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In Nicaragua, Protesters Vow to Fight Giant Canal 'With Their Lives'

Inter-ocean canal would rival Panama Canal in size, displace communities

Lake Nicaragua, which the planned canal would bisect.  (Photo:  University of Denver/flickr/cc)

Chanting "No to the canal!" thousands protested in Nicaragua's capital on Wednesday over a plan that threatens an environmental and land rights catastrophe.

The 173-mile, $50 billion canal would link the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, passing through Lake Nicaragua. Construction for the canal, which would be bigger than the Panama Canal, is slated to begin Dec. 22.

Impacted communities have held a series of protests over the project, but Wednesday's action was the first to hit Managua.

Hong Kong-based Hong Kong Nicaragua Development (HKND) is "set to oversee construction and administer the canal for the first 100 years," Agence France-Presse reports. HKND was established by Chinese businessman Wang Jing.

From Reuters:

Bill Wild, HKND Group's chief project adviser, said more than 1 million cubic meters of earth will be dug up in the first year of work.

"This is a massive project, nobody can imagine how large and challenging a project it is, and it will possibly end up being the largest movement of earth that has ever been undertaken in the world, so it will be a massive challenge," said Wild.

Cornell University student Hazel Guardado outlines some of the impacts of the canal, writing at Huffington Post

The detrimental environmental and social impacts of the plan are vast. [...]

In addition to the absence of a bidding process, the project was granted to the HKND without any current environmental impact assessment (EIA) studies. Furthermore, rather than conducting these studies itself, the government will rely on the HKND to do so. [...]

Because the route would pass through such a vast area of land, one of the main concerns is the displacement of indigenous peoples who have been living in those lands since before the Spanish conquest. Danish NGO Forests of the World warns that "the canal is to be built through the Rama and Kriol territory, fragmenting it into two parts." No formal discussions have taken place with indigenous peoples, and there are concerns about "inclusion, participation, and receiving their faire share if the canal were to traverse their territory." [...]

The constitution was amended last December to make accommodations for the project, and it now grants HKND "the right to expropriate land and natural resources as it sees fit for the success of the project and sub-projects."

"I'm here because they want to take our lands to build the canal, but we are not prepared to give them up. We are going to fight for them with our lives," Julio Benavides, who traveled by truck from rural San Miguelito to Managua, told the Associated Press.

Farmer Porfirio Garcia, who hails from Nueva Guinea, told Agence France-Presse: "We don't want them to come and trample our land and our rights."

"What will our families live on? What are you going to live on in the cities if we're the ones supposed to produce food for people to eat?" Garcia asked.

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