Anti-canal leader arrested in Nicaragua

Francisca Ramírez Torres, leader of the movement against the planned Nicaraguan canal, was arrested by National Police agents  June 25 in a raid on her village in the South Caribbean Coast Autonomous Region. Ramírez was leading a workshop at her village of La Fonseca, Nueva Guinea municipality, teaching local residents to build fuel-efficient wood-burning ovens. She was detained along with her husband, four other local campesinos and four foreigners who were participating in the workshop, mostly Mexicans. The event was part of a Mesoamerican Caravan for  Good Life, organized to support local communities opposed to the canal project. No formal charges have yet been announced. "We don't know what argument the police used to detain them and take them by force to the state," attorney López Baltodano told the AP. President Daniel Ortega said the detained had been "handling explosives." On April 22, Ramírez and her National Council for the Defense of Our Land, Lake and Sovereignty led a march of thousands of campesinos against the canal project in Nueva Guinea. (Caravana Mesoamericana, La Prensa, La PrensaConfidencialAP, June 25; Havana Times, April 25; La Prensa, April 23; Havana Times, March 12)

Nicaragua: campesino militant 'assassinated'

In a hotly contested incident in Nicaragua's Matagalpa department, army troops on May 2 killed "Comandante Invisible," a local campesino leader who had just announced he was taking up arms against the government. The army's Sixth Command said the "delinquent" was killed in a confrontation with troops on a patrol at the community of Palancito, Esquipulas municipality. But family members of Enrique Aguinaga Castrillo said he was "assassinated" in a raid on his nephew's home, and was unarmed when he was gunned down by soliders in front of young children. He was apparently still alive when taken away by the troops, although seriously wounded, and when his body was returned to the family it showed signs of torture. Family members also said the soliders ransacked their home, stole food and cash, and forced the nephew's wife at gunpoint to cook a meal of chicken soup and rice for them. Three days before the incident, Aguinaga had issued a communique under name "Comandante Invisible," saying he was taking up arms with a band of followers, calling the government of President Daniel Ortega "unconstitutional" and demanding new elections. Three co-signatories to the statement, who also used noms de guerre, remain at large and unidentified. The army says the operation was called as part of a crackdown on cattle-rustling in the area, not in response to the declared insurgency. (La Prensa, May 7; La Prensa, May 5; La Prensa, May 4; La Prensa, May 3; La Prensa, Nicaragua, May 2)

Setbacks for Nicaragua canal project

The International Court of Justice on on Dec. 16 recognized Costa Rica's sovereignty over a 2.5-square-kilometer disputed territory on the border with Nicaragua, one of the main claims fought over by the two countries at The Hague-based court. "The sovereignty over the disputed territory belongs to Costa Rica," Justice Ronny Abraham stated. The ruling found that an artificial canal opened by Nicaragua in 2010 through Isla Calero, also called Isla Portillos or Harbour Head Island, was within Costa Rican territory and not part of the common border between the two countries. Justices also unanimously found that Nicaragua violated Costa Rican territory by invading Isla Calero with military personnel, by dredging canals in Costa Rican territory, and by violating Costa Rica’s navigation rights on the Río San Juan. Nicaragua was ordered to compensate Costa Rica for damage caused to its territory.

Nicaragua: canal project advances —amid repression

Nicaragua's Canal Commission on Nov. 5 approved environmental and social impact assessments for construction of the inter-oceanic canal by Hong Kong company HKND. "We are officially authorizing HKND to now begin the structural design and construction processes," said commission president Manuel Coronel in a ceremony. The impact studies were undertaken by UK-based Environmental Resources Management (ERM) and handed in to the government in September after a year and a half of prerparation. The assessment found that the canal project "will have significant environmental and social impact," but that this can be mitigated if it is developed properly. Project adviser Bill Wild said the approval marked a "giant step" for the project, and assured rapid advancement in the construction. The studies had not yet been approved by the official groundbeaking on the project last December.

Nicaragua: Miskito Coast land conflict turns deadly

At least nine people have been killed and 20 more wounded in an escalating land conflict on Nicaragua's Miskito Coast over the past month. Hundreds of indigenous Miskito residents have fled their ancestral lands, in some cases seeking refuge across the border in Honduras. The crisis in the North Atlantic Autonomous Region (RAAN) pits indigenous Miskito and Mayangna communities against mestizo peasant colonists from Nicaragua's more densely populated west. Miskito political party YATAMA claims the peasants are illegally invading titled indigenous lands, sometimes after plots have been fraudulently sold by corrupt officials. Among the most impacted communities is Tasba Raya Indigenous Territory, where the communal president Constantino Romel was shot and wounded by National Police troops Sept. 16, allegedly after attempting to run a checkpoint. Community leaders deny police claims that officers were fired upon fmor the pick-up truck. Elvin Castro, traditional judge in the indigenous community of Francia Sirpi, has issued an ultimatum giving the colonists one month to to quit the community's territory. "If within one month they do not comply with this, then they will die," he announced. "The colonizers come to destroy the forests that we have cared for such a long time, destroying the watersheds, the plants and the animals... The government has supported the colonizers with firearms so that they can make problems."

Nicaragua: protests as canal construction begins

Christmas Eve saw clashes in Nicaragua between riot police and campesino protesters, with some 40 detained and several injured. Most have been released, but a few are still reported missing and are believed to be in Managua's El Chipote prison. "This is no longer a dictatorship lite, this is a now a full-blown repressive dictatorship that is baring its claws and releasing its dogs," Vilma Nuñez, head of the Nicaraguan Center for Human Rights, told US-based Fusion website. The protests took place at El Tule, Chontales department, and in Rivas, where campesinos tried to block road construction related to the inter-oceanic canal project. Protests were also reported at Nueva Guinea in the South Atlantic Autonomous Region, where campesinos burned tires at roadblocks. The protests began Dec. 22, marring that day's ceremonies marking the start of construction on the mega-project. Laureano Ortega, son of President Daniel Ortega, and canal developer Wang Jing of Hong Kong-based HKND Group, were helicoptered into Rivas for the affair, and apologized to assembled journalists for the disturbances. (, La Prensa, Nicaragua, Dec. 27; Nicaragua Dispatch, Dec. 24)

Latin America: IACHR calls for CIA torture probe

The human rights agency of the Organization of American States (OAS) has joined other international rights groups in calling for the US government to act on a report that the US Senate Intelligence Committee released on Dec. 9 about the use of torture by the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). According to its Dec. 12 press release, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR, or CIDH in Spanish) called for the US "carry out a full investigation in order to clarify the facts, and prosecute and punish all persons within its jurisdiction responsible for acts of torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment; and to provide integral reparations to the victims, including restitution, compensation, rehabilitation, satisfaction and measures of non-repetition, pursuant to international standards." The commission added that "the lack of punishment encourages practices that erode respect for integrity and human dignity."

Nicaragua: opposition mounts to canal scheme

The Nicaraguan government and Hong Kong Nicaragua Canal Development Investment Co. (HKND) will soon publish the "exact and definitive map” of the interoceanic canal, with construction slated for begin by year's end. In televised statement, project spokesperson Telemaco Talavera said details will also follow on feasibility and environmental impact studies, which involved a census of 29,000 people in the catchment area of 1,500 square kilometers. The canal will join the Caribbean Sea with the Pacific Ocean through a 278-kilometer trench, including 105 kilometers through the southern part of Lake Nicaragua, or Cocibolca (Sweetwater) as it is known in the local indigenous language. (TeleSUR, Nov. 12)