Amnesty International has spoken out against Nicaragua’s planned $50bn transoceanic canal, saying it will displace tens of thousands of people and put their livelihoods at risk.
It is the first time the human rights campaign group has criticised the controversial project, which is being developed by a Chinese company.
Amnesty slammed what it called Nicaragua’s "reckless handling" of the gigantic civil engineering scheme this week, and said leaders from three affected indigenous and African-descendent Rama-Kriol communities had appealed to the country’s top court on 5 February.
"The fact that Nicaragua is planning to go ahead with a mega project that will destroy the lives of many communities without even properly taking their views into consideration is outrageous," said Erika Guevara, Americas Director at Amnesty International.
"Trading on people’s basic human rights for the sake of money is not only morally questionable but also illegal," Guevara added. "Authorities in Nicaragua must ensure they listen to those who will be most affected by the building of the canal, and take their views into account for decision making."
In the court appeal, indigenous and African-descendant leaders complained of state officials putting pressure on communities to consent to the project, Amnesty said.
Trading on people’s basic human rights for the sake of money is not only morally questionable but also illegal– Erika Guevara, Americas Director at Amnesty International
Amnesty added that communities have not been accurately informed of the canal’s impacts on their livelihoods, territory and culture.
The canal, meant to rival Panama’s, has sparked protests among people living along its proposed route, and criticism from scientists over its environmental impact.
In June 2013 the Nicaraguan government of President Daniel Ortega gave the concession to build and operate the canal to Hong Kong-based HKND Group, owned by Chinese billionaire Wang Jing.
Construction was due to have begun in December 2014, but was delayed to give time for more environmental studies.
Construction is now expected to start in December this year, according to Bloomberg.
Big questions remain. HKND Group has not disclosed where the estimated $50bn will come from.
Not surprisingly, officials at the rival Panama Canal have cast doubt on its viability. This week, Oscar Bazan, an executive vice president at the Panama Canal Authority, claimed that there was insufficient global demand to warrant this new canal, the Journal of Commerce reported.
Bazan claimed further that the real cost of the Nicaragua canal would most likely hit $100bn and that HKND Group would have to charge very high toll rates to recover its investment.
Map shows a proposed route of the canal stretching 275.5km from Caribbean to the Pacific, with around 90km traversing Lake Nicaragua (source: HKND)