Nicaragua, Is a New Canal Worth the Sacrifice?

  • by: Susan V
  • recipient: Government of Nicaragua

Last summer President Daniel Ortega and Wang Jing of a Hong Kong development company sealed a deal to build a canal across Nicaragua. For this impoverished nation, the project’s promises of huge job and GDP growth are hard to resist. But the environmental and cultural costs could be devastating.

Also many any are concerned about the secrecy surrounding impact studies done only by the developer HKND. Citizens of Nicaragua haven’t seen them, and HKND is under no obligation to share them.

Even without that data, environmentalists know the canal’s construction will destroy hundreds of thousands of hectares of rainforests and wetlands and put Central America’s largest source of drinking water, Lake Nicaragua, at risk for irreversible contamination.

Also certain will be the canal’s effect on the area’s indigenous tribes and wildlife, uprooting inhabitants of all species, many with ancient ties to the land. A railway, a dam and an oil pipeline will be constructed along with the canal.

For all Nicaragua will sacrifice, it will receive only 10% of the profits in return - for the next 100 years. Isn’t there a better way to revive Nicaragua’s economy without killing its most valuable assets?

Ask Nicaragua to halt construction on the canal until independent loss assessments are done.

We, the undersigned, say there has to be a better way to revive Nicaragua’s economy than destroying its invaluable and irreplaceable resources.

Even though the country was clearly cheated out of the chance at the first canal a century ago, the understanding of the value of natural resources has changed drastically in the last 100 years. And, as Ralph Leszczynski, head of research at the London maritime agency Banchero points out, “there is no justification whatsoever for a new canal through Nicaragua,” given that we have one in Panama that is being expanded and already works well enough.

Others have pointed out that competition from the melting northern route will make southern canals less necessary in the not too distant future - perhaps even obsolete.

Also of concern is that the Hong Kong company may be unfairly exploiting Nicaragua’s poverty, with Nicaragua giving up far more that it would be getting out of the deal.
The chosen canal route cuts directly across Lake Nicaragua; the largest freshwater lake in Central America, and would relocate inhabitants with ancient ties to their lands, and put Nicaragua’s invaluable fresh water supply at great risk
Reports say HKND has not explained why it chose this route, even though it is more expensive and less eco-friendly than the alternatives. Perhaps its because the deal would give HKND all the rights to the lake, as well as “16 water sheds and 15 protected areas wherein 25% of the rainforest in Nicaragua is concentrated,” according to the Political Bouillon.

The international science journal, Nature, is calling for an “international community of conservationists, scientists and sociologists” to join Nicaragua’s researchers and citizens in demanding independent impact assessment of the project and that the Nicaraguan government halt the project if those assessments confirm that the overall losses would not outweigh the benefits of the canal.

We request that Nicaragua rethink it’s deal to construct this canal, and at the very least hold-off on construction until independent assessments are completed.

Thanks for your time.

Update #17 years ago
Despite growing global opposition to this canal, the groundbreaking went forward Monday as work began on a road to accommodate machinery for the project. Local protesters whose land and lives will be jeopardized if plans proceed say they are willing to die before giving up their property to the Chinese. Keep the pressure on to demand a stay of this project, at least until lawsuits are heard.
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