Indigenous and Afro-Caribbean leaders in Nicaragua filed a lawsuit against government officials last week after they were allegedly coerced into signing a document giving consent for a planned inter-oceanic canal project to pass through their autonomous territory.
According to the Rama-Kriol Territorial Government (GTR-K), public officials called a series of unplanned meetings in the indigenous territories last month and pressured local leaders to sign a consent document. After GTR-K leaders unanimously refused to sign, government officials presented a second document they said established terms for future negotiations. GTR-K leaders say they were not permitted to review the document, but some were coerced into signing anyway. After signing, the GTR-K was given a copy of the agreement and discovered that it contained several articles granting consent for the construction of the massive Nicaragua Canal.
The GTR-K has now filed a lawsuit with an appeals court in an effort to nullify those signatures. In the complaint, GTR-K leaders allege that public officials – Johnny Hodgson, Michael Campbell, Danilo Chang and Rubén López – jeopardized the self-determination of the Rama-Kriol people by denying their right to legal council, to the presence of international observers and to technical explanations of the proposed canal’s Environmental and Social Impact Assessment (ESIA) during the meeting.
The lawsuit is the latest in a string of controversies surrounding the planned $50-billion canal project. Construction, which was originally set to start at the beginning of 2015, has been delayed due to environmental and feasibility questions raised in the ESIA. The project’s financing was also thrown into question after Wang Jing, the project’s Chinese billionaire backer, lost 84 percent of his fortune when the Chinese stock market crashed last August.
The alleged abuse of indigenous rights has now set off a firestorm of criticism in the international community. Last week, Amnesty International condemned the Nicaraguan government’s management of the canal project.
“The fact that Nicaragua is planning to go ahead with a mega project that will destroy the lives of many communities without even properly taking their views into consideration is outrageous,” said Erika Guevara, Americas Director at Amnesty International, in a statement released by the group. “Trading on people’s basic human rights for the sake of money is not only morally questionable but also illegal.”