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"Ortega is Willing to Hand Over Nicaraguan Territory" For Interoceanic Canal

After the repeal of the interoceanic canal concession, analysts argue that "there is a clear will to continue negotiating this project"

Redacción Confidencial

14 de mayo 2024


Following the revocation of the concession for the failed interoceanic canal in Nicaragua, a "scheme to swindle and steal" is on the horizon, with a high probability that "the Chinese government will be involved," according to Nicaraguan political scientist and activist, Felix Maradiaga, and environmentalist and president of the Fundación del Río, Amaru Ruiz.

On May 8, Ortega ordered the reform of Law 800 regarding the "Legal Framework of the Grand Interoceanic Canal of Nicaragua and the Creation of the Authority of the Grand Interoceanic Canal of Nicaragua," and the repeal of Law 840, resulting in the cancellation of the concession held by Chinese businessman Wang Jing.

According to Maradiaga, the Daniel Ortega-Rosario Murillo regime will keep up the "fantasy" in their public discourse because the megaprojects are part of the government's populist narrative. He adds that the reformed project is not viable "with a State that has no international credibility."

Ruiz urged Nicaraguans and the international community to be "alert" to the regime's movements, given that the project "began with blood on its hands," according to Maradiaga.

Maradiaga and Ruiz spoke with journalist Cindy Regidor for the program Esta Semana, which is broadcast every Sunday on Confidencial's YouTube channel.

Felix, how do you assess the cancellation of the canal concession to Wang Jing? Is this a defeat or failure of the regime, or is it just a move to award it to the next bidder?

It's a continuation of the plot. Years ago we had denounced that Wang Jing was an internationally known swindler. It seemed very strange that the government of Nicaragua would enter into an agreement of that magnitude without China officially backing the agreement. Far from seeing a defeat for the regime, I see a continuation of the swindle.

It's important to point out the courage of organizations such as the Movimiento Campesino [Peasant Movement] and environmental groups who denounced that this was a land theft scheme from the very beginning.

Amaru, thousands of Nicaraguans started protesting in 2013 against this now-repealed law, but also against Law 800, which created the canal's legal framework and which is still in force. How are they responding to the news of the changes?

There's skepticism about what is behind the modification of Law 800. Obviously people are celebrating what we finally achieved, after 11 years of advocacy, of work, of marches. [It showed that] both the peasant movements and the indigenous and Afro-descendant communities were right, and that in the end we got the modification of the framework concession agreement and the repeal of Law 840.

For the communities, for the environmental organizations, for the movements that participated from the beginning, we consider it a clear victory. It's evident that Law 800 is still latent and there is a takeover by the State, through [Ortega's and Murillo's] son [Laureano] and the Army, because in the end, they appointed an Army General, Óscar Mujica, to the board of directors. There is a clear will to continue negotiating this project as an economic opportunity for the regime, to allow it some lifelines to face the coming economic crisis.

Felix, the strongest speculation right now is that this derogation is a way to have the table cleared so that the regime can offer the concession to another foreign investor or even another government like China or Russia. How likely is that to happen?

What we're seeing now is a continuation of the scheme to swindle and steal, but with a high probability of association with criminal states, such as the Chinese government, which has a perverse history of environmental and natural depredation, with Russia in the shadows. Russia does not have the economic resources for such a project. But it should be noted that the [Ortega-Murillo] regime's greatest interest has been in the sub-projects; that is, stealing the land to use it for energy construction projects, hotels, casinos.

The Grand Canal project has no economic viability with a State that has no international credibility in commercial and maritime matters. As such, no serious partner would want to be linked to this project. But China, for example, could be interested, because of its appetite for water, its appetite for land and its appetite for the natural resources of Nicaraguans.

Amaru, the regime has recently handed over large mining concessions to Chinese companies. How do the inhabitants of the areas subject to expropriation under the Canal law view the possibility that the only difference will be that concessions will pass into different hands?

The regime has shut down more than 3,600 organizations, has tried to control the mobilization of peasant resistance, has tried to intimidate, and has allowed the invasion and occupation of indigenous and Afro-descendant communities. These are the exact strategies needed to generate new conditions that will allow them to hand over natural resources, to hand over our territory to these new actors that have aligned themselves ideologically, and who are out to plunder our country's natural resources.

In the particular cases of the concessions granted, they obviously lack transparency and due diligence processes. The regime is favoring the entry of Chinese companies, not only in the mining sector, but also in the trade and fishing sectors. This obviously generates unfair competition, even with micro and small businesses that are established in Nicaragua, and this obviously directly affects the general population in those territories.

Felix, until recently Daniel Ortega and Rosario Murillo were still talking about the construction of the Canal in Nicaragua. In February 2024, Murillo said that the canal "will be a reality." What will be their new discourse to their base about the future of the project that they have been selling for so long without anything materializing?

I think they are going to maintain the fantasy. They are going to maintain the populist discourse, because megaprojects have been part of the discourse of the Ortega-Murillo couple. We see it with the Bolivar refinery, we've seen it with a series of other megaprojects. The dictatorial couple knows that in the collective psyche of a large part of Nicaraguans, this project has somehow been part of a narrative, of a political narrative for more than a century, so I hardly think they are going to abandon it.

The biggest impact is on the credibility of this project for serious investors, and even for China. China is known for being an extractivist world power that does not do anything for free. It pillages the countries it goes to and leaves them in debt. They do not form relationships of solidarity and collaboration, and the Chinese authorities are not stupid. They know that the project is not economically viable and that it is despised by the international community because of the way it was conceived. It is a project that began with blood on its hands, and no maritime, international or commercial entity is going to get involved in this canal.

Amaru, what can Nicaraguans do in the face of Law 800, which threatens land and the environment?

We must be alert to the movements of the regime, not only at the national level, but also at the international level. We continue to be committed to accompany [the people] and monitor the environmental and social situation of the country. For us this is a wake-up call to the entire population that is facing the struggle against the Interoceanic Canal. I think it is important to send a message to the private sector that this regime is unsustainable.

This article was published in Spanish in Confidencial and translated by our staff. To get the most relevant news from our English coverage delivered straight to your inbox, subscribe to The Dispatch.


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Redacción Confidencial

Redacción Confidencial

Confidencial es un diario digital nicaragüense, de formato multimedia, fundado por Carlos F. Chamorro en junio de 1996. Inició como un semanario impreso y hoy es un medio de referencia regional con información, análisis, entrevistas, perfiles, reportajes e investigaciones sobre Nicaragua, informando desde el exilio por la persecución política de la dictadura de Daniel Ortega y Rosario Murillo.