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  Number 384 | Julio 2013
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Nicaragua

The canal will irreversibly damage Lake Cocibolca

This top official of an organization that promotes territorial development and environmental management shares his concerns about the ecological risks to Lake Cocibolca of building an inter-oceanic canal that runs through it..

Victor M. Campos Cubas

We in the environmentalist organizations were just as surprised as almost all other national sectors by the haste with which the concession to businessman Wang Jing to build an inter-oceanic canal through Nicaragua was presented, approved by the National Assembly and signed. President Ortega sent the Framework Agreement bill establishing the nature of this concession to the National Assembly for passage on Friday, June 7. Even though it was a very large, complex document, the parliament’s Environment Commission, largely made up of ruling party legislators, had already decided it should be approved by the following Monday. Similarly, the Infrastructure Committee, also dominated by the ruling party, wrote a few pages of rhetoric and one paragraph stating it had nothing to add to or delete from the bill submitted by the President. The speed with which the President and the FSLN representatives acted showed an unwillingness to give anyone time to react to the draft agreement.

“The greatest threat in history
to the counry’s environment”

The 30 Nicaraguan environmentalist organizations affiliated in the umbrella Nicaraguan Climate Change Alliance and the National Risk Management Bureau did react, even though we only had a few days to read the nearly 800 pages of legal documents to be approved. As our initial reactions were in agreement, we were able to lay out our primary concerns in a communiqué we released on June 12, in which we particularly warned that “the eventual construction of the Nicaragua Inter-Oceanic Grand Canal represents the greatest threat in history to the country’s environmental conditions and the greatest risk of rendering the Nicaraguan population unable to meet its basic water and food security needs. Given its importance, the entire population must be considered and consulted and agree to the decision to build the canal.”

This didn’t happen. The law was passed on June 13 and the concession signed, sealed and delivered to the entrepreneur Wang Jing the very next day; a single week from start to finish. Nonetheless, we have decided to continue meeting, primarily to assess whether to introduce a motion for unconstitutionality against the canal concession. Although we recognize that Nicaraguan courts aren’t trustworthy, we believe we should exhaust every avenue we have available because this is an issue that’s crucial to the present and future of Nicaragua.

Much of what I will share with you what has been agreed upon by the 30 organizations affiliated in the Nicaraguan Climate Change Alliance and the Risk Management Bureau.

A historical dream

We know that throughout Nicaraguan history there has always been the dream—or nightmare—of building an inter-oceanic route. It has been a constant in the Nicaraguan people’s imagination since the arrival of the Spanish. In 1836, the legislature of the time officially authorized the first concession to open this inter-oceanic route and I don’t know how many more concessions there have been between then and the two most recent, in 2001, both of them for deep-water ports and a “dry canal” freight railroad that would run from Monkey Point on the Caribbean Coast to their respective choice of spots on the Pacific side.

One of these two concessions went to the Nicaragua Inter-Oceanic Canal Company (CINN), [which, according to a February 17, 2011, press release found on www.drycanal.com, is a “multinational consortium of companies and investors… from Nicaragua, USA, China, Canada, England, Belgium and Hong Kong] and the other to the Global International Transport System (SIT-Global) consortium, [which at least as of 2001, when it received approval for a feasibility study of a train line between Monkey Point and Corinto, claimed to be “100% Nicaraguan,” made up of local banks, consulting, construction and promotions companies.]

A concession without liabilities

None of these concessions became reality and all had a common denominator: the setting of a deadline for construction of the canal, after which the concession would become invalid and the State of Nicaragua would have no obligations. The one President Ortega signed on June 14 with Wang Jing, a Hong Kong-based entrepreneur, is totally different: this concession establishes no responsibility for starting to build the canal within a determined period of time, nor does it establish any important liabilities for the concessionary, Wang Jing, virtually granting him only rights. In the Framework Agreement signed that day, his company remains independent of any national protocols or administrative, civil or penal liabilities, even if it defaults on its obligations.

In a step prior to this concession, the National Assembly passed Law 800 in July 2012 creating the Grand Canal National Authority and President Ortega named Deputy Foreign Minister Manuel Coronel Kautz to head it up. The National Assembly authorized the Canal Authority to seek investors to realize the project. Without informing the public, Coronel Kautz and Wang Jing signed a one-page Memorandum of Understanding three months later, in October, establishing their willingness to seek resources to build the canal.

On the 31st of that same month, the same two men signed a Deed of Cooperation, which President Ortega also signed, as witness of honor. This document, which is still only in English, expands on the Memorandum of Understanding by detailing the binding commitments between the Nicaraguan government and Wang Jing. The next step came on June 7, when President Ortega sent the National Assembly the bill that would ratify the concession’s Framework and Implementation Agreement. The draft agreement detailing Nicaragua’s obligations to Wang Jing was attached. Only then did the public learn of the project, whose imminent approval shocked everybody. That legislation was approved six days later and the agreement itself was signed on the seventh day, June 14.

A concession without prior studies…

Normally, before concessions are granted to implement any physical project, feasibility studies are done and the design’s modality and technical variant are defined, then everything is subjected to an environmental impact study. In this case, Nicaragua has just signed over this mammoth concession, whose costs have been calculated by President Ortega and Wang Jing at US$40 billion, to a single individual with no prior studies; hence without knowing what it’s authorizing. President Ortega himself has said that there are no studies. What he hasn’t done is explain why he has granted this concession without them.

The most recent studies the country has on the possible construction of a canal were made during Enrique Bolaños’ administration and they in turn were basically a compilation of previous studies. There are no pre-feasibility studies for a project of the current dimensions. After the concession was signed, we were shown some studies and maps, but only for a few minutes, so we couldn’t assess their level of detail. We saw them in the offices of the Large Infrastructure Development Company (EDGI), a Nicaraguan company established in Managua under Nicaraguan law and under the auspices of the Taboada and Associates law firm, specifically created as the national representative for the Hong Kong Nicaragua Development company (HKND), in turn created by Wang Jing specifically to take charge of this project. HKND is based in Hong Kong but has created a subsidiary holding company for this project based in the Cayman Islands. If any national capital is invested in the canal, it must be among the EDGI shareholders.

Although Nicaraguan environmental law establishes that all information regarding our environment must be made public, a very strict confidentiality clause in the Framework Agreement with Wang Jing establishes that all information generated for the canal construction will be confidential. If we have problems accessing other, not even particularly significant, information about the national environment right now, you can well imagine that getting information about the canal construction will be nearly impossible.

Not just a canal…

This megaproject’s design is modular. The inter-oceanic canal is at the center and around it are other sub-projects, each of which is in itself a megaproject. Included in the concession is the construction of an airport; two deep-water ports, one in the Caribbean and another in the Pacific; a cross-country oil pipeline; a “dry canal,” essentially a freight railroad for transporting goods from one coast to the other; and two free trade zones, one on each coast.

Given the scale of these undertakings and the lack of prior studies, what Wang Jing has been given is virtually the whole geography of Nicaragua, in which the investing companies can decide what to do, where to do it and how, with the Framework Agreement guaranteeing them all the permits they need, whatever their decisions. The law expressly says that all the State’s entities must guarantee them all “consent,” a generic term used to refer to any license, permit or authorization required.

The law also says that any delay in delivering these consents that could set back execution of the works will be considered a “political force majeure,” whose responsibility will fall on the State of Nicaragua. With such wide-ranging legislation, is it possible to stop their implementation should studies show that the works will cause serious environmental damage? According to what’s been approved, the appropriate permits must be issued no matter what, and failure to do so opens the State of Nicaragua up to an international lawsuit.

A year ago, Law 800 established that a “grand national” company—defined as a national company with other non-national ones in which Nicaragua would hold 51% of the shares—was to be created for the construction of the canal. As its majority shareholder the State of Nicaragua would have the final say in all decision-making. There’s a radical difference between that law and the just-passed Law 840: the canal and other projects will no longer be implemented by a national company, but by private companies, and the State won’t have 51% of the shares; it will receive 1% of them a year for 100 years, giving it 100% ownership of what by then will be a totally obsolete infrastructure.

The most obvious impacts

In light of this legislation and still without the studies, let’s focus on some of the most obvious impacts that building the inter-oceanic canal will have on our environment. First, we must imagine our country cut in two from east to west by a swath of territory of as-yet unknown width, but wide enough to isolate it from any obstacle that could hinder the movement of ships through the canal. This slash through our geography will be a very significant barrier to the free movement of species in the Mesoamerican Biological Corridor.

The possibility of using the Río San Juan as part of the canal has already been discarded, but all four routes being considered today pass through the Nicaragua’s Great Lake, Lake Cocibolca. The Nicaraguan authorities and Wang Jing will decide which route is chosen. Given the social, political and environmental implications of the concession’s combination of megaprojects, we environmentalists have decided to center our attention on the lake, warning of the impending dangers to one of our most valuable natural resources.

So far, the four options being considered are all in the southern area of our country’s watersheds. The two northernmost routes begin in the River Escondido, just north of Bluefields, which doesn’t come from the Bosawás watershed, so there’s no direct water connection so far between any of them and the Bosawás Biosphere Reserve, another of our most valuable natural resources.

A great lake but a shallow one

Let’s describe some of the features of the Great Lake to help us imagine what will happen if the canal is built. First it must be said that our data is from a 1972 bathymetric map of the lake bottom, curiously the latest we have despite all the interest in recent years in building a canal. Not only is there no more recent study of the enormous amount of sediment that we know has been deposited at its bottom over the last four decades, no baseline studies have been done to be able to compare changes in other important physical-chemical variables of Cocibolca’s basin. We have more detailed information about the Río San Juan, provided by the Center for Research in Aquatic Resources (CIRA), an excellent regional center for these issues, one of only two in Central America.

According to that 41-year-old map, Cocibolca has a surface area of 3,240 square miles [all of El Salvador is only slightly more than twice as large], but the water is less than 5 meters deep in over 60% of this immense area, with the deepest part of the lake in the southwest, close to the island of Ometepe, where it reaches 12.4 meters deep.

It’s logical to assume that there’s now a smaller volume of useful water given sedimentation, plant growth and other phenomena. Because of its limited depths, the Great Lake is considered a shallow lake and all who have navigated its waters have experienced considerable movement in it from the lowest to the highest strata. This continuous exchange is what makes the lake so alive and fertile in terms of biological productivity.

The interoceanic canal currently being discussed will supposedly be able to accommodate Post-Panamax ships. [What are known as Panamax ships are those of a size that can pass through the original Panama Canal, while the larger ships that began to be designed in the eighties, which couldn’t pass through that canal, were called Post-Panamax; New Panamax ships, a term that encompasses Post-Panamax and somewhat larger sizes, will be able to use that canal’s new set of locks once they become operational—originally scheduled for 2014 to celebrate the centennial of the canal’s construction; and, finally, Post-New Panamax ships are the ever-more massive modern supertankers, aircraft carriers, cruise ships and container ships—some of which can carry 12-14,000 containers of merchandise. The evolution of these ships has been more in their width and length than in their draft, in which the largest only differ from the Panamax class by 3 meters]. Because a ship, like a living body, is more or less buoyant depending on the density, salinity and temperature of the water it is in, its draft is deeper in tropical freshwater.

Excavating a canal within the lake


Cocibolca would need to guarantee a draft of almost 28 meters to allow Post-Panamax container ships to move through it. This would mean having to dig a channel along the bottom of that depth that is 500 meters wide by 50 to 56 miles long, depending on the route chosen.

Knowing the amount of sediment at the bottom of the lake, multiplied by the dimensions above, we calculate that opening this canal the length of the lake would involve digging out and removing about 832 million cubic meters of sediment from the lake bottom.

Where will they put the sediment?

Some studies on sediments in the lake have been made at certain points and at certain times so we have some information about its physical and chemical characteristics, but not a complete characterization of its composition. As far as we know, the surface is made up of very fine sand and silt, which means that it disperses massively through the water when moved, obviously deteriorating the quality of the water.
And where are they going to put this sediment? How will it be transported? To get an idea of the magnitude of sediment that would be removed from the lake, we can divide that 832 million cubic meters by 15 cubic meters, the average load the trucks we have in the country usually carry. That shows us that 55.5 million trips will be needed to transport it. Perhaps there’s another engineering solution that we don’t know about.

Not the Río San Juan

This is just one of this megaproject’s specific challenges, but there are more. Lake Cocibolca’s average height above sea level is 31.1 meters (its lowest this year was 30.7 meters, ironically on June 5, World Environment Day). To achieve the flow rate necessary to raise and lower these huge ships through the locks—211,337 US gallons per second—the lake must have a minimum height of 33 meters and to achieve this damming the Río San Juan has to be considered, which could potentially flood areas of Costa Rica.

Even before President Ortega signed the concession, Wang Jing—not a national authority, but already in his future role as concession holder—was busy trying to calm down the Costa Rican government’s concerns that the Río San Juan would be involved in the canal route.


Comparing Nicaragua with Panama


Because there are those who insist that world trade needs an interoceanic route through Nicaragua—the Panama Canal met that need for most of the last century but is not enough because, even when expanded, only a fifth of world trade’s cargo will be able to pass through it—many environmental comparisons between the Panama Canal and a canal through Nicaragua have arisen in defense of this megaproject.

Let’s assess some of these comparisons. For example, let’s look at the watershed that feeds the Panama Canal. When the US decided to build this canal at the beginning of the 20th century, they were fully aware that its viability depended on the available water guaranteed by that watershed. That’s why they fenced it in, isolated it and preserved its original forest cover, designating a large part of it as a protected area and only allowing certain agricultural activities in a small area. No human activity takes place in over 80% of the watershed that feeds the Chagres River and Lake Gatun with the water that moves the ships through the Panama Canal. This has been so for the last hundred years and is still true today.

Like all lakes in the world, Cocibolca is fed by the rivers and groundwater of its surrounding watershed and directly from rainwater. Basin 69 feeds both of our great lakes (Cocibolca and Xolotlán) and the Río San Juan. With a surface area of approximately 15,444 square miles, it is Nicaragua’s largest watershed and is where most of Nica¬ragua’s population lives.

At just 1,274 square miles, the Panama Canal watershed is 10 times smaller than Cocibolca’s Basin 69, which makes it much more manageable. Ensuring water flows to make Nicaragua’s canal work would presuppose a very large investment for reforestation and also a national consensus from all those living in the watershed to maintain it in peak conditions for the canal’s use. If the canal were to be built, hopefully it would be an incentive to manage our environment better than we currently do.

Lake Gatun, the world’s largest artificial lake at the time it was built, has an area of 164 square miles, compared to Cocibolca’s 3,243.3 square miles. And Cocibolca isn’t calm like Gatun; it has permanent waves that could affect any super-tankers crossing it, even causing ships to spill fuel they’re carrying or using. The lake’s strong currents and waves mean a high probability of accidents, a serious threat that needs to be considered, and contribute to the fact that ships would take three times longer just to cross Cocibolca than to cross the Panama Canal.

It must also be borne in mind that the Panama Canal’s current water requirement is much less than Nicaragua’s canal would be. There’s a relationship between Lake Cocibolca’s water levels and the amount of water it releases to the Caribbean Sea through its “spillway,” i.e. the Río San Juan. With the lake at a height of 32 meters above sea level, its water flows into the river at a little over 132 US gallons per second. If the lake has to maintain a height of 33 meters for the canal to operate, the water flow from the lake to the river will be much greater. The Panama Canal currently releases over 58 million gallons of water into the sea for each ship it raises and lowers crossing the canal; Nicaragua’s canal, with much larger ships, would need more than double that amount—over 132 million US gallons, to move each ship.

The efficiency of a lock system depends on the flow of fresh water, in this case enormous quantities of it, which always goes from the lake to the sea. In this day and age, when everyone is seeking to conserve fresh water, we would be throwing away over 132 million gallons of it with each ship. This waste of drinkable fresh water is another of the absurdities of this project.

Should we use Cocibolca’s waters
for agriculture or for shipping?

We need to use all this background data to assess the fundamental dilemma this project presents to our country: how do we want to use Lake Cocibolca’s water? We know that the only way to ensure that the lake’s watershed produces water and maintains adequate ecological levels to guarantee all the tasks that water is used for—agriculture, fishing, tourism, etc.—is through integrated management. That means seeing to it that all those uses are relatively compatible and that a rational level among them is maintained. With this megaproject, however, we are condemning the future of the Great Lake and its watershed to just one activity: commercial navigation.

In 2009, during the seventh Summit of the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America (ALBA), President Ortega announced that Nicaragua would devote Lake Cocibolca’s waters to food production for the Nicaraguan population and the populations of the ALBA countries. To that end he announced an ambitious plan: the irrigation of 65,000 hectares a year with these waters until, in ten years’ time, they reached 650,000 hectares.

His statement was based on a fortuitous circumstance we have in Nicaragua: most of our country’s irrigable soils are less than 100 meters above sea level and, as the lake is at 32 meters, it is feasible to take lake water the rest of the way by means of channels and offshoots, irrigating the land in a very natural way. This project—of which not even the first step was taken—is mutually exclusive to the canal project. We can produce food or we can watch ships pass by, we can’t do both.

…or even drinking water?

And this choice doesn’t even include thinking about using the lake’s water for human consumption. Law 620, The General Water Law, establishes that Lake Cocibolca “should be considered a natural reservoir for drinking water, as this is of highest national interest and priority for national security.” The only problem is that the possibilities of using the lake for drinking water are inversely proportional to construction of the canal. Just imagine it: excavating a canal at the bottom of the lake and keeping it dredged would so pollute the water with sediment as to make it undrinkable. The population of Juigalpa, a city just northeast of Lake Cocibolca, has recently noticed a positive change in their quality of life because they are now drinking water from the lake and have it available all hours of the day. They are so happy about this that they have already created a lake defense committee in Juigalpa. San Juan del Sur, the upscale beach town due west of the lake also now depends on Cocibolca’s water.

Some claim we could still drink lake water even if there’s a canal. Do Panamanians drink water from Lake Gatun? No, they don’t drink water from where the ships pass; their drinking water is taken from the tributaries before it reaches the lake. Colón and Panama City are supplied from the Lake Gatun watershed, but not from the lake itself. That water is used only for shipping. And in Panama commercial shipping has preferential use.

Nicaraguans’ water and food security

Cocibolca’s water is a vital resource for everyone who lives around the lake, and as said earlier, the majority of Nicaragua’s population lives in this particular watershed, and it in turn generates and ensures a very important part of our country’s water. That’s why the use we make of this watershed and lake is crucial and should be decided by the nation as a whole, and not unilaterally by the government of the day. It’s an issue concerning not only this generation but future generations as well.

It seems to us that Nicaragua’s priority should be to ensure our peoples’ food sovereignty and water security and this is what the canal puts at risk. If it was only 300,000 hectares and not 650,000 it was irrigating, it would still be good to ensure the production of enough food to guarantee our food sovereignty and security. The priority uses of our water should be to ensure food and drinking water, produce energy and attract tourists.

One of the alternative uses of the lake’s water is to sell it as drinking water. A German company recently came to Nicaragua to study a pipeline project that would take water from Lake Cocibolca to El Salvador, where water stress is at the point where its own resources can’t supply enough to ensure water for the Salvadoran people. It’s a feasible project.

All our waters have been signed away

Nicaragua is a signatory of Principle No. 15 of the 1992 Río Declaration on Environment and Development, which establishes that “in order to protect the environment, the precautionary approach should be widely applied by States according to their capabilities. When there are threats of serious and irreversible damage, lack of full scientific certainty shall not be used as a reason for postponing cost-effective measures to prevent environmental degradation.” Ignoring such a precautionary approach, the Nicaraguan government has granted this concession way too hurriedly, and without taking the fragility of Lake Cocibolca’s ecosystem into account. We are certain the canal will cause serious and irreversible damage to the lake.

This concession could also cause serious and irreversible damage to other ecosystems. Virtually all regulations and control over our environmental conditions have been transferred to the investing company, which will decide how our nation’s natural resources will be used. The Framework Agreement establishes that the company has rights over all our water resources, both superficial and subterranean; a complete package without any restrictions. It talks of “extending, expanding, dredging or reducing water bodies,” authorizes transferring water from one watershed to another and gives rights “over water resources subject to protection and conservation.” In short, all our waters have been signed away.

Prestigious international
companies involved

On the day President Ortega signed the Framework Agreement with Wang Jing, the latter, as a sign of the project’s seriousness, presented representatives of a group of international companies that will be responsible for the preliminary studies and for attracting investment. They are unquestionably internationally prestigious companies. The British consultancy firm Environmental Resources Management (ERM) will do the environmental studies. In Nicaragua we know it as having provided small investments to organizations for water purification and projects to mitigate climate change.

We consulted trusted organizations about ERM’s credentials and they gave us perplexing information: it was ERM that did the environmental study for the Keystone XL pipeline project, endorsing a controversial and environmentally questionable project to take highly polluting oil shale from Canada to different points in the southern United States. We’ve been told about press reports that mention conflicts of interest between the company that owns the pipeline project and ERM. In the environmental study, ERM underestimated the carbon footprint produced by this harmful fuel, arguing that it’s “inevitable.” This indicates to us that however prestigious the consulting companies are, and even though they have made some reliable studies, they aren’t exempt from irresponsibility and their reputation doesn’t guarantee that they will handle Nicaragua’s case in the best way.

Another of the companies hired by Wang Jing, in this case to lobby investors, is the US-headquartered McLarty Associates, an international consulting and strategic advisory firm that counts John Negroponte among its top officials.

Will the canal really be built?

The deadlines are excessively optimistic. Official government spokespeople have said the studies will be ready in two years. For a megaproject of this nature, the law establishes that the Ministry of Natural Resources and the Environment (MARENA) should take at least a year to decide whether it gives its approval. Given the optimism about studies only taking two years and our current gaps in information, we suspect that decisions will be taken precipitously, without a reliable basis of essential studies, and permits authorized without the necessary technical support. Such decisions could put the country’s environmental conditions at risk.

There’s also an excess of economic optimism: just because the concession has been signed, a growth of 10.8% in GDP has been announced for 2014 and 15% in 2015, figures that are hard to believe and even harder to reach. In any case, if everything progresses as quickly as projected, some level of implementation on the ground could be expected within three years. But all this remains to be seen…

But what about the indigenous peoples?

Spokespeople for the Superior Council of Private Enterprise (COSEP) expressed concern about the concession because the owners of land that will be expropriated for the megaprojects will be paid for these lands at the tax rate and not market price. They are surely speaking for the large cattle ranchers in the path of the canal. We on the other hand are more concerned about the free and informed prior consent the ethnic communities and indigenous peoples on the autonomous Caribbean side of the country must give before their lands can be used for this project.

When an official spokesperson for the governing party bench in parliament was questioned about the fact that, by law, indigenous lands can’t be transferred [Article 36, point 1 of Nicaragua’s Autonomy Statute states that “The communal lands are indissoluble; they cannot be donated, sold, leased nor taxed, and they are eternal”], he replied that they won’t be transferred because “it’s only a concession”... But this is a concession for 100 years!

Will there really be a canal?

Given that one of the main concerns about this megaproject and its concession are the environmental risks, and that the markets have lately become sensitive to environmental issues, it seems to us that raising the environmental banner could discourage investors. On the other hand, it also seems to us that this Nicaraguan megaproject doesn’t enjoy Mesoamerican consensus. The two forerunners with Chinese investment we’ve seen up to now—a dry canal through Guatemala and another through Honduras—predominantly express competition rather than cooperation or consensus.

There are various indications that it will be difficult to attract investment in a country with Nicaragua’s institutional weakness and limited economy. What is the largest monetary transaction that has taken place in Nicaragua? Three million dollars? Has there been any of $500 million? Could our economy even absorb an investment of US$40 billion?

A challenge to our capabilities

This undertaking overwhelms all our combined national abilities. Will MARENA, even calling on the best national specialists, be able to draw up truly appropriate terms of reference? The Ministry is working on this and has already announced three chapters, but knowing our national capabilities I fear they are inadequate. Nor do we in the environmental organizations have either the technical skills or the resources to make the appropriate studies, which require a lot more than will.

Undoubtedly, the country has some resources that will hopefully be taken into account, such as, for example, all of CIRA’s work gathering historical records and research done on the lake. While they aren’t all as systematic as we would like, they do represent an important body of information. There are certainly some things that the country can offer, but beyond that, I fear we don’t have the national resources to deal with the challenge bearing down on us.

There isn’t the technical experience or capacity in Nicaragua to design or construct a project of this magnitude. Although there’s recently been something of a boom in the Nicaraguan construction industry, even our largest construction companies are very small; they have neither the size nor the skills for project like this.

Our people have also arrived at this moment quite unprepared to participate as the workforce on this project. Assuming we want them to participate in the construction of a project of this nature with more than just shovels and pickaxes, Nicaragua’s education system should have thought ahead to offer a long professional training process.

Our country is out of our hands

For various reasons I find it very hard to believe the canal megaproject, as such, will come to pass. Some people think that the concession itself is what has the highest monetary value today. To have a whole country in your hands and be able to do whatever you want with it in infrastructural terms comes at a high price.

Wang Jing and those he has surrounded himself with have already said they plan to negotiate the different subprojects—themselves also megaprojects—with different investors. It’s likely that he’ll first sell the concession to build a deep-water port in the Caribbean Coast, and with the rights Wang has been granted in the concession, he can negotiate that sale with investors from the US or Colombia or anywhere else in the world he wants. The resources from any country—and any origin—will come into Nicaragua via HKND, the Chinese company he has created.

Spreading the word

We’ve been trying to motivate the reaction of like-minded environmental organizations from different parts of the world. We hope we will be given access to the appropriate authorities but know full well we can’t change the correlation of forces in which this initiative has arisen without the active participation of the whole population.

We’ll dedicate all our abilities, energies and commitment to this cause. We have to spread the message so the population is warned, becomes aware, takes a more belligerent stance and understands that in its current form this project is a threat to their food and water security, in short to their life. We have to spread the word that the only viable route for the interoceanic movement of merchandise is one that doesn’t cross Lake Cocibolca.

This megaproject cannot and should not be considered in terms of cost-benefit when what we’re evaluating has to do with one of life’s basics: water. How can you measure the cost of our population not having secure access to water against the economic benefits the canal may bring? I think this goes beyond just an econometric measurement. Without exaggerating or being melodramatic, it has to do with life.

Víctor M. Campos Cubas, an engineer, is deputy director of the Humboldt Center.

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