Gabriela Selser (DPA)
HAVANA TIMES — More than 3,000 people took part in a peaceful demonstration held in Nicaragua’s capital this Wednesday to demand respect for human rights and protest the building of an inter-ocean canal that the Chinese consortium HKND will begin in coming days.
Holding Nicaragua’s blue-and-white flag and banners reading “No to the Canal”, the outspoken demonstrators rallied through several blocks of Managua’s downtown area and yelled a number of slogans against the government of Daniel Ortega.
Leaders of civic organizations and opposition political parties who organized the demonstration accused the police of blocking at least 78 buses carrying people who were attempting to reach Managua from communities in the country’s northern and southern regions.
“The demonstration has been a success. It set the spotlight on a regime that tried to block and repress people to prevent a protest by citizens,” said Ana Margarita Vijil, leader of the dissident Movimiento Renovador Sandinista (Sandinista Renewal Movement, or MRS), told DPA.
Despite the Police road blocks, some 1,000 farmers managed to reach the capital in trucks from Nueva Guinea, a south-central region of Nicaragua that, in recent months, has seen protests by people who fear losing their properties or not receiving adequate compensation, and who believe the canal will bring about irreparable environmental damage.
During the rally, which was organized as part of International Human Rights Day and ended before the United Nations building, some protesters wore white T-shirts with slogans such as “Nicaragua is Worth More than a Canal” and “Ortega is a Sell-Out.”
“Out With the Chinese” read some of the signs, alluding to businessman Wang Jing, president of HKND, who was granted permission by Ortega to build and manage the inter-ocean canal for a term of up to 100 years.
The protesters were also joined by some 800 former sugar-cane industry employees, who had begun a rally in the north-eastern town of Chichigalpa ten days before to demand compensation for health damages.
“Never since the dictatorship pf Anastasio Somoza (overthrown in 1979) have we faced as big a risk as that posed by the canal project, which threatens the right to property of thousands of farm families,” said Vilma Nuñez, chair of the Nicaraguan Human Rights Center (CENIDH).
Referring to the protesters who gathered in front of the UN headquarters, Nuñez stated that the Nicaraguan government proclaims democracy and freedom before UN organizations “while violating the opposition´s right to free expression and movement.”
“On Human Rights Day, the government staged operations to intimidate, conduct searches and seizures, and set up road-blocks to keep caravans carrying protesters out of the city,” Gonzalo Carrion, head of CENIDH’s legal department, added.
HKND says it will dig a 278-kilometer-long trench (105 kilometers within the south-laying Lake of Nicaragua) to connect the Caribbean Sea and Pacific Ocean, as part of a project valued at 50 billion US dollars.
“The canal will mean the destruction of our marine species and the Lake of Nicaragua, the largest fresh water reserve in Nicaragua and Central America,” said Leonilda Arguello, a farmer from the northern provice of Matagalpa who joined the march with a group of women who are part of a rural cooperative.
Scholar and former Sandinista Minister of Education Carlos Tunnerman, currently a member of the opposition Movimiento por Nicaragua (“Movement for Nicaragua”, MpN), said “Daniel Ortega handed the country over to Wang Jing, through a project that does away with the human rights of all Nicaraguans.”
Luis Fley, “also known as Comandante Johnson”, also attended the rally as a representative of the contras that rose against the Sandinista government in the 1980s, supported by the United States.
Fley stated that thousands of farmers will lose their lands and that the canal will “contaminate Cocibolca Lake with salt-water from the sea,” something which could have unpredictable consequences.
“No one wants to go to war here, but Daniel Ortega only understands the language of bullets…let’s hope we don’t have to go back to that,” he stated.
At Parliament, the Sandinista Front majority leader Edwin Castro asked that a day’s salary be deducted from the pay of opposition party deputies who took part in the rally.