Colombian military brass held their first meeting with FARC guerilla leaders at peace talks in Havana Aug. 22. The meeting focused on the specifics of implementing a ceasefire and the eventual demobilization of the guerillas. Earlier in the week the guerilla leaders met, also for the first time, a group of war victims to discuss formation of a truth commission for the conflict. But Colombia's Prosecutor General Alejandro Ordoñez sent a letter to President Juan Manuel Santos criticizing creation of the Historical Commission on the Conflict and its Victims, fearing an outcome favoring the FARC’s version of events. (BBC News, Aug. 22; Colombia Reports, Aug. 21)
Nicaragua's Commission for the Development of the Grand Canal on July 7 approved a route for the proposed inter-oceanic canal through the Central American country. The waterway, to be built by Chinese company HKND, is slated to run from the Río Punta Gorda (South Atlantic Autonomous Region) on the Caribbean Coast to Brito (Rivas department) on the Pacific coast—a route more than three times as long as the 48-mile Panama Canal. The Commission said the canal will be operational by 2020, but questions have been raised on how the Hong Kong-based company plans to finance the project, estimated at $50 billion—nearly four times greater than Nicaragua's national economy. The canal is to be privately owned and operated. Ecologists have raised concerns about impacts on Lake Nicaragua (also known as Cocibolca), Central America's largest lake and an important fresh-water source for the country. There are fears the the water used by the canal's locks could seriously deplete the lake. The Río San Juan, which feeds the lake and forms the border with Costa Rica, would be dammed to feed the locks. Costa Rica has formally demanded the right to review environmental impact studies for the project before work begins. The Rama-Kriol indigenous people, whose territories in the Punta Gorda river basin would be impacted, are demanding to be consulted on the project. (La Prensa, Nicaragua, July 17; Tico Times, Costa Rica; July 15; Nicaragua Dispatch, Reuters, El Financiero, Mexico, July 8)
Silvia Carrera, the traditional leader (cacica) of Panama's indigenous Ngöbe-Buglé, announced on March 30 that she would present an appeal the next day to the Supreme Court of Justice concerning land expropriated for the controversial Barro Blanco dam. She said this would be part of a legal action against Law 18. Passed on March 26, 2013, the law allows the Public Services Authority (ASEP) to expropriate, evict and indemnify the population living beside the Tabasará river in the western province of Chiriquí, where the dam is being built. According to Ngöbe-Buglé activists, some 3,000 people will be relocated because of the project, which is now said to be 64% complete.
Construction of a interoceanic canal in Nicaragua has been delayed by a year and will "probably" begin in 2015. The head of the canal authority, Manuel Coronel Kautz, announced Jan. 4 that more time is needed to carry out feasibility studies and choose a route. President Daniel Ortega, who promotes the project as key to Nicaragua's "economic independence," had projected construction to start in May 2014. (BBC News, Jan. 4) The setback comes as Chinese workers brought in by HK Nicaragua Canal Development Investment Co Ltd are swelling the population of Brito, a small town projected as the canal's Pacific terminus, in Rivas department. (IBT, Dec. 12)
The current expansion of the Panama Canal will allow close to 90% of the world's 370-vessel liquified natural gas (LNG) fleet to pass through by 2015, the Panama Canal Authority announced Oct. 30. Currently the canal can accommodate only 8.6% of the global LNG fleet. Voyages to Asia from the US will cost 24% less than longer routes, according to the authority. The US, now the world's top natural gas producer due to extraction from shale rock, is projected to become the third-largest LNG exporter by 2020. Excavation to double the Panama Canal's capacity, which began in 2007, is said to be 64% complete. (Bloomberg, Nov. 4; Platts, Oct. 30; IBT, Sept. 20)
After being detained for a day or two by Panamanian authorities on a request from Interpol, retired US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) station chief Robert Seldon Lady was released on July 19 and placed on a plane bound for the US. In 2009 an Italian court sentenced Lady in absentia to nine years in prison for the Feb. 17, 2003 kidnapping of Osama Moustafa Hassan Nasr, an Egyptian-born Muslim cleric and suspected terrorist also known as Abu Omar, on a street in Milan. Although 22 other US citizens were convicted in the kidnapping case, Italy has only been seeking Lady, who headed the CIA's Milan station; the others received lighter sentences that don't warrant extradition requests under Italian law.
US intelligence agencies have carried out spying operations on telecommunications in at least 14 Latin American countries, according to a series of articles the Brazilian national daily O Globo began publishing on July 7. Based on classified documents leaked by former US intelligence technician Edward Snowden, the articles reported that the main targets were Brazil, Colombia and Mexico. The US also spied "constantly, but with less intensity," on Argentina, Chile, Costa Rica, Ecuador, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru and Venezuela, the newspaper said. Brazil and Colombia, a major US ally, have both officially demanded explanations from the US.
Members of 27 campesino communities in the San Francisco district of Panama's western Veraguas province held a protest on June 7 to demand the cancellation of permits given for the construction of the Lalin 1, Lalin 2 and Lalin 3 hydroelectric projects on the Gatú river. The protesters charged that there were irregularities in the environmental impact studies for the dams. They also said that they hadn't been consulted on the projects and that the companies involved were ignoring an order from San Francisco's mayor to suspend construction. The communities proposed the promotion of cooperatives, ecological tourism and farming based on ecological principles as alternatives to what they consider the government's bad development policies. The demonstration ended without incident, although the protesters complained about the presence of investigative and anti-riot police. Veraguas' governor agreed to start negotiations with the campesinos. (Radio Temblor, Panama, June 7)