Envío Digital
Central American University - UCA  
  Number 409 | Agosto 2015



We need to demand annulment of the canal concession and law

This environmental expert shares information and her reflections regarding the twisted road taken so far by the interoceanic canal megaproject.

Desirée Elizondo

On May 31, the Chinese company HKND Group’s general manager in Nicaragua delivered a 14- volume Environmental and Social Impact Assess¬ment (ESIA) on the proposed interoceanic canal to the members of that megaproject’s National Commission. The report was prepared by Environmental Resources Management (ERM), the British firm HKND contracted in late 2013.

As a water and soil specialist, I’ve played various roles in drawing up environmental impact studies over the course of my professional life. In addition to working in the government sector preparing and evaluating such studies, I’ve also conducted them as a private consultant in the field contracted by investment developers. This dual role has given me the ability to see them from different angles. And that in turn has given me a critical and also impassioned view of these assessments and their conclusions. Based on my two different experiences, I want to say straight away that we mustn’t let ourselves be impressed by the sheer weight of the 14 volumes of paper the canal authorities received. ERM won’t be able to defend the process it has followed to do this study to any serious interlocutor.

I’ll explain why the procedures used to analyze the environmental and social impact of traditional projects fall way short in the case of a megaproject like the interoceanic canal, which has no precedents and needs to answer to an institutionality that’s not even developed yet. In so doing, I want to remove any expectations about the contents of the ERM report and instead focus on what is now urgent: demanding the repeal of the canal law, the yoke that has been put around our necks so we don’t have to wear it for 100 years.

A general warning about the efficacy
of environmental impact studies

Before proceeding, I should explain that the discipline that creates the tool for conducting these ESIAs is currently suffering a crisis of legitimacy all over the world, because it has lacked the capacity to learn from experience, modify that tool and make it truly effective. It has become simply an industry, a business.

Environmental impact studies are in crisis because it has become the custom for private investors to contract the studies and for the State to regulate them, which means there are always conflicts of interests. If the State is regulating the studies, it must have a strong institution capable of setting rules and supervising what is done, while the project is usually a private investment with the study paid for by the investor. Defining the border between the responsibilities of the two sides is thus never clear and that has important consequences.

The 40-year world history of
environmental impact legislation

Nicaragua has been doing environmental impact studies for 20 years while the rest of the world has been at it twice as long. The first legal tool to study environmental matters came out of the United States in the 1970s. That legal code was designed not to evaluate the impact of specific projects, but rather to be inserted into a process of appraising major public policies, a kind of umbrella that permitted an assessment of their environmental aspect. This tool had a big impact and all federal institutions were required to comply with it.

Over time, however, its very comprehensiveness, the breadth of its focus to assess all dimensions—social, economic and ecological—of the environment and its purpose of evaluating how a policy will integrally affect development began to be lost as it was slowly adapted to cover only the ecological dimension. In practice, that increasingly vitiated the environmental and social impact studies. We’re now accustomed to reducing them to the ecological aspect and they’re usually done by ecologists, biologists and other natural scientists, abandoning any comprehensive vision and sidelining economic and social aspects such as the impact on communities, people and local development.

The history of Central America’s
environmental impact legislation…

The forces fighting on the border between the public and the private don’t always do so together, and are in fact usually antagonistic, but they have left their mark on the environmental legislation in Nicaragua and the rest of Central America. In the early years, we created our regulations under strong pressure from the private sector, which wanted to restrict our obligatory application of the instruments as much as possible. We had to make an exhaustive list of the projects that would require environmental impact studies and also had to leave a lot of economic activities off that list. Those of us developing the legal environmental guidelines had no idea where the private sector’s interests were coming from and didn’t really know which projects to stick on that list because it’s not just a question of scale. As a result, the initial legislation was quite limited, but at least it existed and stopped the main concessions being given out to exploit natural resources. At that moment our emphasis was on defending our natural resources.

The first Central American country to have environmental legislation was Guatemala, in 1986. And the last was Panama, more than 10 years’ later, an important lapse of time. As the last country to incorporate environmental legislation, Panama has also been the most reticent on all environmental issues, to the point that President Ricardo Martinelli (2009-2014) issued a decree putting environmental impact studies on hold so he could promote what he called investments “of national interest,” such as opening a highway through Darién to link Panama with South America. During that time he also granted a lot of mining concessions and approved hydroelectric projects that sparked very serious social conflicts and confrontations with indigenous peoples, resulting in both deaths and injuries. In sum, Central America has the case of Panama at one extreme and that of Costa Rica at the other regarding environmental norms for ESIAs, with any economic activity in the latter country, from opening a local business to installing a mining project, requiring an environmental evaluation.

…and the short history of
Nicaragua’s environmental legislation

The first environmental regulations approved in our country were precisely on environmental impact, including how to do the studies and how to approve them. That was in 1994. Then came the Environmental Law, followed by a series of standards to regulate contaminants and waste from mining, the dairy industry and other economic activities. All that shaped the regulatory framework for our country’s environmental quality.

I was working in the Ministry of the Environment and Natural Resources (MARENA) at the time and was responsible for approving the first environmental impact studies done in Nicaragua. It was no easy task because the Chamorro government quickly implemented a privatization process, attracting many investors to the country. That triggered tensions and dilemmas that always pitted economic development against environmental protection. We in MARENA, with Jaime Incer Barquero at the head, were the “good guys” while the “bad guys” were in the Ministry of the Economy, which began granting mining and hydrocarbon exploitation concessions without even bothering about where the territories being granted actually were.

The first concession it granted for mining exploitation was a huge territory that included the Bosawás reserve. I still remember a school map of Nicaragua they had in the office with the place granted marked with a pin, but they knew nothing about those territories, who they belonged to, what communities lived there, which were indigenous… They also knew nothing about the ecosystems that would be affected or the natural wealth they were turning over to the mining company. We spent several years like that, wrestling with these dilemmas, wanting to design instruments that could mitigate the impacts that would be caused by this economic force we were struggling to detain.

ESIAs should be mitigation tools

Environmental impact assessments are just that: mitigation tools. They’re done to assess a project, determine its consequences and propose the best possible ways to do it to deal with the damage it will inevitably cause. A serious study has to recognize that damages are going to be caused, and if they can’t be avoided, it has to propose, transparently and ethically, how they’re going to be compensated or repaired.

That is so elemental that it shocked me to hear canal spokesperson Telémaco Talavera tell us that ERM had already delivered the report and that, while they made some recommendations, they affirmed that the project would bring “great environmental benefits.” That declaration in itself confirms that if the interoceanic canal actually ends up being built in our country, it will be done in the worst possible way. It should be very worrying to us that the study was unable even to recognize reality and instead stated that a project of such dimensions will bring us economic benefits.

With so many studies required,
none can be done well

Despite all the nuances in the legislation of the different Central American countries, there is now a worldwide trend that has pushed everyone on all sides to do environmental assessments. Anyone who looks up “regulatory environmental impact studies” on the Internet will find hundreds of manuals. Every organization has drawn one up, everyone knows the procedures and everything in today’s studies is methodologically determined from start to finish.

In Central America, for example, private proponents have opened 55,000 files requesting environmental impact evaluations in the past 10 years, according to statistics gathered in the ministries of the region’s countries. And given that all the international financing institutions require their projects to have environmental impact studies, those requests have to be added to the 55,000 national ones. This context has generated an industry for the preparation of environmental impact studies, and I say that with a degree of embarrassment because I’ve participated in that industry.

In such a context it’s impossible to do things well. One frequently finds the terms of reference for one project copied from another, often without even changing the name of the place where it will be conducted. In no time at all, what began as a tool to evaluate policies for large projects has turned into a mechanism that functions at all levels. All Central American municipalities have their own regulations. The result of all this is a total dearth of capacity among the institutions, huge saturation and a lack of both human and financial resources to conduct these studies in any serious way to make them effective.

We know nothing about the effectiveness of these studies, but knowing how they function in Central America I can state confidently that the system is totally saturated. On top of the environmental quality departments in all the ministries being swamped with requests they can’t attend to, there’s also clear influence peddling around the ESIAs. It is no secret they have a price in each Central American country.

In addition to the saturation and lack of professional ethics, there’s also a lack of public participation, and not because consultation procedures don’t exist. This also happens in Nicaragua. Over the past 20 years MARENA has been publishing daily invitations to public consultation on some environmental impact study for some project in some municipality… How many people read the studies? And if they do, how effective is the document offered for consultation, which isn’t the same as the one delivered to the client? How many people show up? And if they do, how can they participate? What relevance do those consultations have when people aren’t given the information required to discern the impacts the project is going to have on their lives and community? All this shows us that these processes are already so tarnished that they lack effectiveness, and thus legitimacy.

Zero surveillance and control

If the purpose of an ESIA is to mitigate a project’s impacts, we also have to wonder about the scientific rigor in anticipating those impacts. How do we know if the mitigation measures proposed to deal with the predicted impacts are effective when there’s no follow-up or control over what the study warned about? Given my experience on the different sides of the fence I can attest that there’s zero follow-up and control over what happens after the studies are done. Once approved, the investor assumes a series of commitments, but I have yet to see an independent audit that allows us to know if the proposed mitigation measures have been effective.

Mining provides an emblematic example illustrating this lack of follow-up. Nobody in Nicaragua or the rest of Central America can refute the serious environmental and social impacts that mining activity always has. But who’s monitoring these impacts? What state institution? What degree of contamination is mining leaving in the water, in the soil? There’s no place to go to access that information and it’s only when local people start having health crises, when there’s very evident contamination or some grave accident that the issue comes up again and we once more witness the huge impact mining causes on people, communities and the environment, provoking massive human rights violations like those I recently verified in Guatemala’s Petén region.

In Nicaragua the Humboldt Center, a civil society organization, has made a major effort to inform people and awaken their awareness, but it’s not easy to break through the silence surrounding the major economic interests behind the mining corporations. What we’re seeing is that environmental monitoring and control has been privatized in practice. The lack of follow-up and the little that’s known about the efficacy of the mitigation measures approved with the studies isn’t just a problem affecting our region; it’s a global problem.

If EISAs for diverse projects are currently in crisis, as I’ve tried to describe, what must we think about the kind of studies required for a megaproject such as the interoceanic canal, which HKND’s CEO Wang Jing announced as “the largest construction project in the history of humanity”?

Let’s talk about megaprojects

Cambridge University has published a book I recommend to anyone interested in understanding what these enormous infrastructure projects are all about. Megaprojects and Risk: An Anatomy of Ambition was written by Bent Flyvbjerg, a Dane; Nils Bruzelius, a Swede; and Werner Rothengatter, a German, who studied some fifty megaprojects developed around the world in the past 10 years. They show that absolutely all of them have an extremely poor performance record and none has brought the announced benefits. The authors speak very eloquently, saying for example that “the physical and economic scale of today’s megaprojects is such that whole nations may be affected in both the medium and long term by the success or failure of just a single project.” They also warn that “we are confronted with a new political and physical animal,” as they call these multi-million-dollar infrastructures developed in recent years in Europe, Asia and Africa, the ones we know as megaprojects.

I want to summarize some of the conclusions of this study because there’s no reason to think things are going to be any different in Nicaragua. The authors demonstrate that deceit was used to promote and approve all the megaprojects studied and question whether even one of them would have been approved if the real data had been made public from the outset. They conclude that all of them are a public swindle: the respective States have had to bail them out with public resources because in all cases the real costs have been way higher than anticipated and the announced economic revenue way lower, jeopardizing their viability, and in many cases the State has been pressured to rescue them from bankruptcy. Something similar happened with the financial bubble during the real estate crisis in the United States: the collapse comes, the money has to come from somewhere, the investors don’t take responsibility so the State does, and in the end it’s the population that pays.

The authors also demonstrate that the megaprojects always follow a certain pattern: the announcement of what’s going to be done is never what actually is done; the megaproject always suffers large or at least partial modifications to what was originally announced. So in Nicaragua, if what’s being discussed is the construction of an interoceanic canal, Wang Jing may actually end up the owner of a huge mining operation or tourist hotels or could even become a big cattle rancher…

The authors also warn that the huge amounts of money involved could jeopardize a State’s finances for years. And they prove that the social and environmental problems these projects provoke are systematically so poorly calculated and minimized at the outset that these problems, which cannot be hidden and will flower at any moment, have ended up representing costs of at least 5-10% of the cost of the megaproject.

The authors add that, to get political acceptance, all projects are announced with positive regional effects, but they always end up being impossible to measure or are insignificant or even negative. The studies done—whether financial, cost-benefit or ESIAs—are routine, highly questioned and disqualified by the scientific community. Some of the professionals who lied to get them done have even been sued and ended up in court. With all this the world of multimillion-dollar megaprojects has created a discipline of “dishonest numbers.”

A good number of transport megaprojects have been done in the past 10 years in the Nordic countries, which we in Nicaragua have such a good image of as democratic and transparent societies. But some of those projects have been approved with such poorly conducted studies that the countries’ societies are now talking about a democratic deficit in the decision-making process. The field of megaprojects is the only one where the democratic mechanisms those societies are accustomed to don’t work. The authors show that there’s no democracy when it comes to megaprojects, even in countries with such high democratic standards. All this needs to be clear in our minds in order to understand exactly what kind of “animal” we’re dealing with in Nicaragua with the interoceanic canal project.

If respected authors demonstrate that no megaproject has had a predictable development, things don’t happen according to plan, the construction processes face extremely high risks, things happen with very low probabilities and almost never according to the scenarios and plans, and the projects don’t generate the benefits it is said they will, what do we have before us today in Nicaragua? If the authors also demonstrate that no megaproject is a private project, no matter how much private investment is involved, because the States end up footing the bill for the financial disaster in addition to the costs paid by the environment, society and people, what are we facing here in Nicaragua?

The interoceanic canal megaproject is hitting us with a totally new reality. There are no precedents for a work of this magnitude and it’s ridiculous for ERM to speak of the studies being done by specialists “with ten years of experience in this field” when they haven’t even had the canal’s pre-feasibility studies in their hands.

ERM’s study for HKND backfired

With the context now clear, what can and must we say about ERM’s environmental and social impact assessment for HKND? In my personal opinion it backfired, because I don’t believe this study is going to get HKND anywhere. I imagine it thought that if a renowned, prestigious company like ERM did the ESIA it could go to the international financing institutions with strong backing. But the fiasco has been so great and the process so mediocre that if it really wants international financing for this project it’ll have to start all over from zero.

Although I obviously haven’t read the contents of these 14 volumes, which are being kept secret, I can state with total conviction that the ERM study should not be approved by Nicaragua’s environmental authorities if they’re truly looking out for the national interest. ERM isn’t going to be able to defend this study to anyone. Based on three public declarations by ERM’s own people, I can state that this process has violated the most elementary procedures and norms related to the principles of participation and best practices for conducting environmental and social impact studies.

Critical missing elements: They said the lack of a detailed feasibility study hindered their analyses and released a communiqué recommending that various additional studies be done to confirm the essential design criteria before the government of Nicaragua makes its final decision. How can they argue that they didn’t do either hydrological or hydraulic studies when it’s a hydraulic megaproject, which in its essence compromises our most vital and strategic resource, which is water, and will imply a demand of several million cubic meters of water each day to move the ships, affecting the country’s most important hydrological system?

Leaving that out is in itself a reason to start all over, because the starting point for a project such as this is the models and scenarios of water availability, use and future demand for a minimum of 100 years, considering all of its uses, starting with the population’s demand and the demand for agriculture, energy generation, and guaranteeing the entire hydric balance. This should have been the point of departure before moving on to model the other effects and integrating them all holistically. One of the huge aspects of a project such as this canal is that it can’t be studied in a compartmentalized way. The effects and their impact are all interrelated and even cumulative. The economic, legal and institutional, social and environmental aspects are all essential parts of an ESIA. ERM said it did the study without having enough studies and that more need to be done… But how can it say that when it knew exactly what studies did or didn’t exist in Nicaragua, what documentation HKND was or would be providing them and what country they were getting involved in? Are they really so inexpert?

Irresponsible secrecy: Another thing ERM said was that it had delivered the study to the client and it was now the client’s responsibility to decide how to distribute and present it. ERM must know perfectly well that its own code of corporate ethics establishes that once it assumes the commitment to do an ESIA, in a process that must be open and participatory, it is obliged to share all the information it collected. However much the government might impede it, ERM can’t justify having gone into communities to take out information and then say afterward that it won’t share that information with those communities or allow them to debate it.

No responsibility for impact mitigation: The third and most serious thing ERM said is that the measures that need to be taken to mitigate the environmental and social impacts and their costs are transferred to the government. This means that remedying the impact would no longer be the responsibility of HKND or other investors, but rather falls to the government of Nicaragua. This is literally what ERM said: “Many of the mitigation measures identified in this study are beyond HKND’s responsibility to implement (watershed management plan, treatment of waste, application of regulations in protected areas), which requires the involvement of the government of Nicaragua.” How can it argue that a megaproject with an investor who’s prepared to invest US$50 billion isn’t going to be able to make a watershed management plan, if that’s what we do even for smaller projects?

These three ERM declarations indicate that we’re looking at a farce of gigantic proportions.

The spokespeople for both HKND and ERM have repeatedly stated that they’re fulfilling what the government asked of them and with the best international safeguards. Nonetheless, ERM has been so in need of legitimation that in March it organized a conference of international academic experts in a Florida university—in which no member of our Academy of Sciences participated. Those academics shouldn’t have agreed to participate in that ambush, because ERM only had them discuss some biological or ecosystem aspects, sidestepping any reference to the social, institutional and environmental aspects. There was no mention of the major impact this megaproject will have on the communities and the entire country and no talk of evictions, violence, land takeovers, the violation of the rights of indigenous peoples and the right to food security, among many other fundamental social elements involved in a project of this magnitude. It isn’t ethical to talk about biodiversity or how reforestation will take place without taking a comprehensive look at the consequences of such a megaproject, essentially considering human beings.

The World Bank Group’s safeguards

Let’s now bring some international actors out on the stage. No megaproject, much less one in Nicaragua and certainly not a megaproject such as an interoceanic canal can be developed without global actors getting involved. Global institutionality, those institutions beyond our borders such as the international financing institutions, civil society organizations, governments, international research centers and the like all have something to say here, for better or for worse. They can give this project legitimacy or take it away.

In this regard, it’s important to know that in the field of global environmental standards, what currently legitimizes environmental and social impact assessment processes is the World Bank group’s set of environmental and social safeguards. The World Bank is made up of four institutions, two of which are very important: the one that works with institutions and public policies, which is the World Bank we all know, and the International Finance Corporation (IFC), which works with the private sector. In 2010 the World Bank did a truly independent in-depth evaluation of the impact of 20 years of its environmental policies. It concluded that greater integration of the environmental, institutional and social aspects is required because they are inseparable, which coincides with our concerns. That’s why they’ve given importance to variables such as the impact on communities, accountability systems, restitution for damages…

This led to a new code that makes some principles very clear and establishes a hierarchy regarding damage mitigation: first anticipate, then avoid, then minimize and finally compensate. It also establishes a hierarchy of obligations and limits. The developers of a project now have greater obligations and can’t use justifications to evade their responsibility for the damages; they are obliged to repair and compensate for them. If, for example, they deforest 300 hectares, they must restore a forest of the same size and with all its ecosystemic functions, because it’s not just about planting trees.

Today, projects financed by the World Bank and international agencies have to take into account the existing consensus on issues such as the eviction of communities and how human displacements are provoked. That consensus is that involuntary displacements and forced evictions have to be avoided to the max by law. It’s not valid for a State to simply declare something of public utility and throw people out. The Bank now requires—I don’t know with what auditing, but at least it’s written—that physically displacing a community or individuals is the final recourse, the very last one. It’s not enough to tell our peasants: I’m going to buy your land and you’re out of here… The World Bank’s new regulations require that families displaced to new settlements be provided a social fabric and of course communities and housing of the same quality or better than they had before. And the most essential thing is to assure them their agricultural, fishing, wood harvesting or other livelihoods. These new regulations also include 10 crosscutting themes that must be present in any project: stakeholder participation, gender, vulnerability and risk, indigenous peoples, ecosystems as the underpinning of communities, water, biodiversity, climate change, energy and human rights. How many of these themes have you heard the interoceanic canal spokespeople talk about?

How linked might the government and HKND feel to these World Bank regulations? How did Nicaragua get itself into this megaproject without requesting any technical cooperation from anyone? It hasn’t made a single technical cooperation request to prepare a megaproject of this size. It’s surprising to see the total absence of the World Bank and United Nations agencies, which for many years have consistently accompanied the Nicaraguan State’s main strategies and major investments, providing it technical cooperation and preparing important policies and projects.

So who’s paying the piper
and who will be auditing?

Nor has the government or HKND yet announced the participation of any other international actor, although they have said they already have investors from all over the world, without giving any names. We need to know who’ll be financing this megaproject because that’s the main way of knowing what type of oversight it would have. As the old saying puts it, “The one who pays the piper calls the tune.”

If Nicaragua is going to turn to the international banking system, which includes the World Bank’s IFC, or to the signatories of the Ecuador Principles, which now include dozens of financing institutions, there are protocols, rapporteurs, offices and officials to see to it that all procedures are followed and meet the World Bank’s new environmental and social safeguards. If any of the financing were to come from there, these structures would do an audit to guarantee compliance with the safeguards.

There’s also a battery of NGOs in Washington dedicated for years to monitoring World Bank projects and they have criticized ones considered emblematic. Now that we’re in the decade of multimillion-dollar megaprojects and there are no precedents, this new “animal” on the prowl in the world requires global-level monitoring, and I’m quite sure that if the canal actually goes forward, many international stakeholders will diligently keep their eye on it.

Is there anything behind
all this other than deceit?

The authors of the book I recommended above conclude with a question: Could any of these megaprojects have been approved and implemented without a high degree of deceit? Had their consequences been clearly stated, would they have been approved? Deceit is required to pull them off. A dream has to be created, the illusion that the country needs the largest highway in the world or some other huge project to feel there’s progress… What’s happened in the case of the canal through Nicaragua is an almost unimaginable degree of cynicism and absurdity in the way the deceit has been handled.

In the technical-environmental sphere, which is the discussion we’ve heard most, the canal involves precisely my two specialties: soil and water. Canal spokesman Telémaco Talavera is also a colleague because we’re both soil scientists. With all due respect, I can tell him that it’s professionally unacceptable for him to say that the thousands of tons of sediment that are going to be dug up from a canal that will divide the country in two—a 278-kilometer-long and at least 30-meter-deep trench that will have to be drilled with the kind of machinery used in open-pit mining and in which even dynamite will have to be used—can be used to make Nicaragua’s soils more productive and fertile. How can he say that? Most of what’s going to come out of there is pure, hard rock. And he’s even declared that an island will be built with that rocky material. A foreign magazine did the math on the amount of sediment and rock and concluded that the island would be the size of Manhattan. This level of deceit is unprecedented; it’s a farce that goes way beyond the limits, transcending the level of deceit permitted in any project. It has reached such magnitude that no one should take it seriously.

Where do we go from here?

It falls to the Canal Commission to recover some legitimacy for this study in the extensive terms of reference on which the contract was based. It will have to accept that those terms haven’t been met. And hopefully it can reorganize the entire process from the beginning, with legitimacy. This would mean rescuing the lost institutionality, incorporating the government’s own technicians, creating a state monitoring commission and requesting the accompaniment of specialized institutions and national and international specialists. It would mean inviting Nicaraguan experts, qualified professionals, representatives of society to participate on an ongoing basis, accompanying a process that’s going to require continual feedback and isn’t going to take just five to eight months, or even a year. To be certain that such a megaproject is going to become reality, the prior process would have to take several years and involve the participation of half the State, creating a multidisciplinary team of experts who will have to pool their best talents to conduct a truly serious study. They will also have to work throughout with an adaptive management model, one designed and improved through practice, analyzing, learning, changing, improving and changing again until by repeated adaptations the best form of studying the environmental and social risks and predicting the impacts with the greatest certainty and precision is hammered out. This will involve promoting an institutional integration that transcends environmentalism, because a megaproject like this one isn’t an issue only for environmentalists.

Only such a process would adequately feed the decision-making. And the final result would be a study not only focused on time-bound aspects but also on systemic effects, because if it actually happens this project will affect the entire country, its economy, agriculture, water, even the way we’ve understood ourselves. Everything. And for that reason it has to be done with a national and inter-regional focus, with models of growth and change scenarios. Many changes need to be predicted and shaped; a lot of econometry and predictive science is needed to reveal medium- and long-term scenarios. And all that is completely contrary to what has been done and is still being done in Nicaragua. What we’ve seen so far is the worst of the current practice in environmental and social impact assessments, which ignore cumulative effects, interrelations and synergies.

The public officials heading up this process have the obligation to recognize the risks explicitly. They can’t just say this project is terrific and we’re all going to end up happy… They’re obliged to work with worst-case scenarios because they have to safeguard the security of the country and its people and do so transparently and responsibly. And this can only be done by being totally open to the citizenry and the press, involving all stakeholders, all professionals, all academic institutions and the citizenry, promoting a process that produces knowledge and involves efforts, that goes beyond the institutions of the State.

But since we know that none of what should be done actually will be done, what should we professionals or citizens do? In my opinion, we can’t lend ourselves to the game of debating pieces of studies, or agreeing to enter into a tainted process lacking legitimacy. We’re talking about something extremely serious here. And as a professional, my conscience obliges me to state that no environmental impact study will be sufficient as the sole instrument of debate with Nicaraguan society that this megaproject requires.

Many colleagues have already addressed the unconstitutional nature of the canal concession in great depth. The alert has been sounded and it’s of such magnitude that the only thing remaining to us is to join the civic protest already initiated by peasants and community members and demand the total annulling of the canal concession.

Desirée Elizondo is an agronomist and an environmental specialist.

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