By Mridula Tirumalasetti
Impunity Watch Reporter
MANAGUA, Nicaragua—Protests have ensued opposing the construction of a $50 billion interoceanic shipping canal in Nicaragua, which has been backed by a Hong Kong-based company, HNKD. Road blocks were set up by protesters along the Pan-American Highway right after the official ceremony that marked the beginning of the construction of the canal, and along the Managua-San Carlos Highway.
Protesters are concerned that their homes will be displaced and threatened by the implementation of the canal. The canal will run through the rain forest and at least 40 villages, which include those of El Tule and Nueva Guinea. The canal is expected to displace at least 30,000 Nicaraguans, many of whom are farmers and natives.
However, the canal could also be a financial boost for the economy of Nicaragua. “Nicaragua, with this great canal, aims to move five percent of international trade conducted on the seas today,” said Nicaraguan Vice President, Moises Omar Halleslevens. The canal is expected to be more than three times longer than the Panama Canal, and is projected to increase Nicaragua’s GDP between four and five percent to 10.8 percent in 2015, and then 15 percent in 2016.
Chinese businessman Wang Jing, the president of HKND Group, promised to compensate “according to market principles in a fair, open and transparent way,” but many people are left feeling uncertain because of a lack of information. Further, critics of the canal have pointed out that there has been little debate in the Nicaraguan parliament about possible environmental consequences to Lake Nicaragua, which the canal is expected to pass through and to lands of the Creole communities and Rama indigenous community.
Nicaragua’s Police Chief, Aminta Granera, reported 15 police officers and six civilians to have been injured, but organizers of the protest estimated at least 40 demonstrators to have been injured. Police used rubber-coated steel bullets and tear gas to disperse the hundreds of demonstrators protesting at the roadblock in El Tule on the Pan-American Highway. Granera stated, the police were “Faced with the use of firearms, machetes, stones, and sticks by the protestors” and also said that 33 protestors in the Managua-San Carlos Highway roadblock were detained by police, who acted with ‘tolerance and peace.” Granera added that the protesters were affecting commerce and tourism by not allowing people to move through the country freely.
Organizers of the protest stated that the demonstration was a peaceful one, but according to The Guardian, one farmer said during an interview in November, “We’ll use machetes, stones, anything to protect our land. My grandparents were born here. They say they are going to pay me, but I never put the land up for sale.”
For more information, please see:
Al Jazeera–Protest against Nicaragua canal turns violent–24 December 2014
The Guardian–Protests erupt in Nicaragua over interoceanic canal–24 December 2014
Latin American Herald Tribune–Nicaragua Starts Construction of Canal Despite Protests–23 December 2014
Reuters–At least 21 injured in protect against Nicaragua canal: police–24 December 2014