Bianca Jagger attributes Comandante Ortega’s insistence on the disastrous project of an inter-oceanic canal to a “delusion of grandeur” on the part of “a person who wants to remain in power for life.” This delusion won’t allow him to think logically.
Jagger, a native Nicaraguan and international human rights advocate, is based in London where she heads a Foundation that bears her name. She’s convinced that Ortega has made a “mistake in calculation” by ignoring the courage and determination of the rural movement defending their rights as landowners and demanding the repeal of the canal law.
“In Nicaragua, there are powerful people who have sold out and are ready to enter into collusion with the Government; not so with the small farmers,” she affirmed categorically after accompanying Francisca “Chica” Ramirez on the 91st protest march against Law 840.
Jagger, together with Erika Guevara, Director for the Americas of Amnesty International, was in Managua to present the report entitled: “Danger, Rights for Sale: the interoceanic Grand Canal project in Nicaragua and the erosion of human rights.” Among the recommendations of the study, they urge the government of Nicaragua to establish a moratorium on any action related to the canal and its subprojects, and to repeal Law #840.
During her two-week visit, Jagger realized her own on-site investigations in the community of El Tule, part of the San Miguelito municipality in Rio San Juan; in Ometepe on Nicaragua’s Great Lake; and in the community of La Fonseca in Nueva Guinea. Below are some of her conclusions.
Did your visit to the communities along the canal route and the interchange you had with the population of those zones change in any way the conclusions of the Amnesty International report?
No, rather it confirmed everything the report said. The Amnesty International report is very serious, very profound. It was almost a year in the making. For me, as a human rights advocate and as founder and president of the Bianca Jagger Foundation for the Defense of Human Rights, it’s always very important to visit and obtain direct information from the rural residents and indigenous communities; so that they can tell me their stories and the reasons they’re being persecuted. So that’s exactly what I did.
You were in La Fonseca in the department of Nueva Guinea during protest march #91 of the farmers’ movement that is defending their rights as landowners and demanding the repeal of the canal law. What was your impression of that protest?
One thing is clear: I believe that the interoceanic canal in Nicaragua is a great mistake on the part of Daniel Ortega. He’s making a gross miscalculation, because he’s forgotten about the bravery and the determination of the farm population. The farmers love their lands and are prepared to defend them at any price. That’s what frightens me: I hope that the President will realize how important this is and reflect on it.
We don’t want another war In Nicaragua, we don’t want another conflict. As a Nicaraguan who struggled and who defended the revolution, I implore you, Daniel – don’t continue trying to intimidate the rural communities. They love their land, they love nature, they love the natural resources, and they’re ready to continue their struggle and continue their marches. Even if they go after them, even if they make life impossible for them, they’re going to keep doing this.
And that’s why I went – not only to understand their reality, but also to tell them, “You’re not alone, your struggle is just.” I’m not only going to defend them here in Nicaragua and to talk to all the media, the few independent media that exist in this country, but also, I’m going to continue speaking outside of Nicaragua. I’m going to take the issue to the UN Human Rights Commission in Geneva. I’m going to request an audience before the OAS Inter-American Human Rights Commission. I’m going to write. I’m going to work with Amnesty International so that we can mount a campaign for the repeal of Law 840 in order to put an end to the canal.
Is this megaproject on the radar of the international institutions for the defense of human rights like the ones you mentioned, or of the organizations working to preserve the environment?
At the moment, we don’t see that the international community is focused on what’s happening in Nicaragua, it’s no longer part of the important news of the world. But that fact doesn’t mean we won’t be able to change that perspective. I’ve taken up the situation and conditions of the indigenous people in the Amazon region; those from India; problems in very remote places where people were struggling against powerful mining companies because they wanted to save their mountain or their rivers. It’s possible.
The world has discovered that our natural resources are critical, that if we really want to fight against the earth’s warming we have to preserve these natural resources. That’s my main reason for becoming involved – not only because this Nicaragua is my beloved Nicaragua, the lake of my early years, which I crossed and visited with my mother and father when I was a child. It’s not only for my love, but also for the fact that we shouldn’t let the natural resources, that are the most important part of the developing countries, be exploited. We shouldn’t let them be destroyed, as our president Daniel Ortega wants to do.
You were also in El Tule near the coast of the Great Lake, and on Ometepe. “What are the main concerns of the people there?
The lake is the largest source of potable water for Nicaragua and Central America. There are scientists who have carried out very detailed studies on the damage to the lake that this canal would bring. One simple thing stands out for me, and I’m not an expert: the lake is between nine and eleven meters deep and if they want to construct this hare-brained canal, it would have to be dredged until its thirty to thirty-five meters deep. Where are they going to put all that mud? As Salvador Montenegro* told me, they’re going to create something like the great wall of China, or they’re going to create another island out of mud. Either way, they’re going to contaminate the biodiversity. It’s also going to salinize the waters of the lake, given the difference that exists between the lake and the ocean.
So, if people haven’t yet found out about the potential damage, they need to inform themselves about how this canal is going to affect us. In El Tule, on Ometepe, in La Fonseca, they already know the harm it’s going to cause them and they know how important the lake is.
The canal isn’t viable
International investors have looked on this project with curiosity. Some are waiting for the studies to see if it’s worth investing in. But the truth is, four years later there’s no investment, there’s no work underway, there’re no requests out for bids. What level of international credibility does this project have?