The National Council for the Defense of the Land, Lake and Sovereignty, made up mainly of rural residents from the central and south Caribbean areas of Nicaragua, finalized the collection of 6,000 notarized signatures needed to bring the Council’s proposed initiative to repeal Law #840 to the National Assembly. The law in reference concedes the Interoceanic Canal Project to Chinese businessman Wang Jing and permits his consortium to expropriate any property they choose.
On March 15, the Council’s rural leaders and a group of eco-lawyers from the “Popol Na” foundation set up a stand at the main entrance to the Central American University (UCA) to complete the signature collection with all the legal requirements. These six thousand signatures back their repeal initiative, presented before a Parliament dominated by the governing party that originally approved the law in record time without any broad public consultation, even though it delivers up the country for a period of 50 years renewable for 50 more.
“Today we’re asking all our Nicaraguan brothers and sisters to join with us in this struggle against the canal law,” Medardo Mairena, a campesino from Río Punta Gorda, proclaimed over the loudspeaker. “The canal law leaves our properties unprotected and will indirectly affect all Nicaraguans, because they could destroy Lake Cocibolca [Lake of Nicaragua], the only fresh water reserve that we have in Central America. I believe that it’s the duty of all of us to defend it,” he stated.
The National Council began collecting signatures in November of 2015. They succeeded in gathering 14,000 names along the entire route of the proposed canal. Nonetheless, they weren’t able to get all those signatures notarized, explained the environmental lawyer Monica Lopez Baltodano.
“We supplemented the original 14 thousand signatures through this campaign for six thousand more, making sure that the latter signatures satisfied all of the formal legal requirements for presenting to the legislature. That is, we’ve managed to gather a total of 20,000 signatures (up thru March 15) requesting the repeal of Law 840,” stated López Baltodano who has advised the National Council.
The rural leaders affirmed that they chose the Central American University as the final point for their signature-gathering campaign because they wanted to extend their activities to the capital. “We believe that it’s important for our youth to express civically what they think about the canal,” maintained Francisca Ramírez, a farmer from the community of La Fonseca in Nueva Guinea, who also serves as president of the National Council.
A notary confirmed every signature and the eco-lawyers took pictures of each signer’s identity card. A number of university students came up to the table to participate.
Jonathan Quiroz, majoring in English, stated that he “has found out” about the negative implications of the mega-project, whose costs are expected to top 70 billion dollars, although neither the consortium nor the government of Daniel Ortega have revealed who will finance the construction.
“The Canal will have a biological effect on everything in the lake, the ocean (…) Despite the great benefits that it will bring economically, we also need to take into account the disadvantages,” Quiroz declared.
Karina Marin Gomez, architecture student at the UCA, felt that Nicaragua could progress “on its own” and that the Canal would bring benefits, but over a long term. In the short run: “It will destroy many people’s homes in the country, it will destroy natural resources (…) Instead of bringing benefits, it could cause more harm,” she indicated.
According to the National Council, the six thousand notarized signatures that the law stipulates for introducing a citizen initiative, plus the other 14 thousand additional signatures, will be put before the National Assembly in the month of April. They informed us that this activity will include more campesino marches.
This article has been translated from Spanish by Havana Times.