You Won't Believe What's Happening In Nicaragua

On December 24, work began on one of the world’s largest industrial projects, but you probably haven’t heard about it because it’s proceeding so quietly. 

Without an economic or environmental assessment, last year Nicaragua approved the building of a canal that’s triple the length and much deeper than the Panama Canal. Super-sized container ships that can’t fit through Panama’s will make it through, elevating Nicaragua’s importance in the world economy and supposedly bringing lots of jobs. Proponents says it will lift the country out of dire poverty.

But at what cost?

The $50 billion, 173 mile-long Gran Canal will link the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans by cutting through critical rainforests, bisecting Lake Nicaragua – the largest freshwater body in Central America – and forcing relocation of hundreds of villages and tens of thousands of people that have lived there for centuries. 

Dredging and salt infiltration will permanently alter the lake’s  ecosystem and a major source of drinking water, while over 400,000 acres of rainforests and wetlands – part of the Mesoamerican Biological Corridor – are destroyed, say scientists in Nature

Nicaragua Canal

Hong Kong-based Nicaragua Canal Development Investment Company received a 100-year concession to build and operate it – a new company selected without competitive bids last June. "It will possibly be the largest movement of earth that has ever been undertaken," says Bill Wild, Chief Project Adviser.

Nicaragua even amended its constitution for the project, granting the company "the right to expropriate land and natural resources as it sees fit for the success of the project and sub-projects." It has the right to build and operate industrial centers, airports, rail networks and oil pipelines, reports Nature.

At the same time, other parts of the constitution are ignored – the right of indigenous people to autonomy and self-determination, and the right to collective ownership of communal and indivisible lands. 

The whole affair is moving forward without public consultation or parliamentary debate. As you can imagine, there have been many protests and lawsuits are planned. 

"Swift and decisive international action is called for. The Nicaraguan Academy of Sciences is coordinating efforts with the InterAmerican Network of Academies of Sciences to carry out an independent impact assessment. We need more conservation groups and social organizations to lend their expertise and funds if we are to prevent the tragic devastation of indigenous communities along with terrestrial, marine and freshwater biodiversity and resources in Central America," say scientists Axel Meyer and Jorge Huete-Pérez in Nature.

Read the article in Nature:

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