The proposed Nicaraguan canal is completely within that country, but Costa Ricans are beginning to realize that the project has a direct impact on this country, too.
Nicaraguan opponents of the canal also look to Costa Rica for support in their confrontation with President Daniel Ortega and their central government
In the words of Salvador Montenegro Guillén, former director of the Centro para la Investigación en Recursos Acuáticos de Nicaragua, the canal will have a devastating impact on both countries. He was quoted on a summary of a panel discussion on the topic that was held last month.
The written summary of the comments at the Universidad de Costa Rica were released Thursday.
One Nicaraguan participant, Octavio Ortega Arana, noted that 66 of the 153 municipalities in Nicaragua have come out in opposition to the law creating the canal project. He is coordinator of the Consejo Nacional por la Defensa de Nuestras Tierras, Lago y Soberanía.
A principal concern voiced at the panel session was that Nicaragua and Costa Rica share the same underground source of water, the aquifer.
The proposed canal not only will affect Lake Nicaragua but also the water sources shared by both countries, according to Nicolás Boeglin of the university. Both countries feed the Río San Juan and share the underground water, he noted.
The lake is the headwaters of the river and the largest source of fresh water in Central America.
The political implications in Nicaragua are enormous. There have been at least 46 separate protests, and 300 communities will be destroyed, according to Ortega Arana. He estimated that 119,000 persons would be displaced.
Then there is the concern of pollution of Lake Nicaragua by petroleum from shipping as well as the agitation of the water and possible intrusions of sea water.
Many landowners in Nicaragua have said in the past that they believe that expropriations for the canal are just a way to steal their land.
The Nicaraguan panel speakers also noted that the canal deal gives the Chinese construction company 116 years of absolute dominion over the lake and seven currently protected areas.
They also are unhappy that the entire deal was negotiated in secret.
Boeglin pointed out that after two years environmental impact studies still are secret. “Water does not respect borders,” he was quoted as saying.
Nicaraguan residents are not the only persons concerned. Rice University in the United States reported in March on a study of the canal impact by a consortium of environmental scientists.
This plan will force the relocation of native populations and impact a fragile ecosystem, including species at risk of extinction, according to Rice University environmental engineer Pedro Alvarez and other members of the consortium.
Alvarez is co-corresponding author of an article that includes 21 co-authors from 18 institutions in the United States and Central and South America who gathered at a multidisciplinary international workshop in Managua, Nicaragua, last November to discuss the project. The paper, titled “Scientists Raise Alarms About Fast Tracking of Transoceanic Canal Through Nicaragua,” was published by the American Chemical Society journal Environmental Science and Technology.
A private company, the Hong Kong Nicaragua Canal Development Group, is building the 172-mile, $50 billion canal in collaboration with the Nicaraguan government, which granted the concession 13 months ago.
Preparation for the project has begun with the construction of roads to move heavy equipment and supplies into place, with the first ships scheduled to pass through the canal in late 2019. It will be longer, wider and deeper than the 51-mile Panama Canal to the south.
The canal company is believed by many to be a proxy for the Chinese government, which basically would create a colony in Central America.
Up until now there has been little public concern expressed by Costa Ricans.