San José, Costa Rica, since 1956
Nicaragua Canal

Lawmakers dismiss attempt to block Nicaragua Canal

MANAGUA, Nicaragua – Nicaragua’s Congress has scuppered a bill backed by thousands of people hoping to block a cross-country canal project, saying the legislature does not have the authority to weigh the issue.

The draft legislation presented by rural dwellers living along the proposed Nicaragua canal’s path “is rejected as inadmissible,” the chamber said, adding that it lacks the “jurisdiction” to handle it, Congress’s first secretary wrote in a letter made public on Monday.

The government hopes the ambitious Nicaragua Canal project will rival Panama’s lucrative canal, which handles five percent of commercial maritime traffic.

Some 28,000 Nicaraguans signed a petition backing the bill, which sought to block the state’s authorization giving the canal project to a Chinese consortium, HKND, to build and run for 50 years. Seven thousand of those signatures were stamped, as required by law. Only 5,000 stamped signatures must be collected for Congress to consider a citizen’s bill.

See: Indigenous and Afro-Caribbeans claim they were forced to negotiate over Nicaragua Canal

The legislature argued on Monday that it is unable to debate the citizen’s bill because of a 2013 ruling by the country’s Supreme Court rejecting a complaint against the canal and drawing a line under the issue.

A legal consultant for the petitioning rural citizens, Mónica López, criticized the Congress’s decision, saying the lawmakers were declaring that “the law on the canal is written in stone and 28,000 signatures cannot modify it.” That, she said, was “a legal aberration, an outrageous situation.”

Congress in June 2013 approved a law handing the canal’s operating rights to the HKND consortium, which is tasked with building the gargantuan waterway at a cost of $50 billion.

Read more Nicaragua Canal coverage here


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Ken Morris

Well, Nicaragua has about 4 million voters, so 28.000 signatures (only 7000 of which are verified) aren’t even 1% of them–hardly a democratic mandate. Worse, since most of the signatures are from those likely to be moved via eminent domain and the opposition to Ortega has seized the canal as its symbolic issue while enlisting the support of those in its path to further their broader political agenda, there wouldn’t seem to be any justification for the legislature to take extra-legal action based upon this petition.

This said, I rather appreciate the opposition going about things this way. It’s an improvement over its usual strategies of marching in the streets and writing strident editorials. The main political problem in Nicaragua is not Ortega but his opposition. It can never be bothered to do the hard work of democracy, such as building coalitions, fielding political candidates, or dogging cases through the courts. An extra-legal petition isn’t an especially smart way to go about forging a viable opposition, but it’s a step in the right direction of democracy.

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