MANAGUA, Nicaragua – Thousands of demonstrators gathered Saturday in the central Nicaraguan city of Juigalpa to protest the construction of a $50 billion canal that will run through their land.
The protesters waved Nicaraguan flags and shouted “No to the canal!” They accused President Daniel Ortega of “selling the country” to China by allowing the waterway’s construction.
Chinese firm Hong Kong Nicaragua Development Investment (HKND) is behind the massive interoceanic canal project, expected to carve Nicaragua in half from the Pacific to the Atlantic.
Canal opponents, mainly farmers from whose land lies on the waterway’s planned route and environmentalists concerned about the impact of dredging in the famous freshwater Lake Cocibolca, popularly known as Lake Nicaragua, gathered from across the country.
The mega-project involves the proposed construction of two new ports, an airport and a hydroelectric dam, the dredging of large swaths of Caribbean wetlands, rainforest and a channel the length of Lake Cocibolca deep enough to handle Post-Panamax cargo ships.
Estimates put the number of protesters at around 15,000, although authorities were not able to confirm that figure.
HKND received a concession from Ortega in 2013 to build the 280-kilometre (175-mile) canal. Last week, on the concession’s two-year anniversary, representatives of social and environmental groups who gathered at the University of Costa Rica to raise awareness about the canal’s social and environmental impact, said that over the last months, Nicaragua’s Sandinista government had created an air of intimidation by militarizing communities along the canal’s route and pressuring the media to cover the canal project in a positive light.
The project was inaugurated last December, but digging will not begin until 2016.
Scheduled for completion in 2019, the canal is expected to displace poor farmers, Afro-descendent and indigenous peoples from at least 40 villages along the canal’s planned route.
HKND is expected to employ 50,000 people over five years of construction.