Conflict of Development: Nicaragua

A grave problem that has yet to be directly faced in this blog is the cost of human rights and natural resources at the hand of development and competing interests that come with increased foreign investment. As Latin America develops and becomes further intertwined into the global market, each government has to make a choice; whether to protect its people and environmental resources, or develop economically regardless of opportunity cost.

The Chinese $50 billion investment in the construction of a Nicaraguan canal, will not only create thousands of jobs, but bring in a higher overall income for one of the poorest countries in Latin America. However, this development project will also simultaneously destroy the country and its people.

Concepcion Volcano, reflected on the peaceful waters of Lake Nicaragua, the biggest lake in all of Central America. Photo: Telegraph

The route of the new canal will pass directly through Lake Nicaragua, a lake expanding about 3,191 square miles, making it the largest freshwater lake in all of Central America (19th largest in the world).

As the Nicaraguan government pops nice bottles of champagne in celebration of the monumental decision to build the Nicaragua Canal with Chinese aid, the rest of the population has begun to protest out of discontent. Once popular with citizens, President Daniel Ortega has now been labeled, “vende patria,” or “traitor of the homeland,” according to La Opinion.

Residents participate in a rally against the approval of the construction of an interoceanic canal, in front of the Nacional Assambly, in Managua, Nicaragua. (Xinhua/John Bustos)

The protests have been incited by two main reasons, the people are fed up with government secrecy and dis-communication between government and the people. The second reason is that the people are frustrated with the governments disregard of the societal and environmental effects the canal construction will have on Nicaraguans, According to La Opinion,

“Managua [Nicaraguan Capital] argues that the country’s economy will grow by 15% annually from the second year of construction onwards and it will generate between five to 50 thousand jobs. Nevertheless the government has not provided specific details about the project, such as construction timelines and potential environmental impacts.

…Nicaraguans that live in the Canal’s proposed path will have to move. Case in point, there have been reports that HKND representatives, with Nicaraguan police officers and soldiers acting as guards, have appeared in various homes, taking measures and informing homeowners that their households will be purchased by the company.”

The development of the inter-oceanic canal would dis-join the countries largest fresh water source and displace about 100,000 natives from their homes, said Telegraph. The fantastical land, where cattle roam around the lake, families live off the land, while children play in trees would become a passage way for modern day trade and industrialization.

“This is one of the most fertile regions in Nicaragua, and the government has sold it behind our backs to the Chinese, they’ve sold our heritage, our sovereignty,” says Arnulfo Sequeira, 51, a father of four with 200 acres of land and 100 cattle. There is going to be a massacre because we are not leaving our land, our lives, and we’ll fight for it until death.”

Telegraph reported that in the pueblito of Cruz Verde, 20 men and women gathered on the banks of Lake Nicaragua with machetes. Although the machetes are normally used as harvesting tools, in this instance they were used as  a shear representation of angst and the willingness to fight in order to protect their land. These men and women stood on guard denying access to Chinese census from entering into their community where their families have lived for more than 80 years.

A sign with an anti-Chinese message is seen in the village of Obrajuelo (OSWALDO RIVAS/REUTERS)

The clouded minds of the Nicaraguan government officials and the utter disregard of the country and its people from the Asian giant might lead to one of the greatest tragedies and atrocities of this time. According to a study done by Centro Humbolt, an internationally renowned environmentalist group, they concluded that the canal was,

“…unviable and posed extraordinary environmental risks, especially to the lake. It says there will be insufficient water to maintain the canal by 2039.

Dredging the shallow lake to create a 30metre deep canal will disturb huge amounts of potentially toxic sediment. The canal also risks contaminating the lake, home to fresh water sharks, sawfish, and turtles, with salty sea water, and any oil spill could inflict irreparable damage.”

Unfortunately President Ortega, a former guerrilla leader from the 1979 revolutionary victory in Nicaragua, foolishly believes that the building of the canal is the second phase of the Revolution. The has president, adamantly said that the project will lift Nicaragua out of poverty.

Ortega, originally a leftist president has switched in recent years and first made contact with Wang Jing (Chinese billionaire and investor in the Nicaragua Canal), three years ago. The two came in contact when Ortega’s son  and likely successor,  Laureano, was at a Communist Party meeting. Jing, who was also at the meeting, asked to speak with him privately, later bring up the canal plan.

Nicaragua’s President Daniel Ortega (L) and Wang Jing celebrate signing a concession agreement for the construction of an inter-oceanic canal in Nicaragua at the Casa de los Pueblos in Managua (Reuters)

Laureano, Oretega’s son and the one who had first contact with Jing is said to have also been in contact with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Unsurprisingly enough, the Russians have a stake in the building of the canal as well, they have also greatly increased warm relations with Nicaragua as Putin went and personally visited the country this past summer in July.

If everything goes smoothly, geopolitically speaking, the construction of the canal would create a larger foothold in Latin America for China.

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