Imperialist NGOs Behind the Sensationalist Campaign Against Nicaragua’s Interoceanic Canal

tortilla con sal
Hostile environmentalists falsely present Nicaragua’s precarious protected areas as stable natural paradises suddenly threatened by the proposed inter-oceanic canal. In reality, Nicaragua’s environmental reserves have already been under severe threat for many years as the country struggles with insufficient resources to hold back deforestation and protect water resources. The government argues that the canal, far from dramatically worsening the problems facing Nicaragua’s national natural environment, is in fact their most feasible solution.

No one seeking factual information on foreign affairs can take seriously foreign news coverage by the Guardian. On Nicaragua, the latest example of the Guardian’s tendentious and downright incompetent foreign news coverage deals with the country’s proposed interoceanic canal. The report, by the Guardian’s Mark Anderson, uncritically recycles claims by an obscure Danish non governmental organization, Forests of the World. This organization has mounted an international campaign against Nicaragua’s interoceanic canal purportedly to protect Nicaragua’s natural environment and indigenous peoples. But the relevant page on its web site distorts the facts and evades the canal’s fundamental environmental rationale.

Once more, the Guardian has published its report with a map showing a wildly incorrect route for the canal. In itself, this indicates the sloppy, blatantly contemptuous and prejudiced reporting so typical of the Guardian’s foreign news coverage. The route falsely reported by the Guardian shows the canal crossing relatively populated areas and entering the Caribbean just south of the city of Bluefields. In fact, the true proposed canal route runs much further south, entering the Caribbean at Punta Gorda.

As is the case with almost all Western media coverage of the canal, the Guardian article ignores the very serious environmental arguments in its favour. Mark Anderson also repeats the falsehood that the canal is intended to “rival” the Panama canal. In reality, the very viability of the proposed Nicaraguan canal depends on the fact that it will complement – not compete with – the service provided by the Panama canal, as this academic study “Nicaragua Canal : A new corridor to the Far East” explains.

fake route
fake Guardian canal route
genuine route
genuine proposed canal route

Mark Anderson starts his report by promoting the Danish NGO’s campaign against the canal and the campaign’s propaganda claim that  the canal will forcibly displace indigenous people without fair compensation while also destroying Nicaragua’s natural environment. Those propaganda claims are based, in Anderson’s report, on the assertions of Danish environmentalist Claus Kjaerby. Anderson’s report omits that Kjaerby’s sensationalist claims originate from a pre-emptive action by the Consejo de Ancianos of Nicaragua’s caribbean south seeking intervention by the Inter-American Commission for Human Rights even before the final route of the canal was officially announced.

Anderson fails to give the relevant background and context to this legal move, which was coordinated by the Centro de Asistencia Legal a Pueblos Indígenas (CALPI). This development  has not been reported prominently in the Nicaraguan media because it is very much part of the continuing process of local negotiation within Nicaragua in relation to the enormously complicated arrangements to be finalized prior to the canal’s construction. Protests and litigation have been a feature of public life in Nicaragua for decades, aimed at securing concessions of one kind or another from successive governments.

CALPI’s move follows last year’s decision by Nicaragua’s Supreme Court rejecting various claims of inconstitutionality in relation to Law 840 authorizing the construction of the canal and its related projects. The law declares of public interest the area allocated to the canal and provides for compensation payable in full within a period of ten years of any compulsory purchase. No one in Nicaragua can be sure of which communities in Nicaragua’s Caribbean south may be directly affected, because the precise final route of the canal has yet to be topographically fixed. It is completely unfair of Mark Anderson to omit that context and instead merely report vague fears that indigenous people “will be forced to relocate under the current plan, with little support from the government.”

Under Nicaragua’s autonomy legislation, itself a direct initiative of the revolutionary Sandinista government of the 1980s, indigenous peoples categorically have the right to consultation over infrastructure projects of national importance, as happened with the 250Mw Tumarín hydroelectric project, whose long delayed construction should finally start next year. The regional elections earlier this year demonstrated support for Daniel Ortega’s ruling FSLN party in Nicaragua’s caribbean south at around 59%. This reflects majority regional support in principle for the canal, which has been the subject of speculation and debate there since it was formally announced in July 2013. No one reading Anderson’s report in the Guardian would know that important context.

Also completely out of context in terms of the environmental debate within Nicaragua, Anderson reports Kjaerby’s sensationalist claim that the canal will involve major irrevocable destruction of Nicaragua’s wildlife. In fact, the environmental debate around the Canal turns categorically on the government’s argument that without the Canal Nicaragua’s forests are under short-term threat of extinction. The government argues that it does not have the resources to reforest the country, currently losing around 60,000 hectares of forest annually. But with the Canal the government says it will have the resources to be able to guarantee both protection and conservation of the country’s forests and also to engage in the kinds of massive reforestation programs the whole country so desperately needs.

This graphic shows the advance of Nicaragua’s agricultural frontier since 1983 at the expense of the country’s forests in the area of the country’s caribbean south.
deforestation nicaragua

If neither Anderson nor his sources  mention this dramatically urgent dilemma facing the Nicaraguan authorities, it can hardly be out of ignorance. Their omission indicates the heavily biased and grossly unfair nature of their own arguments. In all the discussions around Nicaragua’s interoceanic canal, both the Nicaraguan government and the various private sector companies concerned have stressed that environmental considerations and respect for local people along the canal route are top priorities. Those claims by the government and its private sector partners are borne out by the arguments they make in their presentations of this immense engineering project, for example here and here. They are also backed up by the consultative process carried out subsequent to the official announcement of the Canal’s proposed route in July this year.

Anderson quotes remarks from Nicaraguan government Minister Paul Oquist without clarifying when they were made. This detail is important because, after the announcement in July this year of the general route proposed for the canal, intensive presentations and consultations have indeed taken place with people in areas likely to be affected and continue. Those consultations will form the basis of the precise definition of the canal route through the affected area. So it is completely counterfactual to suggest that local people in the areas where the canal may pass are not being consulted.

Likewise, Anderson mentions the Cerro Silva protected area specifically under threat from the canal. However, if one reads the government’s Natural Resources Ministry management plan for that protected area one learns that, without the canal, it is an area very much under threat in any case. Its main problems are, encroachment by cattle farming, local population growth, erosion and sedimentation affecting water resources, clandestine logging and hunting, poor environmental awareness among the population, and inadequate resources to implement conservation policies.

The report states explicitly, “The institutional and civil capacity of the region to address these macro-problems is very limited. The lack of national capital and external capital interest in sustainable exploitation of the area’s natural resources is self-evident. The regional institutional framework lacks resources to do more than work on planning and the major part of those resources are used in  never-ending reconstruction of institutional administrative infrastructure in a still very weak legal framework that leads to lack of attention to specific cases of, for example, logging, agricultural fires, and contamination from chemical waste.”

But neither Anderson’s tendentious report nor his sensationalist Danish sources have anything to say about this mundane yet pressing reality. They falsely present Nicaragua’s precarious protected areas as stable natural paradises suddenly threatened by the canal when in fact they have already been under severe threat for many years. That threat is one the government argues the interoceanic canal will overcome, providing the Nicaraguan authorities with the resources they need to defend Nicaragua’s rapidly deteriorating natural environment.

After events in Ukraine and Syria this year more than ever foreign affairs reporting in the Guardian should be taken as part of the relentless psychological warfare by Western governments and media and the corporate interests they represent against the interests of the majority world. So it is extremely appropriate that the Guardian’s global development page banner should include a prominent acknowledgement of support from the charitable arm of corporate predator supreme, Bill Gates. The Guardian is little more that a corporate-dominated, pro-NATO propaganda outlet for Western consumers with liberal or progressive leanings.

Mark Anderson’s report on Nicaragua omits the major arguments around the country’s principal environmental  problems. His report is small beer compared, for example, with the Guardian’s odious cover-up and apologetics for  crimes against humanity by NATO country neo-nazi protegés in Ukraine. But the Guardian’s blatantly false and tendentious reporting, in this case supporting Forest of the World’s factitious, self-aggrandizing sensationalist campaign against Nicaragua’s interoceanic canal, is an integral and important component of the West’s global war against the interests of the global majority.