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Nicaragua starts survey on $40 billion canal; some residents worried about evictions

August 29, 2014

MANAGUA — A Chinese firm hired to dig a canal across Nicaragua linking the Caribbean and the Pacific said Thursday it has begun assessing property. The firm is analyzing land that will have to expropriated and people who will be displaced.

Work on the $40 billion, 278-kilometer (172 miles) project to rival the Panama Canal is scheduled to begin late this year.

President Daniel Ortega has said the project will create enough work to help alleviate poverty that affects more than half the population of this Central American country.

But environmentalists are worried, in particular about the effects of ship traffic on a lake that is along the path of the planned canal. Lake Cocibolca is the largest freshwater body in Central America.

The company HK Nicaragua Canal Development Investment said in a statement that another firm, Changjiang Institute of Survey, Planning, Design and Research, will carry out the study with the help of the Nicaraguan government and army.

But as The Associated Press reported on Wednesday, the work has already encountered opposition from landowners and residents over the manner in which the surveys are being conducted. According to the AP, “the process is alarming many residents, who say they fear they’ll lose their homes and receive unfair compensation.”

From the story:

… [S]ome property owners have complained that the joint Chinese-Nicaraguan teams are accompanied by police or soldiers, as well as representatives of the attorney general’s office.

“There is intimidation toward the owners of the house. They feel as if they were terrorists,” said Octavio Ortega, had of the non-governmental Foundation of Municipalities of Rivas, the local province. “They haven’t slept for 15 days because they’ve been told to stop any construction on their lands.”

While Canal Commission spokesman Telemaco Talavera told the AP the fears are unwarranted, there is no denying such a massive engineering project will require the expropriation of considerable land, and with little public information available on the actual details of the operation, residents understandably are suspicious – particularly because soldiers are involved. Ortega claims that some residents already have been told they have a month to leave their homes.

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