Nicaragua’s Anti-Canal Farmers Demand Participation and Announce Protests

Anti-canal leader Francisca Ramirez (c). Photo:

HAVANA TIMES – Leaders of the farm population who oppose an interoceanic canal in Nicaragua announced today that they will block the country’s roads until they are included in the national dialogue that will begin Wednesday with the government, almost a month after the large-scale student protests began.

“The government of Daniel Ortega vetoed our presence at the dialogue and we have decided to remain in the streets until justice is achieved,” said Francisca Ramírez, leader of the National Council for the Defense of Land, Lake and Sovereignty.

“We are in the barricades (blocking highways and roads) and we ask the people to take to the streets; Ortega is unable to continue governing the country,” Ramirez added in a video that circulated through social networks a day before the start of the national dialogue .

According to leaders of the peasant movement, “barricades” have been placed in the 16 provinces (departments) of Nicaragua to prevent the passage of vehicles of all kinds. Civic protesters remain behind the barricades of stones and cobblestones detached from the roads.

“We are willing to take this fight into the streets, since at the table we cannot dialogue,” said Martin Oporta, a member of the peasant council. “We are going to force the Government to dialogue with all the organizations that have been offended,” he added.

The peasant movement emerged in 2013, rejecting the announcement of an interoceanic canal megaproject, which has not yet begun.

The farmers demand the repeal of Law 840, which authorized a concession to the Chinese company HKND to expropriate vast tracts of land in the south of the country, where the megaproject will supposedly pass. To that end they have held 95 marches and protest activities in both rural and urban communities.

The Episcopal Conference of Nicaragua, which will host, mediate and witness the dialogue, called Monday with the participation of the Government, students, business people and civil society to a first session Wednesday, amid a climate of extreme tension.

A delegation of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (CIDH), an autonomous body of the Organization of American States (OAS), is expected to arrive in the country. Its presence was demanded by the university students to investigate the death of 65 people in the protests, according to data from non-governmental human rights organizations. The Government only recognizes 13 deaths.

The students, who have staged intense protests since April 17th, affirmed that “there not all the conditions” for dialogue, because the Government in the last hours “has maintained police repression” against civilian demonstrators, especially in the northern region of the country.

The political crisis, the most serious that Ortega faces in his 11 years of returning to government, began with a protest by university students over a Social Security law reform he decreed, which increased the quotas of workers and companies and put a tax on pensions. The protest became considerably larger after the violent police and paramilitary attacks against the demonstrators.