News / 17 oktober 2016

Nicaragua: indigenous consent for canal is false

The supposed consent given by the indigenous population for the controversial canal through their territory is deceptive. Testimonies of the Rama and Kriol population show how the consultation process has been manipulated, and that their consent is invalid.

The Rama are a people consisting of about 3,000 members, living on the Southern Caribbean coast of Nicaragua. Along with the Kriol (afro) communities in their territory they have a recognized territory of more than 4000 square kilometers, where they provide their livelihood by small-scale agriculture and fishing.

Consent of the Rama and Kriol?

On May 3, 2016, the president of the Rama-Kriol Territorial Government (GTR-K) signed an agreement with the Nicaraguan government, in which he allows the use of the Rama and Kriol territory for the canal. The president of the GTR-K, however, does not have the authority to do so. That power lays with the village council of each community, which have to determine their position by organizing village meetings. The signature of the president of the GTR-K is therefore not much more than his individual consent with the canal.

Other Rama and Kriol community leaders have therefore set up a Truth Commission to show that the indigenous population was not consulted properly about the canal. With support from Both ENDS, in August 2016 human rights lawyer Maria Luisa Acosta from partner organisation CALPI travelled through the Rama and Kriol-territory. The testimonies collected show that there is much resistance among the population:

  • "Once we lose our territory, where we have our history, as an Indian people, we lose everything. We would not be like an indigenous group anymore. Without our land we are nothing." - Lorenzo
  • "The animals and the ocean, everything will disappear. We live off the fish, the shrimps, this is how we live. That is why we protest. This is our home. We don't agree with it." - leader from Bangkukuk Taik

 FPIC-principles were ignored

There are international rules that must be followed when planning projects in indigenous territories: FPIC (Free, Prior and Informed Consent). FPIC means that local communities have a say in projects conducted in their own territories, without being put under pressure (free), before the project begins (prior) and on the basis of correct information (informed). These principles have not been taken into account in the plans for the canal:

Unfree consent

Several community leaders were paid ($ 600) to travel with a government delegation that came to inform the communities about the canal project. Their presence should give the delegation more legitimacy. Several community leaders told that government officials attempted to bribe them, so that they would give permission for the canal.

Even worse: two brothers, small farmers who own a piece of land exactly where the canal begins, were waterboarded and beaten up by soldiers. Now, persistent health problems forced them to leave their lands.

Unprior consultation

The Rama and Kriol were not consulted in time: neither before the controversial 'Canal Law' was passed, nor before the government issued the concession for the construction of the canal. Even though it's not too late - the construction of the canal has not yet begun - the population has no confidence that the government will listen to them.

  • "But anyway, I just hope someone will hear us, try to help us. Before the government just lets us disappear, kills us like animals, takes our land. [...] We're gonna fight until the end. [...] We're gonna die, fighting for our rights." - 'Gutri'

Uninformed consent

Government officials have visited each community once or twice to present the canal project. They told the people that the canal would bring development, jobs and projects. They did not specify what kind of development, jobs and projects they meant. Also, potential negative social or environmental effects have not been mentioned and no concrete offers were made to mitigate or compensate for any of these impacts. Not even the community of Bangkukuk Taik was informed of its impending displacement.

Tell the story to the world

By the end of September, several community leaders and human rights lawyer Acosta presented the results of the study at Both ENDS 'partner organisation Popol Na in the capital Managua. As there is no dialogue possible with the Nicaraguan government, the indigenous leaders will submit their case to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, with the support of Popol Na and Both ENDS.

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