plan puebla panamáarchivos de los protestos globales •

Nicaragua's "Dry Canal" A Vital Focus of Resistance to Neoliberalism and for Building the "Globalization-for-People" Movement

Since the time of the conquistadors, schemes have been afoot to link Nicaragua's Atlantic and Pacific coasts by constructing a "great canal." This is due both to the country's strategic location at the heart of the Americas, and because it appears that, by connecting such a canal through the vast Lago Cocibolca (Lake Nicaragua), engineering costs would be kept within reasonable limits. However most recent attention has focused primarily on building a so-called "Dry Canal," a high-speed, high-capacity freight railroad, running roughly East-West around the north of the Lake, and designed to link deep-water container ports on either coast.

There are currently two such schemes under consideration, the first promoted by the Nicaraguan Interoceanic Canal Consortium (CINN), and the second by Global Intermodal Transportation Systems (SIT-Global). CINN is chaired by New York lawyer, Don Bosco, and reportedly has investment backing from Europe, China, Taiwan, Japan and South Korea. This proposal would build two new ports, one on either coast, both in sites of exquisite natural beauty and fragile ecology. One such construction in particular, at Monkey Point, just south of Bluefields on the Atlantic Coast, would effectively destroy the Rama Indian and Creole ethnic community which has lived there for centuries.

SIT-Global is thought to be largely a copy-cat scheme, devised by the government of Arnoldo Aleman (1996 - 2001) and backed mostly with Nicaraguan capital. SIT-Global proposes to construct only one entirely new port, while refurbishing the already existing port of Corinto on the Pacific. However, this scheme, too, would annihilate Monkey Point, while the proposed route of both ventures would drive a 500 meter-wide corridor through the remaining Rama heartlands. Each group claims its dry canal will offer significant savings in both time and money over the much longer/more expensive US land-bridge and the over-extended Panama Canal. The Nicaraguan National Assembly has granted both companies concessions to conduct environmental and feasibility studies; these studies should be completed by 2004/5, when the schedule calls for one of the projects to be selected and construction to begin.

As is the case with all such mammoth proposals the world over, both consortia maintain their canals will at last bring genuine development to Nicaragua. However, a growing number of Nicaraguans feel that, while their construction/operation may indeed produce some benefits, particularly in the short-term (eg. construction/maquiladora jobs in a country which endures 50+% unemployment), these have little to do with their true purpose, which is primarily to facilitate trade between Europe, the USA and the Pacific Rim countries. Many environmentalists go further, arguing that the canals would facilitate the increased extraction of Nicaragua's marvelous natural resources, already reeling under the assault of the "free" market, and that the routes proposed would be ecologically disastrous, cutting through primordial forests, blocking migration paths for rare species and destroying indigenous cultures and communities. Beyond that again, they maintain that the proposed deep water ports would ruin magnificent coral reefs and fishing grounds, distort sea turtle breeding and migratory patterns, and occasion widespread poisoning and pollution through oil spills and waste discharge. Underlying these concerns, there is the growing argument that, far from "developing" Nicaragua, these mega-projects will in fact further destabilize an already unsustainable world system, by helping promote the globalization of the current disastrous consumerist culture through which 20% of the world's population (ab)uses 80% of the world's limited resources, and, to which, countries like Nicaragua are necessarily indentured as sources of cheap raw materials and labor. In addition, any Dry Canal requires such massive investment that military "protection" would almost certainly be deemed necessary, thus expanding US hegemony in the region, violating Nicaragua's sovereignty, and denying its peoples their right to truly sustainable development, tailored to their own evaluation of local community needs and respectful of their immemorial traditions.

Nicaragua Network believes that these canal proposals place Nicaragua at the forefront of corporate globalization, particularly in conjunction with the North-South industrial and transportation corridor - the "Puebla-to-Panama Plan" - now being proposed by the United States and Mexico. Thus, and at the same time, they offer the opportunity of resistance to that whole process through Nicaragua's integration into the "Globalization-for-People" movement via the development of alternative economic models and genuinely sustainable lifestyles, designed to help preserve the remaining forests, waterways and communities as vital to the health of the entire planet. We therefore work closely with progressive environmental groups such as the Humboldt Center, and with indigenous rights groups, such as the International Law Office for Human Rights and CALPI. We support these groups in alerting the indigenous/ethnic communities along the proposed routes as to the probable effects of the projects, and in assisting them to make their own ideas, dreams and voices heard at regional, national and international levels. Further vital contributions include bringing modern techniques and expertise to the mapping of traditional lands, thus providing a basis for the legal demarcation of indigenous territories, and sending communications radios to Monkey Point and other remote communities being attacked by greedy "settlers" trying to take over their land to then sell it on, at a vast profit, to the canal companies.

(See Also Nicaragua's Proposed Dry Canal.)

plan puebla-panamá | |