project on Twitter.

Azucena Castillo (@azulchena)) [es] shared a video of the “March in defense of National Sovereignty and Nicaraguan dignity”. The video [es] from YouTube user Nicarao Libertario [es], shows images of the march that took place on June 13 against the project.

El 19 digital [es], a digital government diary, published an article in favour of the construction of the canal:

Geográficamente, este canal tiene mucho sentido. Sólo son 12 millas del Pacífico hacia el lago de Nicaragua, y posteriormente de ahí se conecta al Atlántico. Pero aún se desconoce si esa será la ruta que tendrá el Canal.

Para Nicaragua, este mega-proyecto tiene mucho sentido. La construcción doblará el Producto Interno Bruto per cápita de la nación, siendo el año pasado, 3,300 dólares al año. Pero [¿]porque [sic] construir un Canal, cuando ya existe otro a poca distancia?

Buena, aquí está una razón…Existe mucha demanda en el Canal de Panamá, al punto que el average de tránsito de una punta a la otra, es de 12 días. Otra de las razones, es que los barcos más grandes que pueden transitar en Panamá son los llamados PANAMAX. Cada uno de estos barcos puede llevar 4,500 contenedores.

Pero existen nuevos barcos llamados POST – PANAMAX, de ellos, habrá un Modelo llamado TRIPLE-E, que pueden llevar más de 18 mil contenedores, o sea, 4 veces más que los barcos de PANAMAX.

Geographically, this canal makes perfect sense. There are only 12 miles from the Pacific towards the Lake of Nicaragua, and then from there it connects to the Atlantic. But it remains unclear if that is the route the canal would take.For Nicaragua, this mega-project makes a lot of sense. Construction would double the gross domestic product (GDP) per head in the nation, which last year was 3,300 dollars. But why build a Canal, when there is already another so nearby?

Well, here is a reason…There is a lot of demand for the Panama Canal, to the point that the average transit time from one end to the other is 12 days. Another reason, is that the largest ships that can pass in Panama are the so-called PANAMAX. Each of these boats can carry 4,500 containers*.

However, there are newer, POST-PANAMAX, ships, among which will be a TRIPLE-E model capable of carrying more than 18 thousand containers, or 4 times more than PANAMAX vessels.

The Nicaraguan government wishes to secure a GDP increase of 15% by 2015 and even double the economy in the year 2018. It will not be until next year, 2014, when the feasibility studies and environmental impact report are conducted, that the viability of this mega-project can be properly assessed.

*Note: The Panama Canal is currently undergoing an expansion project to allow much bigger vessels, of the “New-Panamax” size, to transit, but this will still leave some vessels unable to pass.

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