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Nicaragua Canal 07
Nicaragua
By Charlotte Bruneau
31 Jan 2015

Dina holds Polo de Desarolo's only restaurant. A team of 20 Chinese stayed at her home for two months while they were assessing the canal's feasability in the region of the Punta Gorda river.

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Nicaragua Canal 08
Nicaragua
By Charlotte Bruneau
31 Jan 2015

In Polo de Desarolo, Aidak and his brother are keen to see things change: They prefer to become tourist guides rather than campesinos. Although they might be surprised when their quiet world turns upside down.

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Nicaragua Canal 09
Nicaragua
By Charlotte Bruneau
31 Jan 2015

For the children of the Polo de Disarollo village (Punta Gorda) that will be destroyed to make way for the canal, imagining a different future might be easier than for their parents.

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Nicaragua Canal 10
Nicaragua
By Charlotte Bruneau
31 Jan 2015

The river Punta Gorda is at the center of people’s lives who use it for transport and as a water resource

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Nicaragua Canal 11
Nicaragua
By Charlotte Bruneau
31 Jan 2015

In the impoverished town of Nueva Guinea, students, journalists or entrepreneurs hope that the canal might trigger economic growth

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Nicaragua Canal 12
Nicaragua
By Charlotte Bruneau
31 Jan 2015

Statue of Sandino, in Nueva Guinea. Will the youth remain loyal to his legacy?

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Nicaragua Canal 13
Nicaragua
By Charlotte Bruneau
31 Jan 2015

The sign “God bless the Nicaraguan Canal” was imposed on the shopkeeper by local authorities

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Nicaragua Canal 14
Nicaragua
By Charlotte Bruneau
31 Jan 2015

The government has failed to build the long promised road along the Punta Gorda river: travelling by boat remain people's only option for most of the year

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Nicaragua Canal 21
Nicaragua
By Charlotte Bruneau
31 Jan 2015

The journey from Puerto Principe to Polo de Desarollo takes 7 hours by boat. Should the government have maintained the road, it would take 1,5 hour only.

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Nicaragua Canal 16
Nicaragua
By Charlotte Bruneau
31 Jan 2015

The Punta Gorda river ends in the Caribbean sea and supports a whole ecosystem that will be endangered should the canal be built

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Nicaragua Canal 15
Nicaragua
By Charlotte Bruneau
31 Jan 2015

It is hard to imagine that the isolated Punta Gorda will soon be transformed into the canal

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Living along Nicaragua’s Grand Canal
Rivas, Nicaragua
By Charlotte Bruneau
22 Jan 2015

A Chinese firm started construction on the Nicaragua Canal in late 2014 in the city of Rivas.  It is considered the world’s latest mega project and one of the largest engineering projects in history, expected to take five years to complete and to cost around 50 billion dollars, raising controversy and environmental concerns.

To win the Nicaraguan people’s support for the planned canal, the government of President Daniel Ortega launched an impressive propaganda campaign claiming that the canal would bring wealth and power to the nation. However, to make way for the canal, as many as 30,000 people will have to be displaced and dozens of villages erased from the map. Environmentalists worry about the ecological costs as well.

Kenny has finished his design degree a couple of months ago. During his studies, he built a model of the canal because he did not really know what it would look like: the most widespread criticism of the canal project is the lack of information provided by the government.

“The model’s design comes out of my imagination,"  explains Kenny while proudly opening and closing his model canal’s locks. "I tried to make sense of the scarce official information we receive. I invited the village’s children to participate in building the model to help them better understand the canal.”

While he is trying to find a job, he works in a car repair workshop. The workers there explain that, although they would like the canal to create employment opportunities for them, the Chinese are importing machines they don’t have the skills to handle. The government’s promise of employment is empty, they say.

“We have to learn how to better organize and protect ourselves," says one of Kenny's co-workers. "Some of us are already being followed by the government and I am sometimes scared to sleep at home. The government tries to scare families into keeping quiet while a number of foreign journalists were already expelled.”

The idea of having a trans-oceanic canal cutting through Nicaragua is hardly revolutionary. More than 150 years ago, the American businessman Cornelius Vanderbilt had already started digging but later stopped the project for lack of enough investors. Others, like the New Spain colonial administration or France’s Napoleon III considered, and later on abandoned, the idea of a Nicaraguan canal.

Now it is the Chinese’s turn to take on the Grand Canal’s challenge: 278 km long and at times 520 meters wide, the canal will allow for bulk carriers to navigate from the Pacific coast to the Caribbean. President Ortega, the former Marxist guerrilla revolutionary, granted the Chinese businessman Wang Jing’s HK Nicaragua Canal Development Investment Co. Ltd (HKND Group) a 50-year concession.  HKND says that the canal would create an estimated 50,000 jobs, but thousands of them would go to Chinese workers.

At the same time, the local population fears that Rivas might become a Chinese town when the Chinese workers arrive, bringing prostitution and high prices as Chinese goods flood the local markets. Indeed, the canal’s project is accompanied by a number of other projects. For instance, the HKND Group will be allowed to establish a number of so-called zonas francas, or tax free zones.

Such agreements between HKND and the Ortega government led a number of critics to assume that Wang Jing secretly acts on behalf of the Chinese government. While Nicaragua and Taiwan have good diplomatic relations, Beijing and Managua do not. Having private investors coming from the Chinese mainland to Nicaragua seems to be an alternative to diplomatic ties as far as business is concerned.

Worried about their future, people from Rivas have started to voice their discontent. Kenny takes us to his cousin’s uncle, Octavio Ortega, who says that the canal’s project has already been triggering opposition among the region’s campesinos (peasants) for two years.

After the opening ceremony for the construction was held on December 22, 2014, Ortega saw his fears materialize. He has since begun organizing a network of protest leaders throughout the country. For having participated in demonstrations, however, Octavio was violently beaten and jailed for over a week. A growing number of peasants who fought for the Sandinistas during the war have distanced themselves from Daniel Ortega’s government, saying he has betrayed them and accusing him of not being a “real Sandinista” anymore.

“We have to learn how to better organize and protect ourselves," says Octavio. "Some of us are already being followed by the government and I am sometimes scared to sleep at home. The government tries to scare families into keeping quiet while a number of foreign journalists were already expelled.”

Octavio explains how land property functions in Nicaragua, how many properties were redistributed during the Sandinista’s era in the 80’s. But now, the government passed a law that legalizes expropriation without compensating the occupants of a piece of land.

People living in the countryside around Rivas have no other choice than self-sustainability. On his patch of land, Ronal has pigs, cows, chicken, sugar cane and a number of vegetables. Although the canal does not pass through his land directly, he will be expropriated to make room for another “side project.” The vicinity of Lake Nicaragua and its pristine shores will be turned into tourist complexes.

Ronal’s family lives in Tolesmaida, close to Lake Nicaragua. Their village will be erased from the map as well. Villagers there show us the scars of the beatings they suffered in jail. On every house’s wall, they have painted Chinese characters reading “Chinese, get out!” The villagers do not only worry about the impact of mass tourism, but about the lake’s ecosystem as well. More pollution, traffic, noise and salinity will gravely endanger the largest freshwater resource in Latin America. Ronal thinks a lot about the social impact of the Chineses’ arrival. For many villagers, the pending arrival of the Chinese often feels like a modern conquistadora.

“I have heard that they worship dragons and animals,” he says. “The Chinese have a religion and customs so different from our that I wonder  whtether a coexistence will be possible Will they remain among themselves without talking to locals? Will they be violent? Will they try to influence our youths?”

“We are like a battalion,” shouts Ronal’s mother. “The whole family has been in jail and we are not scared to go again.”

We met Don Alejandro’s family in El Palmar, where a four-lane highway will replace the main local road. He has been the region’s guitar manufacturer for decades, and his grandchildren are now taking on the trade. We learned more about the family’s rhythm of life, their farming techniques and the way they see life as campesinos. The family is considering resettling in neighboring Costa Rica in order to remain farmers, should the construction of the road lead to their eviction.

“We barely have the necessary tools and ressources to survive as farmers here," says Don Alejandro. "As you see, everything is done with the machete and we have no tractors and machines to help us. On the other hand, we get to live a quiet life. What will happen to our lifestyle should the road nearby become a highway for trucks?"

The eastern city of Nueva Guinea is located in the eastern side on the Caribbean coast, seven hours by bus from the capital. The canal will be forty kilometers away from their city, and people do not feel directly concerned. Rodriguez is a journalist at Radio Luz, the local Christian radio. He is eager to see the beginning for the construction of the canal. He and his colleagues are tired of their country’s stagnation and they do want to see things change, especially economically.  

“Since the end of the war in Nicaragua, the whole region has stagnated," he says. "People did move back from larger cities to the more isolated regions because it was safe again. But the government didn’t extend regional opportunities as promised. Maybe the canal will change all this."

It takes a three hours hazardous bus ride to reach Puerto Principe from Nueva Guinea. And another six hours on a lancha, a small motorised boat, to arrive at Pollo de Desarollo, a village close to the Caribbean. The village lies on the banks of the Punta Gorda river, that will eventually be enlarged to become the canal. Dina lives with her two sons and daughter in the village’s center, which consists of a baseball field and a few dozen houses. She holds the local “comedor,” a canteen that offers hot meals.

”We didn’t know yet that our village was endangered by the canals construction, this is why I welcomed the Chinese," she says. "They were very polite and paid really well. To be honest, if they come back tomorrow and pay the same amount again, I would still cook for them, despite the canal.”

She always talks with caution, as dozens of policemen currently stay in the village to “protect” a group of doctors carrying out medical surveys in the region. The main Nicaraguan opposition paper, Confidencial, claims that those doctors work hand in hand with the government to find out how much land families own along the canal’s route.

We met one of the doctors at Dina’s place. She tells us that many households refuse the medical visit. Asked about whether the government will have access to their survey, she refused to reply.

Dina also tells us about the visit Chinese engineers paid them some time ago. Around 20 Chinese stayed in her house for two months. They were carrying out ecological and scientific surveys to see whether the canal could pass through the Punta Gorda river. Back then, the Chinese were received quite well.

Aidak, Dina’s oldest son, explains that he doesn’t want to be a campesino in the future: with the canal, tourism will increase and he wishes to become a tourist guide. Dina hopes for good compensation. She is tired of living in an isolated village, and would love to start her life again elsewhere.

Travelling along the canal’s road has definitely raised an important question: Will the canal be built at all? Chamorro, of the Confidencial newspaper, believes that the whole project is a scam. The canal will never be built, but land will be seized at low prices from farmers who will barely benefit from business opportunities reserved for the Nicaraguan economic elite.

This Chinese mega project represents the 74th attempt to built a canal in Nicaragua. It may also be the 74th failure to do so.

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Nicaragua Canal 01
Nicaragua
By Charlotte Bruneau
22 Jan 2015

Octavio Ortega is one of the anti-canal movement's leaders. He recently spent a week in jail and suffered severe injuries for having demonstrated against the canal.

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Nicaragua Canal 02
Nicaragua
By Charlotte Bruneau
22 Jan 2015

Trying to make up for the scarcity of official information about the canal, Ronal and his wife made their own map to understand the canal’s route in the region of Rivas

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Nicaragua Canal 03
Nicaragua
By Charlotte Bruneau
22 Jan 2015

The slogan "Chinese, get out!" will be greeting the first Chinese workers arriving in Tolesmaida, close to the town of Rivas.

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Nicaragua Canal 04
Nicaragua
By Charlotte Bruneau
22 Jan 2015

Kenny works in a car repair workshop in Rivas until he finds a more promising job. Even though he graduated as an industrial designer, he believes that Nicaraguans won't get many jobs on the canal's construction sites: the Chinese are importing machines they don't have the skills to handle.

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Nicaragua Canal 05
Nicaragua
By Charlotte Bruneau
22 Jan 2015

Don Alejandro and his family do not really want their lifestyle to change - but with their land confiscated to build the highway that will transport machines, workers and materials to build the canal, life in El Palmar will become much harder.

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Nicaragua Canal 06
Nicaragua
By Charlotte Bruneau
22 Jan 2015

Lake Nicaragua is Central America's largest freshwater resource. With the canal passing right through the lake, pollution would affect this valuable water resource and endanger its unique biodiversity.

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Nicaragua Canal 20
Nicaragua
By Charlotte Bruneau
22 Jan 2015

The quiet village of el Palmar will soon be turned upside down with the construction of a 4 lanes highway

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Nicaragua Canal 22
Nicaragua
By Charlotte Bruneau
22 Jan 2015

In el Palmar, as in much of Nicaragua, campesinos do not have access to modern tools and machines. They would prefer modernisation reforms of the agrarian sector to the canal.

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Nicaragua Canal 19
Nicaragua
By Charlotte Bruneau
22 Jan 2015

The markets of the provincial town of Rivas will soon be flooded with Chinese goods.

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Nicaragua Canal 18
Nicaragua
By Charlotte Bruneau
22 Jan 2015

In Tolesmaida, villagers have already paid the price of resisting the grand canal: they bear the scars of police beatings during anti-canal marches.

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Nicaragua Canal 17
Nicaragua
By Charlotte Bruneau
22 Jan 2015

In Rivas, the industrial design student Kenny has built a model of the canal to understand this mega project

Bangladesh: Shipyard Workers Face Har...
Dhaka
By zakir hossain chowdhury
29 Dec 2014

Shipyard workers near the Buriganga River in Dhaka face difficult work conditions. According to witnesses, many workers died in accidents related to explosions. The death toll from 2012 to 2014 at ship recycling yards stands at 44, leaving dozens of ship-breaking workers wounded.

Workers break down the rusty, old supertankers, cargo ships and cruisers that are no longer in use to reuse their steel and parts in new ships. There are more than 35 shipyards in Old Dhakas Keraniganj area in the bank of the river Burigonga, where small ships, launches and steamers are built and repaired around the clock.

Ashraful, a 17 year-old worker, has seen several of his colleagues fall victim to explosions, caused by ruptures in gas cylinders. “Our conditions are very bad. Most of us live by eating rice and vegetables. I cannot remember the last time I ate meat.”

About 15,000 people work in extremely dangerous conditions and earn between $4 and $5 as they don't get safety gear from the dock owners and accidents are common. Shipyard workers say make very meager earnings, without proper safety, and surrounded by the smell of asbestos.

Jamal Uddin, 32, has worked in the shipyard since 2012. He is a father of two and lives in his home-district Ranngpur. "I work in this place on a daily basis. There are no days off or holidays, so I can't go visit my family regularly. If I want, I can visit my house once a year for one week but without payment."

Most of the private shipyards use plate-steel, engines, components and machinery from old merchant ships, collected from many ship recycling industries located in Bangladesh. However, frequent accidents and heavy human causalities on inland vessels often raise questions about the quality of ships produced in local shipyards.

A primary school is situated near this yard, and children make their way to their classes using a dangerous path inside the shipyard, some of them using it as a playground, though a dangerous one. Other children, mostly climate refugees from flooded areas of the country, work there collecting scrap metal and used oil to sell in local markets.

Bangladesh is now exporting small and medium-sized ships for the highly competitive European market, building vessels for countries including Denmark, Germany and Finland. Bengali shipbuilding is being compared with giants such as China, Japan and South Korea.

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Brazil's Indigenous Tribes Fight Back...
Guaranatuba
By Francesco Pistilli
21 Mar 2013

The Sateré-Mawé people make up one of Brazil’s largest indigenous populations and one of the few who still live in the immediate vicinity of the Amazon River. Just over ten thousand Mawé live in the Andirá-Marau Indigenous Land Reserve, a nearly 800 thousand hectare area spread out over five municipalities between the Amazonas and Pará states demarcated by the Brazilian government in 1982 and ratified by parliament in 1986.

Prolonged periods of contact with guests from the vast modern society of contemporary Brazil, and the increased modernization of neighboring communities have exposed the Sateré-Mawé to a variety of historical changes, not only cultural, but most importantly economic. Staggering demographic growth in areas surrounding their villages, as well as the illegal logging industry have begun to deplete their sources of wild game and fish, making food shortage a chronic problem.

Kennedy, a 24 year old Mawé, defends his land from illegal timber extraction. He is part of an international project with local partners. This project in the Satere-Mawé area was created to support the local communities and to prevent illegal timber extraction by increasing daily surveillance, mapping forest resources and through a series of initiatives to raise awareness and environmental education. Indigenous and other local forest communities have seen their land seized, their lifestyles destroyed, and their livelihoods stolen.

Holding a machete, Pedro, 33, also patrols the forests. "Illegal logging can be hard to tackle,” he said. “Logging happens deep in the forest, far from the eyes of the world but GPS tracking technology and satellite surveillance means we can find out where loggers are and what kind of timber they want. We are tracking 560 hectares of virgin forest with new technologies, hopefully we will stop illegal logging here.”

The US is the largest market for timber exported from Brazil. While Americans buy massive quantities of wood, often taken illegally from forests, to construct floors, outdoor paths, and piers, local people and activists working to protect the Amazon are being assassinated and kept quiet through intimidation.

Since 1995, however, the Sateré-Mawé have placed a great deal of hope on fair trade initiatives that have allowed them to commercialize their traditional products such as guaraná and other goods from the forest. Although well established as an indigenous enterprise on the international market, revenues from the guaraná trade are yet to counter poverty in their villages on a large scale.

Despite their relative isolation, the Sateré-Mawé’s creation of a global “guaraná culture” has left its mark on the globalized cultures of the world’s urban centers. Their history with the fruit is a long one. The Mawé domesticated the Paulinia cupana, a wild vine from the Sapindaceae family, producing a cultivated shrub. They have mastered its planting and processing, allowing them to elaborate a variety of food and drink products from their crops.

A central ingredient in the Sateré-Mawé’s social economy, their guaraná has become a globally popular product for its properties as a stimulant, intestinal regulator, cardiovascular tonic and aphrodisiac. It is also believed by some, though this hasn’t been confirmed, to fight venereal disease.

The first description of guaraná and its importance for the Sateré-Mawé dates to the year the group first had contact with Europeans. Father João Felipe Betendorf describes, in 1669, that "the Andirazes have in their woods a small fruit they call guaraná, which they dry and then press with the feet and make balls with, and which they praise like Europeans praise their gold, and which, grated with a small rock and drunk mixed with water from a gourd, provides them with so great a strength that when the Indians go hunting they do not feel hungry and in addition it makes one urinate and cures fever, headaches and cramps."
Today, though globalization has brought about opportunities to the indigenous people of the world, it has also impeded their ability to retain traditional cultural practices and indigenous knowledge. One solution to this problem has come in the form of fair trade markets and sustainable tourism.

With the help of international NGOs, the Mawé are developing a guaraná based economy that protects their heritage while fighting the poverty that increases in population and the depletion of natural resources has visited upon them. In this model, through funding by international partners indigenous groups are given opportunities to express the potential of their products worldwide, while welcoming visitors in a sustainable manner at home in their villages.

Seven-thousand indigenous people in 85 villages along the Marau, Miriti, Urupadi, Andira and numerous other tributaries of the Amazon are expected to benefit from the work the Sateré-Mawé community has begun.

The final goal of a series of projects organized by the tribe with the help of international actors is to ensure the sustainable management of natural resources that could lay the groundwork for the sustainable production in their forests and rivers. The Sateré-Mawé hope that this will both put an end to chronic food shortage and fight the illegal logging trade that continues to harm their heritage lands.