Indigenous and Creole communities in Nicaragua claim they are being pressured to sign over some of their land to make way for the proposed $50 billion interoceanic canal project.
On Nicaragua’s Atlantic Coast, members of the Rama-Kriol Territorial Government (GTR-K) – an alliance between nine indigenous Rama and Creole communities – say the government is pressurizing them to give 263 square kilometers of land to the National Commission for the Development of the Grand Canal of Nicaragua.
In 2013, the Nicaraguan government awarded the Hong Kong Nicaragua Canal Development company (HKND), headed by Chinese billionaire Wang Jing, a 50-year concession to build the canal.
In a statement released at the weekend, the GTR-K said that since January 8, government and HKND officials have been pressuring them to sign a document giving their ‘free, informed and prior consent’ to the project.
Allan Clair Duncan, a member of GTR-K and the leader of one of the affected communities, Monkey Point, told La Prensa how GTR-K members were subjected to acts of intimidation over the weekend.
The organization claimed they requested a lawyer, the presence of an international observer, and to look at the Environmental and Social Impact Assessment (EISA), only to be told by officials that the ESIA will be explained to them, they do not need a lawyer and the assessment will be sent to the United Nations once it is signed.
According to a Fox News Latino report, the GTK-R have also expressed their worry that they could be taken to the capital, Managua, and forced to sign a document there.
Nicaraguan Creoles – descendants of former slaves who arrived in the country in the early 1800s – and indigenous Rama communities inhabit the coastlines, forests and waterways of Nicaragua’s Atlantic Coast in the South Caribbean Coast Autonomous Region. The Creole and Rama communities share some 8,481 square kilometers of land and sea territory, and together they have formed the GTK-R to better protect their rights.
In 2010, Rama and Creole communities’ communal land was legally recognized by Law 445. According to the Law, the State “recognizes the right that indigenous and ethnic communities have over the lands they traditionally occupy” and that these communities have the right “to use, administer, and manage their traditional resources as a communal property.”
Who will be affected?
The two communities who stand to be the most impacted by the project are the Creole community of Monkey Point and a Rama village, Punta Águila, which is known as Bangkukuk Taik in the Rama language.
Reliant upon subsistence farming, fishing, and hunting, the communities say the canal project will have a massive impact upon the environment and their way of life.
In April 2015, a community member from Punta Águila, Edwin McCrea, told Al Jazeera that the megaproject will “destroy” the community. “It will destroy we. When I mean it destroy we, we’re not going to get turtle, we’re not going to get fish, we’re not going to get lobster, we’re not going to get shrimp, and from the bush we’re not gonna got deer, we’re not gonna got gibnut (a rodent weighing up to 30 pounds), we not have no kind of animal if the canal come.”
There are, however, doubts over whether the canal will “come”. Last year, construction of the billion dollar canal was postponed until late 2016, and as Latin Correspondent reported in December, questions have been raised over the project’s economic viability.