Sunday 28 December 2014

Nicaragua faces questions over new canal after protest deaths, links to China and fears over environmental impact

Police in Nicaragua have denied claims that at least two people were killed during violent protests that followed Monday’s inauguration of work on a proposed 173-mile canal to connect the Atlantic to the Pacific.
The government of President Daniel Ortega staged Monday’s groundbreaking event as it was besieged by questions about the $50bn (£32bn) project’s feasibility and desirability. At least 21 people were hurt and 33 arrested when hundreds of farmers protested, saying the project would force them from their land.
Suspicion has been deepened because of the role given to a little-known Chinese telecoms billionaire, Wang Jing, who, through a process that critics say has been anything but transparent, has been given the job both of building the canal and ancillary projects, including new ports, roads and hotels, and a 50-year concession to run it once it is open, with an option to renew for another 50 years.
According to some estimates, at least 30,000 people would be displaced by the canal. “We’re not going to allow them to kick us out of our property. We’re ready to die before we give our property to the Chinese,” said Orlando Ocampo, who leads an association of farmers. But claims made by activists that two protesters had died in this week’s protests were denied by the director-general of police, Aminta Granera.
The government has made the canal’s construction the centrepiece of its agenda. The Vice-President, Omar Halleslevens, said: “With this great canal, Nicaragua expects to move 5 per cent of the world’s commerce that moves by sea, which will bring great economic benefits and double the GDP.”
Promised reports into the financial feasibility of the canal’s construction and the likely social and environmental impacts have yet to be presented. The latter report is being prepared for the government by the British consultancy Environmental Resources Management (ERM).



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