Nicaragua’s Canal, shallow science and phony environmentalism

Tortilla con Sal, December 6th 2014

Western media coverage of Nicaragua’s interoceanic canal has been almost uniformly hostile and often woefully ill-informed since the project was announced in 2013. The most recent attacks have focused on the alleged disaster the canal represents for Nicaragua’s natural environment, mixed in with largely gratuitous attacks on the Nicaraguan government and the Canal’s Chinese main contractor, HKND. A casual reader could be forgiven for concluding that the project is hopelessly misconceived and highly likely to ruin an untouched natural environment.

For example, the Smithsonian magazine has published critical articles by Matthew Shaer and Rachel Nuwer very similar to other reports, for example by James Griffith in the Global Post or in the mainstream corporate media. These consistently inaccurate reports attack the Canal based on superficially authoritative, allegedly science-based arguments. One group, the Association for Tropical Biology and Conservation has produced a resolution against the Canal, while other scientists have published criticism in environmentalist publications, for example in Nature magazine.

Some specific criticisms by environmentalists have already been accepted and incorporated into the Canal’s still developing planning stages. But the wider general arguments are often confused, flawed on matters of fact, generally unscientific and blatantly biased in what they argue and almost without exception downright dishonest in terms of what they omit. The article by Matthew Shaer is a good place to start.

Nicaragua’s Canal, shallow science and phony environmentalism | nacional y región centroamericana.

This is sort of “the other side of the story” of the planned Interoceanic Canal, an article by Tortilla con Sal, who is a writer using a pseudonym. He or she writes on a Sandinista propaganda website,, which features articles on the latest messages from first compañera Rosario Murillo, letters written by Daniel Ortega to Russian president Vladimir Putin and vice versa, and images of the Daniel and Rosario along with Blanca and Sandino, early Nicaraguan revolutionaries.

blanca_sandinorosario_danielPutting that aside for the moment, when we look at the argument being made in the linked article, it is good to hear the other side of the story, as most reporting by western media has been negative about the canal; its environmental problems, taking of poor peasant’s land, lack of transparency, who will be funding construction, etc.

The facts are that no environmental impact reports have been released. The writer says it is because they have not be completed. Also, that the construction set to begin this month (December 2014) is not to begin dredging the canal, but to begin work on two large ports, one on the Pacific and the other on the Caribbean.

The writer then goes on to state that it is extremely unlikely that the canal work will begin before the environmental impact reports are released. Well, I should hope so! But even if this were true, logically there are environmental impacts for deepwater ports, airports, tourism projects, and commercial and manufacturing area, etc.

Where the author does make a good point is that the deforestation of the eastern part of the country is already well underway and that there is very little pristine forests to be ruined through the construction of the canal, and that in fact they will have to plant hundreds of thousands of trees to keep the watershed intact, which will a net plus as far as number of trees goes.

What I don’t see is how there can be complete mitigation of the damages that will be done to Lake Nicaragua. The waste silt from yearly dredging of Lake Nicaragua alone is an issue, much less the oil spills that will inevitably come.

There is a point to be made that if Nicaragua has the money, it will be able to help the environment that much more by treating dirty water, preventing toxic runoff, etc. whereas now they have squat as far as funds to help maintain natural areas.

The other area where I have to admit the author has a point is the political aspect of these anti-Canal articles. Certainly the United States would rather that the Chinese do not control a canal that is wider then the Panama canal, where the largest ships ever built can pass through, and where the location saves a thousand kilometers of distance between major ports such as New York and Los Angeles, saving millions of dollars in shipping costs. So many publications, organizations, and writers take their cues from these geopolitical issues and put a definite slant to their findings, articles, and positions.

So, to sum up, this article is well worth reading and while I don’t agree completely with the statements made, there are some good points that most of the mainstream press articles do not address. I am a believer that technology and engineering can mitigate much of the damages that will be incurred, but there needs to be a commitment on the part of HKND and the investors to see this thing through, to really dedicate significant resources in mitigating the environmental damages, and to treat the people whose lands will be expropriated with decency and fairness. That, to me all remains to be seen!

Confidencial – Obrajuelo against the Chinese

community rejects Expropriations, CHANTING ‘THE NICARAGUAN race knowS OF struggles and honor’

Obrajuelo against the Chinese

Protesta de pobladores de Obrajuelo contra representantes de HKND. Carlos Herrera/Confidencial.

Photo: The population of Obrajuela protests against representatives of HKND. Photo: Carlos Herrera/Confidencial. -

In less than 24 hours the community of Obrajuelo stoned a HKND truck and hindered traffic on the Panamerican Highway in a clear rejection and protest against expropriation

Wilfredo Miranda Aburto | 04/12/2014 PiruloAr

Obrajuelo villagers protest against representatives of HKND.  Carlos Herrera / Confidential.Photo: Protesting villagers Obrajuelo against representatives of HKND. Carlos Herrera / Confidential.

In less than twenty-four hours, the community of Obrajuelo, located on the shores of Lake Nicaragua in San Jorge, Rivas, returned to show their rejection of land expropriation involving the works of the ‘Grand Interoceanic Canal': they stoned a truck belonging to concessionaire company HKND-Group, and obstructed the passage on the Panamerican Highway Wednesday.

Approximately fifty people came with Nicaragua flags and banners to protest, because, supposedly, ombudsmen canal project come that day with notices of expropriation. The residents burned tires on the road and hummed the song or rather ‘Nicaragua Mia’ better known as “I am pure pinolero” – emphasizing the verses that address Nicaraguan courage to defend the homeland.

“The Nicaraguan race / knows of struggles and honor”, Alba Espinoza loudly screamed. She said residents of Obrajuelo and the surrounding community “Los Campamentos” stoned at three in the afternoon of Tuesday a HKND truck. They repudiated the Chinese and said that they entered Obrajuelo without consent.

“We have contacts everywhere and they warned us that the Chinese were here. He was stoned and the car was beaten while the Chinese mounted the vehicle. “We did it because we are hurting,” Espinoza told La Confidencial. “How are they going to take our places, where we live, where our children go to school, where our husbands work? Where are they going to send us? We have nowhere to go. What, are going to send us in the air like birds? ” asked the woman.

In the van went four well-dressed Asian officials and perfectly mastered the Spanish language, according to neighbors; accompanied by the police and a driver who was inside the vehicle when the attack began.

“We half wrestled with a policeman who was with them and grabbed stoned and clubbed the truck. You may say it is vandalism but the truth is that we are exercising our rights, do not get us out of our place like dogs … and we will keep it unto death, ” said Jose Lara.

Espinoza said the police threatened to at least forty people who stoned the vehicle. “The policeman touched the gun and said he did not want to get us in trouble. What’s the problem and what the fuck?, we told ourselves. And we move forward like Andrés Castro “, described the resident.

Another protesters called Mayra Montiel said that after the incident with the truck officers of the National Police arrived at Obrajuelo to find those responsible. The police were trying to figure it out, but nobody said anything … we do not trust the police nor in the president we have, what we have is the truth, “he said. However, the second police chief of Rivas, Commissioner Gilberto Ruiz, told Confidential he did not know of the attack on the truck HKND.

“We do not know that information of a truck … We have not received any complaints about this, only complaints that people who are going through this road are being affected by the citizens of this protest, and they were burning tires,” said the commissioner.

The spokesman of the ‘Grand Canal’, Telemachus Talavera, recognized the aggression but gave no further details to this medium of communication. Also, the president of the National Council of Universities (CNU) apologized saying he was in “a presentation” and also did not elaborate on the issue of alleged notifications to expropriate land.

Chinese intend to lease land

What sparked the backlash from the Obrajuelo community was the HKND team met with the owner of the hacienda “La Panama”, Julio Salinas. People began to comment that Salinas had “been tied up by Chinese”, i.e. he had agreed to sell his land.

According to testimony gathered at the protest, the meeting on “La Panama”, an estate of 20 manzanas located on the banks of the Panamerican Highway and devoted to livestock, took almost all day.

Confidential managed to talk to Salinas in his workshop that runs around the Rotunda of the City of Rivas, 150 yards towards San Jorge. Salinas denied that he sold or even come to a negotiation with HKND officials with whom he met.

“They (the Chinese) just talked to me about renting a block of land. There is no negotiation. We have not reached any agreement, because for renting would have to make a contract “, said Salinas, a little nervously, since Wednesday morning the walls of his studio dawned painted with graffiti reading” traitors”. In fact, Confidential found workers covering it with black paint.

Salinas is a man eminently of the country and claims he is not a “traitor”. Simply stated, two Nicaraguans (who said he could no longer identify because he did not know them) came to propose the rental contract. HKND officials explained to him that the manzana of land that it would occupy leads directly to the road as they plan to build a camp on the site.

According to Salinas, they promised to vacate the property, build the fence that they will break down if the deal ends. But so far, the landowner insisted, they have not reached any deal. He stressed that he does not want to be “stuck into these entanglements”. “Anyway, we are all affected by the Canal… I’d sell my land if they were to pay the actual price”, said Salinas.

Later in protest of Obrajuelo, Ismael Espinoza told Salinas that being a Sandinista militant, and agreeing with the work of the ‘Grand Canal’. For Espinoza it is no crime that the owner of neighboring properties sells or rents their land. He would rather see the issue as something moral.

“If you are renting is supporting the shamelessness of the Chinese, because if they tell me that the Chinese who rent from them or borrow my house I not do it. That he would also not support the shamelessness of the government of Daniel Ortega. They want to take us from our own. The Chinese will say that once the first has sold out, so then all will sell, and that is not so, “said Espinoza.

The protest of the Obrajuelo Community was suspended after two police vans filled with police personnel arrived at the scene. Before, villagers chased almost half a mile a group of motorized vehicles that roamed around the demonstration and took pictures. The elder Solomon Flores reported that vehicles were filled with undercover cops. When asked by Confidential, the vehicles fled. The commissioner Ruíz also did not know these people. “I only hang out with my vehicles, I don’t know the rest,” he explained shortly.

At the end of the day, the alleged expropriation notices failed to arrive in Obrajuelo. Flores, with his tired voice, repeated the refrain “Nicaraguan race / knows of struggles and honor” and with his fist raised promised that the Chinese HKND no longer come to his community.

- See more at:  Confidencial – Obrajuelo contra los chinos.

While there are lots of rumors, propaganda and lack of transparency by both the HKND officials and the Nicaraguan government so far, it is entirely possible that these protests are designed mostly to see how the population of these little communities along the proposed Canal route can get bought out at a better price then they would if they just took whatever the original deal was to be. But as the saying goes, what starts badly…ends badly! Fifty people at this protest doesn’t strike me as a real ground-roots phenomenon.

I am not in favor of the anti-Chinese bashing, but really, shouldn’t the Nicaraguan government meet with those affected and begin to assure them that the deal won’t be so bad, that they’ll get some lands elsewhere, that they will get a bit of money too…something? But what do I know, I am a foreigner in this land and sincerely just hope for the best.

As I’ve been saying for a while, if they start the Canal project, they better damn well finish it or the ecological cost will have been paid (Lake Nicaragua unusable by the people, pollution, and tens of thousands of Chinese laborers that will probably never go home after the project is completed) but the economic benefits will never come in. So at least finish it and do all the mitigation efforts identified in your environmental impact reports, treat the campesinos right, and avoid problems. No one wants another revolution!


Fresh Traveler: Nicaragua

This is by Patricia Serrano who per her bio on YouTube has her mailing address in New York City, but really travels all around the world filming her adventures. Her most popular video is this one, about Nicaragua. She gets on a chicken bus, goes volcano boarding, does a canopy zipline tour, explores local markets, meets new friends and has an all-around good time.

Video from Patricia Serrano, who is on a constant journey that she films and posts on YouTube. Well, it's a livin' :)

Video from Patricia Serrano, who is on a constant journey that she films and posts on YouTube. Well, it’s a livin’ :)

She starts the video by telling her viewers not to come to Nicaragua because she wants it all to herself!

Farmstay El Porton Verde Reviews – Airbnb, Alexandra


Mike was very helpful with our traveling logistics, he picked us up from the airport for $20 and helped us get cordobas and on a bus the next day . His farm,family and Bnb were all lovely . His wife made a delicious local breakfast and mike gave us a tour of the farm . We enjoyed the quiet location and pool. Thanks so Much Mike , Tara and señor Micky!

Pool Bunkbeds Tranquil Farm B&B (w)

December 2014

via Mike’s Profile – Airbnb.

Farmstay El Porton Verde Reviews – Airbnb, Anthony


We arrived at the airport in Managua on a late flight and Mike was there to collect us, which was great having coming off a long haul flight. He drove us to his beautiful finca. We found in the morning that the views over the neighbouring hills were stunning, and Mike’s wife and sister in law cooked us traditional Nica food – which happened to be the best traditional food we ended up having on our travels in Nicaragua – including “Nacatamales” on Sunday, which were amazing! As well as being introduced to the family and pet dogs we also had a tour of the farm. Mike also took us for a tour of the Masaya volcano and helped us get a local bus to our next destination. He would have been happy to drive us but we fancied having a go on the local buses – which we were cheap and safe. All in all, very pleased with our experience. Thanks Mike.

Ensuite Queen Tranquil Farmstay B&B

November 2014

via Mike’s Profile – Airbnb.

There’s nothing like Nicaragua

That’s for sure! This is a well-done HD video using lots of drone shots from the air and several beautiful people and many divine-looking places. All around great job on this by Surf Ranch Nicaragua.

The video focuses on the area of southwestern Nicaragua, and although I’m sure quite this is an unintended consequence by the people who worked on this film, it feels to be somewhat of a testimony to the way Nicaragua is now, pre-Interoceanic Canal. So enjoy it while it lasts, which really means you had better get down here in 2015!

As they have filmed between Popoyo on the north to San Juan del Sur to the south, the canal will literally splice that into two as it will run right through the middle between those two areas. While I doubt the directors and producers had this in mind as they filmed…it is indeed pretty to look at and no doubt is a great draw for folks visiting.

Nicaragua Insiders say that the canal is a GO but only for land speculation purposes, actually building a canal would be just icing on the cake. The plan is to take advantage of the near-sovereignty the Chinese man who owns HKND and his associates have now by law and to use that to be in control of a large swath of southern Nicaragua.

Lots of European visitors in town now, per my sources in the Popoyo area. We had several here last week who probably are all now down at the beaches in your area! As written about previously, the European visitor numbers are growing and they are staying in my experience, an average of three weeks at a time in Nicaragua.There s nothing like Nicaragua   YouTube

So a couple of minor matters passed along to you about the Interoceanic Canal and European visitors to Nicaragua. Cheers!

Flying in late or leaving early? Don’t want to stay in a chain hotel?

 5br – Flying in late or leaving early? Don’t want to stay in a chain hotel? (km 10 1/2 Carretera a Masaya, Managua)

via Flying in late or leaving early? Don’t want to stay in a chain hotel?

I believe the Farmstay has found a nice market segment for the visiting traveler to Nicaragua, the European, Australian, or New Zealand visitors who have flown a long way to get here! These folks have had at least 24 hours of travel and are tired, want to know they will be taken care of, and have a safe and secure entry to their Nicaraguan vacation.

The idea of staying at a small eco-tourism Farmstay in elevation where it is cooler, on a farm where it is quiet, that has excellent amenities and personalized service and attention is appealing to these visitors.

They want to rest and relax, staying two nights at the Farmstay to recharge their batteries, and get ready for the rest of their Nicaraguan adventures! We are the perfect location for such visitors and I would like to invite any folks visiting Nicaragua who come from Spain, Portugal, England, Ireland, the Netherlands, Holland, Belgium, France, Italy, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Poland, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, and any other European countries I’m forgetting to mention to come and stay with us.

We provide the “soft landing service” where we pick you up from the airport, help you get adjusted to the pace and the lifestyle, give you some good food to eat, and a lovely soft comfortable bed to sleep in. When you wake up, you can take a nice swim, explore our farm, pick some fruit, check in with the folks back home via our Internet WiFi. Contact us here for more information and to book your room!

Afternoon looking at the volcano Masaya, from the Farmstay in Managua, Nicaragua

Nice Cool and Cloudy Afternoon at the Farmstay

We are enjoying a nice cool and cloudy afternoon at the Farmstay…I hope you are having a great day too!

So how’s the weather over there at the Farmstay? Today, 16 November, 2014 it is very nice. A bit cool all day and we got a little rainshower here and there. Cloudy, with some fog up on the top of Las Nubes (the mountain in front of the Farmstay).

Almost every afternoon, from our perspective, the western light shines at an angle which accentuates the shape of the various craters of the complex of volcanoes at the Masaya National Park and gives off a soft red-hued glow. We face southeast towards the Masaya Volcano. Today’s view was no exception. The volcano is located approximately eight miles from El Porton Verde, so we get a nice view of it from the house and the pool area.

I went yesterday on a Night Hike at the Masaya Volcano, and that was as usual, a lot of fun. We actually some some glowing lava!