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'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, Reuters, El Financiero, Mexico, July 8)
Five people were killed under contested circumstances March 2 during elections in Nicaragua's two Caribbean autonomous regions. The incident occurred shortly before polling stations opened in Tortuguero, in the South Atlantic Autonomous Region (RAAS). The Constitutionalist Liberal Party said the victims—all PLC adherents—were abducted from their homes and killed by unidentified assailants. Some were shot, others hacked with machetes, and at least one tortured before being killed, according to the PLC. Roberto Rivas, president of Nicaragua's Supreme Electoral Council, pointed to leaders of the Yatama (Mother Earth) indigenous party and local radio stations, accusing them of "calls for violence and disorder." When the National Police weighed in on the attacks, they said the victims were all members of a single family who were targeted by a criminal gang known as "Walpapina"—with no political motive mentioned. Nicaragua's ruling Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN) appears to have won a majority of seats on the regional councils of the RAAS and RAAN, followed by Yatama and the PLC. (AFP, TeleSur, March 3; La Prensa, Notimex, March 2)
The Costa Rican government announced Feb. 4 that it is preparing to file a new complaint against Nicaragua with the International Court of Justice at The Hague, accusing Managua of offering Costa Rican maritime territory to international oil companies. Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega has dismissed the charges, stating the area in question clearly falls within the country’s maritime borders, as outlined by an ICJ ruling of November 2012. The announcement marks the third ICJ case between the two nations. Costa Rica filed the first complaint in November 2010, accusing Nicaragua of seizing Isla Portillo (also known as Isla Calero and Harbour Head Island) in the Río San Juan, which forms the common border. In December 2012, Nicaragua filed a grievance charging that Costa Rica's construction of a highway along the San Juan was causing environmental damage. The first claim was upheld by the ICJ in n November 2013, with the court ordering Managua to remove all personnel and equipment from the disputed island. In December 2013, the Court rejected the second claim, finding that “Nicaragua has not...established the existence of a real and imminent risk of irreparable prejudice to the rights invoked" in the highway project.
On Jan. 28 Nicaragua's unicameral National Assembly voted 64-25 with no abstentions to approve a reform package changing 46 of the 202 articles in the country's 1987 Constitution; only three of the Assembly's 92 legislative deputies were absent. The 63 deputies from the governing center-left Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN) all voted for the changes. They were joined by Wilfredo Navarro of the right-wing Constitutionalist Liberal Party (PLC); the other opposition deputies all voted against the reform, and many walked out afterwards in protest. The amendments were initially approved on Dec. 10 but required a second vote to become official.
Pretty hysterical irony. Gawker reported Jan. 24 that New York's newly elected populist Mayor Bill de Blasio delivered a private speech to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) the night before, behind closed doors at Manhattan's Hilton hotel—and that a reporter from Capital New York who managed to infiltrate the event was ejected by security, although not before recording audio in which the mayor can be heard hailing fealty to Israel as "elemental to being an American" because the US has "no greater ally on earth." The New York Times wrote that the affair "led to questions...about the transparency of his young administration, especially given his repeated pledges during last year's campaign to oversee a more open and inclusive City Hall than that of his predecessor, Michael R. Bloomberg." And it's doubly unbecoming given how de Blaz played to a very different crowd on the campaign trail, even citing The Autobiography of Malcom X as his favorite book! (See NYT, Oct. 8)
Construction of a interoceanic canal in Nicaragua has been delayed by a year and will "probably" begin in 2015. The head of the canal authority, Manuel Coronel Kautz, announced Jan. 4 that more time is needed to carry out feasibility studies and choose a route. President Daniel Ortega, who promotes the project as key to Nicaragua's "economic independence," had projected construction to start in May 2014. (BBC News, Jan. 4) The setback comes as Chinese workers brought in by HK Nicaragua Canal Development Investment Co Ltd are swelling the population of Brito, a small town projected as the canal's Pacific terminus, in Rivas department. (IBT, Dec. 12)
The current expansion of the Panama Canal will allow close to 90% of the world's 370-vessel liquified natural gas (LNG) fleet to pass through by 2015, the Panama Canal Authority announced Oct. 30. Currently the canal can accommodate only 8.6% of the global LNG fleet. Voyages to Asia from the US will cost 24% less than longer routes, according to the authority. The US, now the world's top natural gas producer due to extraction from shale rock, is projected to become the third-largest LNG exporter by 2020. Excavation to double the Panama Canal's capacity, which began in 2007, is said to be 64% complete. (Bloomberg, Nov. 4; Platts, Oct. 30; IBT, Sept. 20)