Thousands of Nicaraguans have taken to the streets of the capital Managua in opposition to their government’s plan to construct a canal spanning the width of the country.
The protestors, many of whom live along the proposed route of the US$50bn 172-mile waterway, and who face the very real prospect of losing their homes, waved flags and chanted anti-government slogans as they marched.
The finalised route was announced in July and the scheduled start of construction on 22 December is fast approaching. Officials have set an ambitious timetable of five years for construction of the 172-mile-long waterway, which will be wider and deeper than the Panama Canal it is designed to rival.
Earlier this year it was reported that government officials visited residents along the route to discuss fair compensation. Residents’ fears of a land-grab were not assuaged, however, by the presence of soldiers at these visits.
“Your lands belong to you,” Vilma Núñez, president of the Nicaraguan Center for Human Rights, told the crowd.
Protesters marched to the city’s U.N. offices to demand transparency and adequate compensation for those displaced.
Many of the questions that shroud the project remain unanswered, not least where the massive investment is coming from; many believe that the HK Nicaragua Canal Development Investment Co. Ltd (HKND), headed by telecoms magnate Wang Jing, is merely a front for the Chinese government.
Nicaragua’s government, led by President Daniel Ortega, maintain that the project, which is also expected to include two ports, an airport, a resort and an economic zone, will generate 50,000 jobs in one of Latin America’s poorest nations.
Many fear though that newfound prosperity could come at a devastating cost to the environment and campaigners have grave concerns over the future of Lake Nicaragua, which is to be bisected by the new canal.