This piece was originally published on September 1, 2017 by NCSAG
We have written a detailed response to Amnesty International’s recent report Nicaragua: Danger: Rights for Sale. A link to an article by AI and the report can be found here
The report is largely if not exclusively based on testimony from a minority group of activists opposed to the canal and linked with Nicaragua’s right wing opposition. It presents a completely inaccurate and unrecognisable picture of Nicaragua and it is unfortunate that Amnesty has fallen victim to the agenda of Nicaragua’s marginal right wing opposition, which is currently behind an international campaign intended to destabilise the Nicaraguan government.
Our full response is shown below:-
- Nicaragua is not a country where human rights are systematically abused. There are no political prisoners in Nicaragua. In comparison with its neighbours to the North – Honduras, El Salvador, Belize and Guatemala that are among the world’s seven most violent countries – Nicaragua has a relatively low crime rate, an absence of transnational gangs, and a generally trusted police force that focuses on proactive community policing and crime prevention. According to an article in the Honduran newspaper El Heraldo in August 2016, Nicaragua has a homicide rate of 8 per 100,000 population compared with 57 per 100,000 in Honduras. It has been reported that nearly 80 percent of all homicides in Nicaragua are the result of personal disputes.
- Nicaragua’s current Sandinista government has been the most successful ever in reducing poverty and defending the right of all Nicaraguans to a dignified life. President Daniel Ortega and Vice President Rosario Murillo have an approval rating of over 70% among the population. Since coming to power in 2007, the FSLN Government has transformed the lives of tens of thousands of people suffering chronic and persistent levels of poverty in the second poorest country in the Americas. Between 2009 and 2014, poverty dropped from 42.5% of the population to 29.6% due to economic stability combined with government infrastructure and social programmes.
- The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has praised Nicaragua’s social programmes that address food security and malnutrition, particularly in rural areas, and Nicaragua is one of only 38 countries to reach the UN Millennium Development Goal of cutting malnutrition by half. The Zero Hunger programme has supported over 100,000 women by providing them with pregnant cows and sows, sheep, goats and hens, as well as materials to house these animals and free technical support and training.
it is a great pity that AI’s researchers have relied on information which appears to be gleaned almost exclusively from minority opposition sources in Nicaragua. To deal with a number of the points in the report, as follows:-
- The report states that “Nicaragua has pushed ahead with the approval and design of a mega-project that puts the human rights of hundreds of thousands of people at risk, without consultation and in a process shrouded in silence” That claim is completely false. Even prior to September 2015, the international consultants’ (Environmental Resources Management) impact study found that the government and the HKND company in charge of building the canal had organized consultations involving 5000 people; this included 130 interviews with local experts on environment, economic and social issues, 14 focus groups with specific sectors such as farmers and fishermen, nine workshops involving 475 people from Indigenous communities along the route of the canal and its subsidiary projects and an additional census of 7000 families. There has been very extensive coverage of the project, including academic seminars and media discussion, ever since it was announced. I would also draw your attention to the interview with Domingo Perez, General Secretary of the public sector union UNE, HERE
- The ERM consultants’ 11,000 page Environmental and Social Impact Study (ESIA), which together with associated studies cost well over US$100 million, is publicly available in Spanish and in English.Your report fails to point out that the ESIA concludes that ‘ the project does offer potential benefits to the environment and people of Nicaragua , but only if its business case is robust, the financing to complete construction is secure, and the project is constructed and operated to international standards’. The Nicaraguan government fully accepted all the findings and recommendations and has committed to carrying out a further 26 studies. The results of two of these studies on ‘Preconstruction Archaeological Investigation’ were published on 22 August 2016.
At a meeting in Washington on 22 September 2015, Member of the Canal Commission and Minister Secretary to the Presidency Dr Paul Oquist confirmed that “We [the Canal Commission] and the President [Daniel Ortega] have made the decision that all the recommended studies must be carried out.”
- Amnesty International claim their research team interviewed “at least 190 people” concerned about the effects of the canal. By contrast, the Nicaraguan government and the HKND company have discussed the project with around 6,000 people in the areas along the route of the canal. In that regard, even the local church hierarchy have criticised the way that the right wing opposition have manipulated rural families on the issue of the Canal. But that fact too, Amnesty International omits.
- The Nicaraguan government has made an express commitment to a fair and just resolution of the issue of expropriations. Its 2015 report on the canal, in the context of its National Development Plan, states: “The Nicaraguan government and HKND will guarantee that persons and families on the route of the canal’s construction will have living conditions superior to those they currently have (without the canal). To that end, the Government of Reconciliation and National Unity, via the Project’s Commission, will guarantee not just a fair and transparent indemnification of their properties, via negotiations and direct agreements with each family affected, but furthermore will promote actions to improve their economic conditions, health care, education, housing and employment.”
- Your report systematically excludes any sources giving the government’s point of view, claiming it was unable to access primary sources either from the government itself or from among the canal’s numerous advocates. However, secondary sources abound that categorically contradict Amnesty’s advocacy against the canal. Your report specifically and extensively attacks the Law 840 facilitating the construction of the canal and its sub-projects, but omits a fundamental, crucial detail, while also failing completely to give relevant social and economic context. The crucial detail is that Law 840’s Article 18 specifically states the canal project “cannot require any Government Entity to take any action that violates the political Constitution of the Republic of Nicaragua or the terms of any international treaty of which the State of the Republic of Nicaragua is a party.” Amnesty International completely omits that absolutely crucial part of Law 840 from their report because it makes redundant their advocacy of opposition claims attacking the equity and legality of the Canal’s legal framework.
- Your report states that “Human rights organizations, environmentalists and campesino leaders have reported that the government, far from offering real spaces for dialogue and effective participation mechanisms, has reacted violently, repressing some peaceful marches and harassing community representatives and human rights defenders. It has also called on the state to refrain from acts of harassment and reprisal against human rights defenders”. However, there is no evidence to suggest that the government or security forces have been complicit in attacks against activists. By her own admission, anti-Canal activist Francisca Ramirez has attested to the fact that her group has organised over 90 public demonstrations to express their views. She omits to say that the ‘peaceful’ protesters on the marches she organises go armed with machetes and home-made mortars. They block highways, intimidate ordinary people going about their business, damage property and attack and injure police officers. Francisca Ramirez and her movement are promoted as being non-political and non-violent, when the reality is that they are clearly part of an anti-government campaign openly supported and facilitated by Nicaragua’s political opposition.
- Your report calls on Nicaragua’s security forces to ‘Guarantee and respect the right to freedom of expression and peaceful public protest of those who want to express their opposition to and concerns about the future impacts of the Project’. It is therefore of interest to note that Bianca Jagger , in complete freedom and without any hint of reprisals, was able to travel to Nicaragua and front a public press conference not only condemning the Government but comparing Daniel Ortega to dictator Anastasio Somoza, notorious for killing and torturing his opponents.
- It should be noted that whilst the opposition remains strongly opposed to the proposed canal, opinion polls in Nicaragua show high levels of support for both the government and the canal project. The most recent independent poll conducted by M & R consultores between 25 June and 13 July 2017 indicates a high level of support for the canal, with 72.8 per cent in favour and 27.2 against. However, the media and groups in opposition to both have a strong and consistent interest in anti-government arguments and frequently present very unbalanced reports. It is regrettable that Amnesty has relied heavily on such reports and ‘evidence’ from biased and limited sources, thus giving succour to those who support the United States’ proposed NICA Act, which if passed will trample on the human rights and dignity of millions.
- On page 9 of your report you claim that your researchers gathered statements from ‘a wide variety of people’ suggesting that the people you interviewed represented a cross section of Nicaraguan opinion. This is very misleading in that it is very evident from your report and conclusions that you only spoke to people opposed to the canal. The trade unions also represent civil society; why were they not included in your consultation?
- There are serious discrepancies in the figures regarding the number of people likely to be impacted by the canal: HKND, the government and the ESIA claim a total of 30,000 people. The organisations in so called ‘independent’ studies claim 119,200. In other references you speculate that ‘hundreds of thousands will be affected’ assuming that the impact will be entirely negative, a claim that is grossly misleading.
- Your campaigning action encouraging people to sign a petition to ‘stop evictions’ is also very misleading. As the government canal spokesperson Telemaco Talavera has pointed out ‘We have not expropriated not even a square inch of land.’
In conclusion, as you rightly point out on page 10 of your report at the time of writing, no major work on the canal or its sub-projects was reported to have been initiated. A brief review of publicly available information would have made it clear that the Project is at best stalled. Many of the studies that the ESIA recommended and the government has accepted have not been carried out. Nor is there any indication that an economic feasibility study is being carried out or the financing being available.
We would therefore seriously question why Amnesty has dedicated considerable resources to researching and campaigning in support of a small but very vocal minority in Nicaragua at such a politically sensitive time.