The “Promised Land” that Ortega Offered with the Canal

Four years of the Ortega-Wang law, and the persistent rural protests

21 de junio 2017


On June 13, 2013, the National Assembly approved the “Special Law for the Development of Nicaraguan Infrastructure and Transport with respect to the Canal, Free Trade Zones and Associated Infrastructure”, better known as Law 840.

According to the text of the law, the Nicaraguan gross national product would grow 13% in 2016, and the project would generate 50,000 jobs directly tied to the canal construction, plus 500,000 others indirectly related to it.

Four years later, no construction bids have been solicited nor has any land been expropriated or purchased along the canal route, and Chinese magnate Wang Jing has disappeared. The promise of the megaproject isn’t even mentioned in the Presidential speeches. Meanwhile, the rural protest movement continues demanding the repeal of the canal law.

Chronology of the Ortega-Wang Law #840

June 13, 2013: The National Assembly, with its overwhelming majority from the Sandinista Front, approves Law 840 awarding the Chinese company HKND a concession for the construction of an inter-oceanic canal.  In less than 72 hours and without any process of public comment or referendum, the deputies approve a law that concedes the national sovereignty for 100 years to a mysterious Chinese businessman: “Our brother, Wang Jing: here’s the phantom in flesh and blood,” Ortega proclaims, adding: “Our people have been crossing the desert for a long time, searching for the promised land.  And the day has come, the hour has come to reach the Promised Land!”

August 2013: Some months later, independent attorneys, citizens and social organizations file over 30 appeals of unconstitutionality against Law 840. They argue that the canal concession violates the national sovereignty and at least 20 articles of the Nicaraguan Constitution.

December 10, 2013: The Supreme Court rules against the suits claiming unconstitutionality. The justices argue that the legislative process for the formulation and approval of Law 840 was the correct procedure, and that it didn’t violate any articles of the Constitution despite the fact that there was no process of public consultation.

August 2014: Chinese officials from the HKND Company, accompanied by representatives of the Nicaraguan National Police and Army, carry out a census of the properties along the canal route. In Obrajuelo, a small community along the shore of Lake Cocibolca in San Jorge, Rivas, the first protest against the project breaks out. Rocks are thrown at a pick-up truck belonging to HKND, and residents chase off the project officials.

October 2014: The rural protests spread from the department of Rivas to the departments of Nueva Guinea and Rio San Juan.

November 29, 2014: In the face of the threatened land expropriations, farmers form the National Council for the Defense of the Lake, the Land and the National Sovereignty.  

December 2014: The farmers block kilometer 260 of the highway between Managua and San Carlos, at El Tule, as a form of protest against the Canal. The police violently dislodge the demonstrators. Farmers are brutally beaten and arrested.

December 22, 2014: In Brito, on the Pacific coast, Chinese magnate Wang Jing inaugurates “the beginning of the Canal project”, announcing the widening of a six-kilometer dirt road. “This is an important moment for humanity,” Wang declares just before meeting and celebrating with President Daniel Ortega.

September 2015: The British consulting firm Environmental Resources Management (ERM) publishes an executive summary of the environmental and social impact study of the Canal project. The firm concludes that the project has its cost and benefits, but recommends further studies to determine its viability.  The investigators conclude that the design and engineering studies were very preliminary, opening more unknowns for the project. The Nicaraguan Academy of Sciences holds several national and international scientific forums to analyze the project’s consequences, but neither HKND nor the government takes these considerations into account.

October 2015: Wang Jing loses 85% of his fortune in the plunge in value of his company Xinwei, in the Asian stock market.  Doubts grow regarding the financing for the Canal, valued at more than 50 billion dollars.  His fortune shrank from 10.2 billion to 1.1 billion, according to Bloomberg.

April 7, 2016: The rural movement presents a citizen’s initiative to the National Assembly for the repeal of law #840 and the Concession Regulation Agreement.  The legal document was accompanied by 28 thousand notarized signatures gathered from all over the country. Months later, Parliament declares itself incompetent to process the initiative.

June 13, 2017:  On the four-year anniversary of the Ortega-Wang law, the rural movement holds its 89th march in the town of San Miguelito, department of Rio San Juan, demanding the repeal of Law 840.

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Wilfredo Miranda Aburto

Periodista. Destaca en cobertura a violaciones de derechos humanos: desplazamiento forzado, tráfico ilegal en territorios indígenas, medio ambiente, conflictos mineros y ejecuciones extrajudiciales. Premio Iberoamericano Rey de España 2018.