Thursday, April 13, 2017

A Nicaraguan Activist Fights Daniel Ortega's Canal Project

Photo: Wikimedia Commons
In attempt to stop her powerful work advocating against the destructive inter-oceanic canal Francisca’s children were attacked. Her home was raided, and authorities have harassed and detained her. During four years of peaceful resistance, Francisca has been repeatedly assaulted, leaving her physically injured and constantly alert to being attacked.
 -Frontline Defenders

By Sabrina Hernández
Francisca Ramírez is an activist from the rural community of  La Fonseca in the municipality of Nueva Guinea in southeastern Nicaragua. For more than four years, she has coordinated the Consejo Nacional en Defensa de Nuestra Tierra, Lago y Soberanía (CENIDH), an effort to protect the rights of rural communities in Nicaragua. The council's efforts are focused particularly on opposing the construction of  a canal that would connect the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. Opponents of the project have made their discontent known through marches and rallies, The efforts of the council to oppose the canal have received strong international support, including the European Parliament.

Proponents of the canal, including President Daniel Ortega, argue that the project could give a potential economic boost to Nicaragua. The opponents point to the potential for significant environmental damage and displacement of many rural communities.In his work analyzing the effect of the Panama Canal on U.S. relations with Latin America, American History professor at John Hopkins University, John Holladay, calls the canal “the greatest liberty man has taken with nature.” One can rightly assume that this statement is even truer for the proposed Nicaraguan canal, which will certainly crisscross more significant amounts of land than the Panama canal did.

Comparisons to Berta Cáceres
The principal strategy of (CENIDH) is to is repeal Law 840, which effectively gave life to the project through the allocation of $50 million and stipulates that displaced land owners will be paid for their land a sum that the state deems “adequate." Even though the amount of money offered fails to meet the "adequate" threshold, the CENIDH does not want the canal to be built at all.

That is why Francisca Ramirez and other members of the organization have taken the opportunity to speak out against the project to international non-governmental organizations and to the foreign media. In this video,  Ramirez speaks to the press after meeting with the secretary-general of the Organization of American States (OAS).

Ramírez’s efforts has drawn comparisons to Honduran activist Berta Cáceres, who was murdered in 2016. However, her ctivism, much like that of Cáceres, has come at no small cost, though. She has been arbitrarily detained, her property raided, seized, and damaged, her family members have been beaten by men in military uniform, and she faces constant harassment from government officials.

"In addition to the repressive nature of the government, Ramírez is fighting back against the propaganda and efforts to misinform citizens," blogger Andrew Anderson wrote in the Frontline Defenders blog. "The latter seems to be one of the biggest challenges when denouncing human rights violations and mobilising fellow countrymen and women against them."

Ramírez confirms this, saying: “For a long time, the government has been dedicated to misinforming people, people are unaware of their rights. They think we are infringing on the government’s rights every time we march!”

"Nicaraguan defenders are struggling to preserve vital civil society space where values of equality and human dignity are upheld above the personalisation of power and ubiquitous clientelism. The country is at a turning point where it might head for a one-party State. The question is whether this time the international community is ready to support those who are using peaceful means to counter increasing authoritarianism and ensure respect for human rights," Anderson said in his blog.

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