San José, Costa Rica, since 1956
Nicaraguan Canal

Southern Nicaragua communities protest Ortega's canal plans

Read The Tico Times’ recent story on opposition to the canal project, “Nicaragua canal survey off to rocky start marked by fear and mistrust.” 

MANAGUA, Nicaragua – Small-scale farmers from communities in Nicaragua’s southern Caribbean zone protested Tuesday against planed land expropriations orchestrated by the government of Daniel Ortega and the Chinese company HKND in order to build a massive interoceanic canal.

“We’re afraid they’re going to leave us in the street,” protester Juana Toledo told local press during a peaceful march in Nueva Guinea, in the La Fonseca region of the southern Caribbean.

“No to the canal. Yes to living on our property with dignity,” proclaimed one protester’s sign. Hundreds of local residents turned out for the anti-canal march.

Residents along the planned canal route from the Pacific to the Caribbean have held at least seven protests in the last month against the Gran Canal of Nicaragua, which Ortega has promised will lift the country out of poverty.

In addition to Nueva Guinea, protests have taken place in the departments of San Juan de Nicaragua and Rivas.

Last week, Ortega said the canal is “the only path Nicaragua has” to escape poverty, which affects half of the country’s more than 6 million citizens.

In 2013, the Sandinista government granted Chinese company HK Nicaragua Development Investment (HKND) exclusive rights to build and operate the planned 278-kilometer canal for 50 years, with the option to extend the contract for an additional 50 years. The government has said the project will cost $50 billion, but skeptics have said the total cost – if the canal is ever built – likely will be much greater.

Ortega has promised construction will begin in December, starting with a port on the Brito River, on the southern Pacific coast. Later, the canal is mapped to cross Lago Cocibolca, the largest freshwater lake in Central America. It will end at Punto Gorda, on the southern Caribbean coast, according to HKND.

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Ken Morris

First of all, protests like these are hardly either unexpected or a sign that anything is especially awry with the canal project. An attempt to widen a street or construct a shopping center in most neighborhoods in the US will produce protesters too.

Second, though, the main real issue here is that the government hasn’t been clear about how it will determine the amount of compensation it pays for expropriated property, but has been fairly clear that it alone will determine the amount and there won’t be much of an appeals process.

Unfortunately, I know of no good way to address this issue of compensation. Whereas in theory there would be a fair market value of expropriated property and courts to which people can appeal if they don’t agree, in a lot of areas the fair market value would realistically be close to zero and the courts in Nicaragua are not exactly known for their fairmindedness. Plus, should the government create an open process for determining compensation, investors with slick lawyers would just buy up the peasants’ property and then hold the canal project hostage while they negotiate windfall payouts from the government.

The only viable solution seems to be to continue the way Ortega is, namely just do it. If he is as smart and fairminded as I think he is, the government will pay the dislocated property owners enough to make most of them happy, and this whole thing will blow over while Nicaragua will get a canal–which really will be a good thing for the country.

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Dan Gibson

I do not think these ”farmers” understand who they are messing with!!
Ortega is a force to be dealt with — however — the ”Chinese” are the major players — along with a couple very very very bad ”partners” –!

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What did you expect from the criminal Ortega? Wake up!

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