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Nicaraguan Native Communities Reject “Leasing” their Land for Canal Project

They claim the Rama-Kriol authorities signed a Canal agreement in Managua without consulting them



The communities located in the Rama-Kriol territory in southeastern Nicaragua assure that they weren’t consulted regarding the interoceanic canal project, and don’t approve the position of their communal government’s president, Hector Thomas. Maria Luisa Acosta, director of the Center for Legal Assistance to Indigenous Peoples (CALPI) and Monica Lopez, director of the Popol Na Foundation, took part on a team that last week toured several of the areas populated by indigenous peoples and those of African descent.

On May 3rd, Thomas, president of the Rama-Kriol Territorial Government, signed a consent agreement “approving” the canal construction plans on indigenous land. The document was also signed by canal authority Manuel Coronel Kautz. However, leaders of the Bangkukuk taik, Monkey Point and Wiring Cay communities, maintain that they weren’t consulted regarding the agreement. They believe that Thomas’ decision to sign it went beyond his authority.

“People here only found out what happened on May 3rd when they saw it on the news. They not only disagreed, but had no idea that the signing was going to take place,” Acosta stated on the independent television news show Esta Noche.

Nine communities make up the Rama-Kriol Territorial Government: Sumu Kaat, Tiktik Kaanu, Rama Cay, Cay Wiring, Monkey Point, Bangkukuk, Corn River, Indian River and Graytown.

On their recent trip, the lawyers noted that the communities are misinformed about the possible effects of the canal construction. According to the document published in the official Gazette on May 9th, 263 square kilometers, approximately 3% of the entire territory, will be used. The second clause states that a contract must be established to lease the land indefinitely.

Members of native communities who claim they were not consulted about the leasing of their lands to the Canal consortium. Members of native communities who claim they were not consulted about the leasing of their lands to the Canal consortium.

“The concept of leasing is understood as a temporary measure, but they speak of an indefinite or perpetual lease. This is illegal, because according to the civil code and the municipalities’ law, the maximum time that property can be leased in this country is for 10 years. So what we are talking about is a veiled expropriation,” explained the director of CALPI.

The agreement states an “open, prior and informed consent consultation,” was carried out as requested by community leaders in January. However, according to the community, that consultation never took place, and false information about the real plans was circulated.

“They assured us that the community was not going to be moved; however the environmental impact study notes that Bangkukuk would have to be relocated. It’s outrageous that the people of these communities have not been openly told that they would be removed. Having complete information is a sine qua non condition for an open and informed prior consultation,” said Acosta.

According to Lopez, who has stood out as legal advisor for the peasant anti-canal movement, the agreement that the signatories have proclaimed as a legal document is part of a series of illegalities on the part of the canal project.

“They have set a disastrous precedent. The fact that the agreement expressly states that it has the force of law, when the officials who signed the document do not have legislative power, is only one among many things that are happening in an astonishing and inexplicable way,” noted Lopez.

The Popul Na Foundation director added that the government needs to reconsider its plans, because the communities located along the canal strip, grouped in the Council for the Defense of the Land, Lake and Sovereignty, say they will not be moved off their properties.

“Ultimately, the people of the southern Caribbean coast who signed these documents are mistaken, and the government is misguided in facilitating this project without consulting the people in the communities. It’s about time they understand that this is never going to end well. This project will not progress, and from the moment they turned their back on the people, they betrayed the social contract,” said Lopez.


This article has been translated from Spanish by Havana Times

Read the original version here