Nicaragua: indigenous groups challenge canal plan

Nicaraguan civil society groups have challenged plans by a Hong Kong company to build an interoceanic canal through the Central American country. Last month, representatives of indigenous and Creole community groups from Nicaragua's South Atlantic Autonomous Region (RAAS, see map) called on the country's Supreme Court to repeal the law allowing the construction of the canal. "The passing means that the state accepts and approves in advance [a project] that will affect peoples of indigenous and of African descent, who had been excluded from the decision-making process," the Nicaragua Center for Human Rights (CINDH) said in a statement. "There has to be a consultation with the indigenous population, because this project will affect the entire population with its own traditions and way of life," said Allen Clair Duncan, head of the communal government of Monkey Point, where a deep-water port is set to be built as part of the canal project.

But Nicaragua's Vice-President Omar Halleslevens Acevedo dismissed the concerns as "hypothetical," arguing that the route of the canal had not yet been decided. A legal challenge is unlikely to go far, a leading Nicaraguan journalist, speaking on condition of anonymity, told the South China Morning Post. "Since Ortega has full control of the judiciary, this is not going anywhere," he said. Nicaraguan police clashed with demonstrators outside the National Assembly in Managua when the law was passed on June 13.  (SCMP, July 4)

The Nicaraguan government and Spanish oil company Repsol are meanwhile negotiating a contract for oil exploration and production in Nicaraguan waters of the Caribbean. A presidential order last month authorized Energy and Mines Minister Emilio Rappaccioli to start negotiations with Repsol Exploración SA. The oil company plans to drill the first well next month about 190 kilometers off El Bluff in Bluefields Bay, a body of water within the RAAN. Repsol "already has permits and authorization" from the regional government for the oil exploration project, Rappaccioli said.

Five offshore and onshore oil exploration projects are currently underway in Nicaragua. US-based MKJ Exploraciones Internacionales SA, a partner of Texas-based Noble Energy, received two contracts in April 2008 from the Nicaraguan government covering oil and gas exploration and production in the Caribbean. Officials have expressed confidence that the consortium will find "commercial quantities" of petroleum in Nicaragua's Caribbean waters, opening the way for production. (EFE, July 15)

Accounts did not mention that the MKJ concession is in waters contested by Nicaragua's maritime border conflict with Colombia.

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