Tags / Canal
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.
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.
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.
The river Punta Gorda is at the center of people’s lives who use it for transport and as a water resource
In the impoverished town of Nueva Guinea, students, journalists or entrepreneurs hope that the canal might trigger economic growth
Statue of Sandino, in Nueva Guinea. Will the youth remain loyal to his legacy?
The sign “God bless the Nicaraguan Canal” was imposed on the shopkeeper by local authorities
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
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.
The Punta Gorda river ends in the Caribbean sea and supports a whole ecosystem that will be endangered should the canal be built
It is hard to imagine that the isolated Punta Gorda will soon be transformed into the canal
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.
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.
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
The slogan "Chinese, get out!" will be greeting the first Chinese workers arriving in Tolesmaida, close to the town of Rivas.
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.
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.
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.
The quiet village of el Palmar will soon be turned upside down with the construction of a 4 lanes highway
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.
The markets of the provincial town of Rivas will soon be flooded with Chinese goods.
In Tolesmaida, villagers have already paid the price of resisting the grand canal: they bear the scars of police beatings during anti-canal marches.
In Rivas, the industrial design student Kenny has built a model of the canal to understand this mega project
Since the middle of the XVI century man started cutting and detouring water in the island to use in agriculture and human use. Now there are more than 200 km of water channels (in a 30 km x 80 km island) that continues to be used for the same pourposes and also to guide trekking enthusiasts go deep inside the island
The water necessities "ordered" two century's ago islanders to open tunnels deep inside the volcanic island.
Many of the camps are along the main roads bordering Syria.