Interoceanic Grand Canal project, Nicaragua

Strong social and political opposition to the Gran Canal to be built across Nicaragua. Indigenous territories, natural resources and the Nicaragua Lake would be affected. Movement initially led by peasants (Francisca Ramírez).


The idea of constructing an interoceanic canal in Nicaragua is not new. Since the 19th century, the United States of America and France considered the idea, but it was abandoned when the French government preferred to construct an interoceanic canal in Panama.

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Basic Data
NameInteroceanic Grand Canal project, Nicaragua
Province Región Autónoma del Atlántico Sur (RAAS), Chontales, Rivas, Río San Juan, Masaya, Granada y Carazo
SiteMore than 20 cities in different provinces
Accuracy of LocationMEDIUM regional level
Source of Conflict
Type of Conflict (1st level)Infrastructure and Built Environment
Type of Conflict (2nd level)Land acquisition conflicts
Transport infrastructure networks (roads, railways, hydroways, canals and pipelines)
Water access rights and entitlements
Ports and airport projects
Pollution related to transport (spills, dust, emissions)
Tourism facilities (ski resorts, hotels, marinas)
Wetlands and coastal zone management
Specific CommoditiesWater
Tourism services
Project Details and Actors
Project DetailsEstimated at 278 km. in length, the waterway is to traverse Nicaragua from west to east, beginning at the mouth of the Brito River on the Pacific coast and then continuing across Lake Nicaragua (105 km. wide) and finally reaching the Caribbean.

The interoceanic canal will have the capacity to capture 416 millions of metric tons that represents the 3.9 percent of global maritime cargo, including Super Post Panamax ships.

The project will also include the following constructions :

-Two seaports

-An international airport

- Free Trade Zone

-Residential areas to house some 140,000 residents.

-Highways to “revitalize the transit network” that will disappear when the canal is finished.

-power plant and 41 depots for sediment dredged from rivers.

The constructions was to begin in December 2014 and would be completed within six years.
Project Area (in hectares)unknown
Level of Investment (in USD)40,000,000,000
Type of PopulationSemi-urban
Potential Affected Population1,500,000 - 2,000,000
Start Date03/07/2012
Company Names or State EnterprisesChina Railway Construction Corporation (CRCC) from China - subcontracted by HKND for technical feasibility studies
McKinsey & Company (McKinsey & Company) from United States of America - subcontracted by HKND for based data and analysis
Environmental Resource Management (ERM ) - subcontracted for social and environmental impact assessments.
Hong Kong Nicaragua Canal Development Investment Co (HKND group) from China - Concessionaire
Relevant government actorsGovernmet of Nicaragua, Authority of the Interoceanic Grand Canal, Supreme Justice Court
International and Financial InstitutionsInternational Human Rights Commission (IHRC)
Environmental justice organisations and other supportersCoordinadora de la comunidad negra creole indígena de Bluefields (CCNCB), Centro Humboldt (CH), Consejo de Ancianos del Caribe sur, Centro de Asistencia Legal a Pueblos Indígenas (CALPI), Fundación Popol Na, Fundación del Río, Grupo Cocibolca. Consejo Nacional de Defensa de la Tierra, Lago y Soberanía.

Supporters: Front Line Defenders
The Conflict and the Mobilization
Intensity of Conflict (at highest level)HIGH (widespread, mass mobilization, violence, arrests, etc...)
When did the mobilization beginPREVENTIVE resistance (precautionary phase)
Groups MobilizingIndigenous groups or traditional communities
Informal workers
International ejos
Local ejos
Local government/political parties
Social movements
Ethnically/racially discriminated groups
Local scientists/professionals
Fisher people
Forms of MobilizationCommunity-based participative research (popular epidemiology studies, etc..)
Development of alternative proposals
Arguments for the rights of mother nature
Public campaigns
Artistic and creative actions (eg guerilla theatre, murals)
Involvement of national and international NGOs
Refusal of compensation
Lawsuits, court cases, judicial activism
Media based activism/alternative media
Objections to the EIA
Street protest/marches
Creation of alternative reports/knowledge
Development of a network/collective action
Official complaint letters and petitions
Environmental ImpactsVisible: Air pollution, Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Floods (river, coastal, mudflow), Food insecurity (crop damage), Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation, Noise pollution, Soil contamination, Soil erosion, Waste overflow, Deforestation and loss of vegetation cover, Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality, Groundwater pollution or depletion, Large-scale disturbance of hydro and geological systems, Reduced ecological / hydrological connectivity
Potential: Desertification/Drought, Global warming
Health ImpactsVisible: Mental problems including stress, depression and suicide
Potential: Malnutrition, Health problems related to alcoholism, prostitution
Socio-economic ImpactsVisible: Increase in Corruption/Co-optation of different actors, Displacement, Lack of work security, labour absenteeism, firings, unemployment, Loss of livelihood, Loss of traditional knowledge/practices/cultures, Specific impacts on women, Violations of human rights, Land dispossession, Loss of landscape/sense of place
Potential: Increase in violence and crime, Militarization and increased police presence, Social problems (alcoholism, prostitution, etc..)
OtherDisplacement would affect miskito, ulwa and creole communities.
Project StatusPlanned (decision to go ahead eg EIA undertaken, etc)
Pathways for conflict outcome / responseCriminalization of activists
Court decision (failure for environmental justice)
New legislation
Strengthening of participation
Under negotiation
Violent targeting of activists
Application of existing regulations
Development of AlternativesThe campesino movement demands the repeal of the law for an inter-oceanic canal in Nicaragua – a project that the government awarded to Chinese businessman Wang Jing –. Led by Francisca Ramírez, it acts in defense of the earth and national sovereignty. By 2018 it has become a large civic movement against the repressive government of Daniel Ortega.
Do you consider this as a success?Not Sure
Why? Explain briefly.Despite the mobilizations, violence against leaders and hundreds of petitions by the social movements and peasant in Nicaragua against the construction of the Interoceanic Grand Canal. The government of Daniel Ortega wants to go ahead with the project. Up to now engineers have conducted geological surveys and marked up the area, farmers have been paid $3,000 to allow surveys of their land, and more than 500 acres have been purchased by the Chinese developer HKND for road-widening.
Sources and Materials

Convención Ramsar
[click to view]

Convenio 169. OIT
[click to view]

Carta Americana sobre Derechos Humanos
[click to view]

Ley No. 800. Ley del régimen jurídico del Gran Canal y creación de la autoridad reguladora, julio 2012.
[click to view]


Proyecto de Desarrollo Integral del Gran Canal de Nicaragua, informe plan de diseño presentado por HKND
[click to view]

El Canal de Nicaragua en clave regional. Revista Ecología Política
[click to view]


Tico Times (2014). Nicaragua's ambitious interoceanic canal will cross Lake Nicaragua, officials say
[click to view]

Nodal (2014) Nicaragua: indígenas piden a la CIDH protección ante Gran Canal
[click to view]

El Nuevo diario (2013) Indígenas recurren contra Ley del Canal
[click to view]

La Nación (2014). Costa Rica pide a Nicaragua estudios ambientales del proyecto del canal interoceánico
[click to view]

El nuevo diario (2014). Nicaragua: Presentan ruta del Gran Canal Interoceánico
[click to view]

Confidencial (2014) Expertos advierten sobre falta de estudios sobre el lago Cocibolca y riesgos ambientales
[click to view]

Nicaragua-Chinese partnership announces planned route for proposed inter-oceanic canal
[click to view]

Nicaragua canal: in a sleepy Pacific port, something stirs
[click to view]

Nicaragua canal: in a sleepy Pacific port, something stirs
[click to view]

Las venas abiertas de Nicaragua by Boaventura de Sousa Santos
[click to view]

En Nicaragua rechazan recurso contra canal interoceánico
[click to view]

Media Links

Programa de radio ECOS por Silvana Buján, Universidad Nacional de Mar del Plata. Entrevista a Victor Campos del Centro Humboldt
[click to view]

El 19 digital. "Gran Canal de Nicaragua tiene definida su ruta" (conferencia de prensa)
[click to view]

HispanTV. La Gran Historia - Nicaragua: El Canal interoceánico
[click to view]

Julio López Campos, toda una vida en el FSLN, combatiente en la ofensiva final contra la dictadura somocista, responsable, entre otras tareas, del Departamento de Relaciones Internacionales del gobierno revolucionario de los años 80, compartió reflexiones sobre los desafíos de la insurrección no armada que hoy (2018) se enfrenta a la dictadura orteguista. La oposición al Gran Canal es un factor muy importante. (Envío).
[click to view]

Nicaragua: Francisca Ramírez, símbolo de la lucha campesina contra el canal de Ortega y los capitalistas chinos
[click to view]

Other Documents

LEY No. 800 relativa a la creación del canal y a la autoridad reguladora julio 2012
[click to view]

Ruta del Canal Interoceánico Fuente: El Nuevo Diario
[click to view]

Foro sobre la construcción del canal Fuente : La Prensa
[click to view]

Grand Canal Infographics Source:
[click to view]

Grand Canal advertisement board Source:
[click to view]

Francisca Ramirez
[click to view]

Manifestaciones contra el canal
[click to view]

Francisca Ramírez
[click to view]

Other Comments‘The Chinese say we have to leave.’ Juan Félipe Cárdenas. Nicaraguan peasant
Meta Information
ContributorFundación Neotrópica
Last update12/07/2018