As the machinery moves forward and prepares to carve a trough bisecting Nicaragua for a controversial canal, the indigenous Rama have been joined in their opposition by legions of others against the project.
Most recently, indigenous activists were among the 15,000 people who protested the building of the interoceanic canal in Nicaragua, asserting that it will create a human rights and environmental disaster. On Saturday June 13, people from all over the country gathered in the city of Juigalpa, 87 miles east of the capital Managua, to urge repeal of Law 840, known as the Grand Canal Law, and to chastise President Daniel Ortega for his support of the project.
Lead by members of the Council in Defense of the Lake, the Land and National Sovereignty (CDLLNS), the protestors included small farmers, environmental and human rights activists, and members of a Rama indigenous community. All took to the streets of Juigalpa carrying signs declaring “Daniel Sell Out,” “No to the Dictatorship,” “No to Law 40,” and “No to the canal,” among other exhortations.
Construction was launched last December, according to BBC News. The $50 billion canal, financed by Chinese billionaire businessman Wang Jing, would be 90 feet deep, 1,171 feet wide and 170 miles long. It would skirt rainforests and cut through Lake Nicaragua, the largest drinking water reservoir in the region. Many of the farmers and Rama protestors say the building of the canal will force them off their land.
“We are here, we have to do what we have to do, and unless we do it we will lose our lands,” said Francisca Torres, vice-coordinator of the CDLLNS. While the director of the organization noted that his contingent was able to travel to the protest without incident, other participants had problems.
Some protestors later complained of having their cellphone services blocked and official denial of permits for transporting citizens to the event. However, Rama activists and others did make it to Juigalpa on time. According to a CDLLNS press statement, Rama people were marching in the protest.
The Rama communities near the project have been fighting against the project since it was announced in 2013. But just a few weeks before the protest, the communities received more bad news. On June 2, environmentalists and Rama leaders held a press conference claiming that the canal plan threatens to completely remove the Rama village of Bankuku and the nature reserve known as Indian Corn (Indio Maiz).
“They’re saying that they will move the entire Rama community of Bankuku,” said Rupert Allen Clair, a leader of the Rama-Kriol territory. Clair said that the Rama will not know how to survive in other settings. He also pointed out that the 190 residents speak only their native language and live from fishing and agriculture in their village, which lies near the mouth of the Punta Gorda River that opens onto an Atlantic Ocean port.
The Nicaraguan government has yet to respond to the protestors’ demands, and the Inter American Commission on Human Rights has not announced whether they would hold a trial based on the human rights complaints filed by the Rama and others last year. In 2014 attorneys for the Rama had filed the petition because the communities were not being consulted about the project, saying that the lack of prior consultation violates international law.