by Jason Erno
Violent protests between the Nicaraguan people and police have recently erupted around the development of a new Chinese-funded canal to challenge the one in Panama. Activists shout dramatic phrases like “No to the canal!” and “Kill the Chinese!” Nicaraguan farmers and native peoples affected by the construction of the canal are the primary groups at these protests. The project displaces these people from their farmlands and livelihoods. Other Nicaraguan groups have organized, concerned about environmental the impacts that would arise from the canal’s construction. Not only would indigenous Nicaraguans have their homes destroyed, but endangered species like spider monkeys, jaguars, and nesting sea turtles would also have their habitats disrupted. The proposed construction would destroy miles of Bluefields wetlands, Cerro Silva Natural Reserve, and developing reserves. Construction of the canal would also result in pollution of Lake Nicaragua, the primary source of water for 200,000 Nicaraguans. The dredging of the canal would create large amounts of sludge that would remain in the lake and could drift onto land or damage the quality of the drinking water. Furthermore, since the canal would be located in the so-called “hurricane belt”, the possibility of flooding during storms would be greatly increased. The hurricane-buffering forests, cut down to make way for the canal, would no longer exist to take the brunt of a future storm’s force.
Despite the intense protests, the Nicaraguan political elite have approved the canal’s construction in 2016 and insist that the development of this canal would double the country’s GDP. An advisor to the president remarked that the canal would be a “big Christmas present” for the Nicaraguan people. The Nicaraguan government has allowed the Hong Kong Nicaragua Canal Development group (HKND) to build the canal. The Chinese company is run by billionaire telecom tycoon Wang Jing - a man with no experience in large scale civil construction projects. This raises the question of why Jing would go about dabbling in an area about which he knows little. While some have speculated that HKND’s strong ties to top Chinese political leaders is somehow connected to the construction of the canal, others believe that Jing wants to establish a trading network in the Americas with a variety of other projects, including the construction of more ports and inexpensive manufacturers. While the true reason for construction remains unclear, tensions will only rise between the Nicaraguan people and their government’s deal with the HKND group over the possible environmental catastrophe and lingering political questions.