In June 2013, the current Nicaraguan government handed over the concession of the inter-oceanic canal to the International Hong-Kong Nicaragua Canal Development Investment Co. (HKND Group). The Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega granted the concession for construction and exclusive management of the inter-oceanic canal to HKND Group for a period of 50 years, with the possibility to renew for another 50 years.
Canal Concession – an environmental and social catastrophe
This concession was signed and legalized through Nicaraguan 840 federal law without any mediation with the Nicaraguan civil society. Not only was the public not consulted but the concession violates the political constitution of Nicaragua as it hands over the sovereignty of the country to a company of foreign origin. With this law Nicaragua renounces its sovereign authority over all maritime, terrestrial and air space that will be used for the construction of the canal, which excludes the applicability of any type of Nicaraguan law in this zone.
Furthermore, the concession of the inter-oceanic canal that will link the Atlantic Ocean with the Pacific Ocean was carried out without prior studies of environmental impacts. The environmental damage caused by the construction of the canal in Lake Cociobolca will be catastrophic, as it is the second biggest lake in Latin America and the only one that naturally houses freshwater sharks. Likewise, the construction of the canal will threaten the largest freshwater reserve in Central America and will also put at risk different ecosystems of great diversity, all of which is considered by many environmentalists as the biggest environmental disaster that the region could suffer.
The impact of the inter-oceanic canal construction will not only affect the flora and fauna of the region, but it would also force the displacement of several indigenous communities of the Nicaraguan Caribbean region, as well as a large number of rural communities engaged in subsistence agriculture.
Rise of social movements, a woman at the head of the anti-canal movement
Since 2014, more than 85 marches and protests have been held throughout the country by different movements of the civic population, including environmentalists and rural communities due to environmental damage and the planned confiscation of properties to be carried out by the state for the construction of the inter-oceanic canal.
Francisca Ramirez, popularly known as Doña Chica, has led peasant and indigenous movements against the construction of the inter-oceanic canal in Nicaragua that would displace and deprive these rural populations of their lands.
Doña Chica, a 40-year-old peasant woman, only finished the third grade and does not belong to any political party, but she strongly leads the Council for the Defense of Land, Lake and Sovereignty (Consejo por la defensa de la tierra, lago y soberania in Spanish), which is considered the largest civil society movement in the country that has emerged in the last 15 years.
Doña Chica has become the symbol of the different groups that oppose the construction of the inter-oceanic canal. This stance has caused her and her husband to have been arbitrarily detained repeatedly, harassed and threatened. Their two sons were beaten by members of the Nicaraguan army, all to pressure Doña Chica to abandon the protests against the Nicaraguan government. Doña Chica has gained national and international recognition for directing and putting the face of women in a fight as legitimate as is the opposition to the construction of the inter-oceanic canal.
According to the words of Doña Chica,“something we have talked about among us peasants is that it is better to die fighting than to die begging and outside the lands that belong to us.”
Doña Chica is the visible face of Nicaragua in the defense of democracy and freedom. She represents the Nicaraguan civilian population that opposes the government, dictatorially headed by Daniel Ortega and his wife Rosario Murillo, the vice president of the country.
Doña Chica has achieved a milestone in Nicaraguan history. She has been able to make a difference in the Nicaraguan population through the Council for the Defense of Land, Lake and Sovereignty. She has managed to convince an entire country of the catastrophic environmental, social and economic effects of the construction of the canal, and she has managed to unite the Nicaraguan civil population without any political flag to make a heroic and exemplary opposition to the government.
Thanks to the wonderful efforts and sacrifices of Doña Chica, a population so vulnerable and almost always forgotten as they are, the peasants and indigenous people have taken an interest and become protagonists in the struggle to demand respect for and preservation of the rights that they have in their own territories, to preserve the environment and to defend the sovereignty of Nicaraguan territory.