On Monday, a lawyer for the Indigenous Rama people in Nicaragua told the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) that there could be serious repercussions for the Rama if Nicaragua’s $50 billion canal project is allowed to continue.
Rama leader Becky McCray, the lawyer for the tribe, said that the Rama were likely to lose their language along with their land if the group is displaced by the canal. Currently, the Rama language is only spoken by several dozen people in the world. Fifty-two percent of the route of the Grand Canal passes through lands belonging to the Indigenous Rama and the nearby Afro-descendant Kriol community.
In December 2014, in Brito, Nicaragua, government officials and the Hong-Kong based HKND Group inaugurated the construction of a 186-mile-long (300-kilometer-long) canal that would connect the Pacific to the Caribbean, rivalling the Panama Canal. Despite the Nicaraguan government’s enthusiasm for the project and promises that it will lift more than 400,000 people out of poverty by 2018, the canal is the center of heated controversy.
One of the most contentious issues is the fact that Indigenous communities were not consulted previously about the canal. Prior consultation is an international right possessed by Indigenous and tribal communities that has precedent in the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACtHR) in the Sarayaku v. Ecuador case.
Earlier this year, the Gobierno Territorial Rama-Kriol (Rama-Kriol Territorial Government) sent a letter to a delegate of Nicaraguan President Danilo Ortega to carry out open and informative consultations with local communities, with the presence of a high official from the International Human Rights Commission.
Although the IACHR is expected to present its recommendations next month on the issue, the Nicaraguan government has already passed Canal Law 840—which not only grants HKND the right to expropriate land and natural resources but also clearly states how much the Indigenous communities will be reimbursed for the seizure of their ancestral lands.