Nicaragua: canal project advances —amid repression

Nicaragua's Canal Commission on Nov. 5 approved environmental and social impact assessments for construction of the inter-oceanic canal by Hong Kong company HKND. "We are officially authorizing HKND to now begin the structural design and construction processes," said commission president Manuel Coronel in a ceremony. The impact studies were undertaken by UK-based Environmental Resources Management (ERM) and handed in to the government in September after a year and a half of prerparation. The assessment found that the canal project "will have significant environmental and social impact," but that this can be mitigated if it is developed properly. Project adviser Bill Wild said the approval marked a "giant step" for the project, and assured rapid advancement in the construction. The studies had not yet been approved by the official groundbeaking on the project last December.

Nicaragua: Miskito Coast land conflict turns deadly

At least nine people have been killed and 20 more wounded in an escalating land conflict on Nicaragua's Miskito Coast over the past month. Hundreds of indigenous Miskito residents have fled their ancestral lands, in some cases seeking refuge across the border in Honduras. The crisis in the North Atlantic Autonomous Region (RAAN) pits indigenous Miskito and Mayangna communities against mestizo peasant colonists from Nicaragua's more densely populated west. Miskito political party YATAMA claims the peasants are illegally invading titled indigenous lands, sometimes after plots have been fraudulently sold by corrupt officials. Among the most impacted communities is Tasba Raya Indigenous Territory, where the communal president Constantino Romel was shot and wounded by National Police troops Sept. 16, allegedly after attempting to run a checkpoint. Community leaders deny police claims that officers were fired upon fmor the pick-up truck. Elvin Castro, traditional judge in the indigenous community of Francia Sirpi, has issued an ultimatum giving the colonists one month to to quit the community's territory. "If within one month they do not comply with this, then they will die," he announced. "The colonizers come to destroy the forests that we have cared for such a long time, destroying the watersheds, the plants and the animals... The government has supported the colonizers with firearms so that they can make problems."

Nicaragua: protests as canal construction begins

Christmas Eve saw clashes in Nicaragua between riot police and campesino protesters, with some 40 detained and several injured. Most have been released, but a few are still reported missing and are believed to be in Managua's El Chipote prison. "This is no longer a dictatorship lite, this is a now a full-blown repressive dictatorship that is baring its claws and releasing its dogs," Vilma Nuñez, head of the Nicaraguan Center for Human Rights, told US-based Fusion website. The protests took place at El Tule, Chontales department, and in Rivas, where campesinos tried to block road construction related to the inter-oceanic canal project. Protests were also reported at Nueva Guinea in the South Atlantic Autonomous Region, where campesinos burned tires at roadblocks. The protests began Dec. 22, marring that day's ceremonies marking the start of construction on the mega-project. Laureano Ortega, son of President Daniel Ortega, and canal developer Wang Jing of Hong Kong-based HKND Group, were helicoptered into Rivas for the affair, and apologized to assembled journalists for the disturbances. (, La Prensa, Nicaragua, Dec. 27; Nicaragua Dispatch, Dec. 24)

Latin America: IACHR calls for CIA torture probe

The human rights agency of the Organization of American States (OAS) has joined other international rights groups in calling for the US government to act on a report that the US Senate Intelligence Committee released on Dec. 9 about the use of torture by the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). According to its Dec. 12 press release, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR, or CIDH in Spanish) called for the US "carry out a full investigation in order to clarify the facts, and prosecute and punish all persons within its jurisdiction responsible for acts of torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment; and to provide integral reparations to the victims, including restitution, compensation, rehabilitation, satisfaction and measures of non-repetition, pursuant to international standards." The commission added that "the lack of punishment encourages practices that erode respect for integrity and human dignity."

Nicaragua: opposition mounts to canal scheme

The Nicaraguan government and Hong Kong Nicaragua Canal Development Investment Co. (HKND) will soon publish the "exact and definitive map” of the interoceanic canal, with construction slated for begin by year's end. In televised statement, project spokesperson Telemaco Talavera said details will also follow on feasibility and environmental impact studies, which involved a census of 29,000 people in the catchment area of 1,500 square kilometers. The canal will join the Caribbean Sea with the Pacific Ocean through a 278-kilometer trench, including 105 kilometers through the southern part of Lake Nicaragua, or Cocibolca (Sweetwater) as it is known in the local indigenous language. (TeleSUR, Nov. 12)

Nicaragua: contra-drug series was CIA 'nightmare'

On Sept. 18 the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) released a number of classified articles from its in-house journal, Studies in Intelligence, including an article about "Dark Alliance," a 1996 series in the San Jose Mercury News that linked the CIA-backed Nicaraguan contra rebels to the sale of crack in South Central Los Angeles in the 1980s. Other US media, notably the New York Times, the Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times, harshly criticized the series' author, investigative reporter Gary Webb, noting, and often exaggerating, flaws in his reporting. Webb lost his job at the Mercury News and was never employed by a major newspaper again; he was found dead on Dec. 10, 2004 in an apparent suicide.

Latin America: Gaza attack draws strong protests

An Israeli military offensive on the Palestinian territory of Gaza starting on July 8 has brought widespread condemnation from governments and activists in Latin America. The response to the current military action, which is codenamed "Operation Protective Edge," follows a pattern set during a similar December 2008-January 2009 Israeli offensive in Gaza, "Operation Cast Lead," when leftist groups and people of Arab descent mounted protests and leftist and center-left governments issued statements sharply criticizing the Israeli government.

Nicaragua: inter-oceanic canal route approved

Nicaragua's Commission for the Development of the Grand Canal on July 7 approved a route for the proposed inter-oceanic canal through the Central American country. The waterway, to be built by Chinese company HKND, is slated to run from the Río Punta Gorda (South Atlantic Autonomous Region) on the Caribbean Coast to Brito (Rivas department) on the Pacific coast—a route more than three times as long as the 48-mile Panama Canal. The Commission said the canal will be operational by 2020, but questions have been raised on how the Hong Kong-based company plans to finance the project, estimated at $50 billion—nearly four times greater than Nicaragua's national economy. The canal is to be privately owned and operated. Ecologists have raised concerns about impacts on Lake Nicaragua (also known as Cocibolca), Central America's largest lake and an important fresh-water source for the country. There are fears the the water used by the canal's locks could seriously deplete the lake. The Río San Juan, which feeds the lake and forms the border with Costa Rica, would be dammed to feed the locks. Costa Rica has formally demanded the right to review environmental impact studies for the project before work begins. The Rama-Kriol indigenous people, whose territories in the Punta Gorda river basin would be impacted, are demanding to be consulted on the project. (La Prensa, Nicaragua, July 17; Tico Times, Costa Rica; July 15; Nicaragua Dispatch, ReutersEl Financiero, Mexico, July 8)

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