UPDATE: Catch a canal Q&A with Tom, along with the video on Mongabay.com.
This Land is for all of We: A small Rama community in Bangkukuk, Nicaragua,
speaks out about the Grand Canal Project
In June of 2013, over the course of a few days, and with almost no public consultation, one of the largest infrastructure development project in history was ratified by the Nicaraguan government. The contract grants sweeping powers over Nicaraguan territories and a 100 year concession to the Hong Kong Nicaragua Canal Development Investment Commission (HKND).
The mega-project, dubbed The Grand Canal Project, will cut a 178 mile long swath across Nicaragua. It will destroy almost a million acres of rainforest and wetland, heavily dredge and potentially salinate Lake Cocibolca – the largest source of freshwater in Central America - and remove hundreds of indigenous communities in its path, including the village of Bangkukuk, which is featured in this video.
Comprised mostly of indigenous Rama people who have occupied this region for centuries, the canal would force the Rama off their lands, fragment their community, and threaten their livelihoods and way of life.
Proponents of the canal promise thousands of jobs and huge economic development for the country. But in Bangkukuk, a traditional subsistence farming and fishing community, trading their territorial rights and traditional way of life for “economic development” is a poor bargain, especially for a people whose cultural identity is so closely tied to their land. And the promise of jobs seems far-fetched and out of touch with the realities of rural village life. In this video, community member Jose Luis states, “None of us is professional to work in a canal. That is clear.” He continues, “Maybe it could be for wash shoes. For them. Maybe. Because them no going to include we in no canal.”
The indigenous people of the Autonomous Region of the Southern Atlantic coast have legal and territorial rights to their lands.
National and international treaties require that the indigenous people be consulted on any projects in their territory. (Read the Wiki on the UN declaration, as well as the UN's PDF.) In the case of The Grand Canal Project, this did not happen. Construction is slated to begin in December 2014 and the Rama in Bangkukuk are still in the dark about their fate.
Claus Kjaerby, from the Danish organization Forests of the World, (who was in Bangkukuk the same time I was) is racing to pressure international shipping companies – especially the Danish shipping giant, Maersk, the biggest customer of the Panama canal – to ensure that the canal is not “constructed at the expense of indigenous rights or protected environments.”
(You can go to verdensskove.org/en to sign the petition to Maersk and read more about the canal.)
Sadly, if construction on the canal begins and the indigenous communities are forcibly removed from their lands, it will be one more example in a long history of injustices to native peoples around the world. My hope is that the international community will rise to the occasion, hear the pleas of this small community – whose fears are echoed across Nicaragua – and help halt a path from which none of us can return.