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.

To date, only four chapters of one of the studies' drafts has been independently reviewed. The review panel, assembled by Florida International University, pointed to 15 areas where they believed ERM did not have sufficient data to support its conclusions, referring to one section as "scientifically indefensible." Sudeep Chandra, biology professor at the University of Nevada in Reno and a member of the review panel told news site Circle of Blue that it was one of the "most mismanaged environmental reviews" he had ever read. ERM blamed HKND's aggressive schedule for most of the panel's concerns, and said that additional studies that set to be completed by March will address some of these issues. (Tico Times, Nov, 5)

On Oct. 26, a natonal mobilizaiton against the canal project was called by opponents, but the ruling Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN) pre-emptively sent its own supporters into the streets the day before, occupying key intersections of Managua and raods leading into the capital. On the day of the march, riot police also established roadblocks. There were numerous skirmishes as protesters attempted to comverge on the capital, but the march was effectively suppressed. (Confidencial, La Prensa, Oct. 26)