Four Years After the Canal Concession, Nicaraguan Farmers Continue Their Protests

June 13 is “the day of evildoing”, and those who approved the canal concession “will go down in history as selling out their country,” accused Monica Lopez.

By Vladimir Vasquez  (Confidencial)

The protesting farmers from different communities of Nueva Guinea, Chontales and Río San Juan left early in the morning headed for El Dorado, in the Municipality of San Miguelito.

HAVANA TIMES – The rural residents who would be affected by the construction of an Inter-Oceanic Canal in Nicaragua held their 89th march last Tuesday.  Like all the others, it was held to demand the repeal of Law 840, which they believe endangers their properties and harms the national sovereignty.

The march began in the El Dorado 3 community in the municipality of San Miguelito, department of Rio San Juan, with the participation of rural producers from different areas of the country.

Monica Lopez Baltodano, lawyer for the rural movement, assures that for her June 13 is the “day of wrongdoing”, and that all those who approved the canal concession “will go down in history as selling out their country.  That will be their legacy.”

The farmers vow that they won’t rest until the canal concession is repealed. They’ve maintained this demand despite the Police and Army repression aimed at blocking their mobilizations.

“I’ve insisted on the fact that the Ortega-Murillo leadership has put the social peace at risk in Nicaragua,” Lopez accuses.

The marches have continued over the last four years, beginning in June of 2013 when the National Assembly and its Sandinista majority approved Law #840, giving Chinese magnate Wang Jing the power to expropriate the farm lands and homes of rural Nicaraguans.

March in Punta Gorda

Last June 10, the rural leaders organized March #88 in Punta Gorda in the Southern Caribbean Autonomous Region.

Farmers from Nueva Guinea crossing a river en route to the protest to be held at the El Dorado 3 community last Tuesday. It was the 89th protest demanding a repeal of the Canal Law. Photo: Vladimir Vasquez

“We’re not selling or giving away our lands,” was the most repeated slogan during the demonstration.

According to the EFE news agency, the march occurred amid a drop in the prices of food produced by the farmers in southeast Nicaragua, such as milk, malanga root and plantains, the farmers warned.

The situation has increased the producers’ differences with Daniel Ortega’s government, whose administration launched the canal project.

“Our products are the only ones that have suffered such a drop in price; we can’t discount the possibility that this is a government strategy meant to harm us,” stated rural producer Abel Marenco, who is opposed to the canal project.

Nevertheless, since last year Orlando Solorzano, head of the Ministry of Promotion, Industry and Commerce, has continued to declare that food prices were stable.

In its most recent design, the canal consists of a waterway, 276 kilometers in length and between 230 and 280 meters in width, and includes two ports, an airport, two artificial lakes, two locks, a free trade zone and tourist facilities, among other things.

The company’s original calculations estimated that the project would begin operations five years after the initiation of its most important components: the canal’s excavation and the construction of the west locks.  These were projected to begin in the first semester of 2017, but there have been successive delays for different reasons.

The cost of the project has been estimated as some 50 billion dollars, according to the HKND Group who officially manage the canal concession.

The Nicaraguan government assures that its construction will open some 50,000 jobs and duplicate the gross national product.  However, four years after passing the Law, there has been no trace of the project’s construction.

For his part, the Chinese magnate behind the project has been totally absent from public view since December 2014 when he put down the first stone to mark the Canal project’s official beginning.  The presence of HKND Group in Nicaragua has also been reduced to a minimum, as anonymous sources confirmed for Confidencial last March.

Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega and Wang Jing hold the signed documents of the framework agreement for the construction of the Interoceanic Grand Canal. Managua Nicaragua on June 14, 2013. AFP/INTI OCON

Up to this moment, neither the government nor HKND has uttered a single word about the Canal construction.

The last communication the Chinese magnate sent to Nicaragua was in November 2016 when he congratulated Ortega for his reelection.

In 2015 the digital site BBC World calculated that Wang’s fortune had shrunk from 10.2 billion to 1.1 billion as a result of his country’s stock market crash.

Oppressive Concession

The “Special Law for the Development of Nicaraguan Infrastructure and Transport pertaining to the Canal, Free Trade Zones and Associated Infrastructure”, better known as Law 840 establishes that the concessionaire, in this case Chinese magnate Wang Jing, has “entire discretion to decide if and when he will request from the Commission the expropriation of a desired property.”

That paragraph placed the rural producers on alert, as they saw their properties being endangered.  Many of these were family inheritances or purchased as the result of many years of work.

The Law has been considered by the farmers as an act of “selling out the country”, on the part Comandante Daniel Ortega’s government.

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