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.
The idea resurrected in 2012 when the Nicaraguan administration led by Daniel Ortega approved a special law for the construction of the Grand Canal and created the “Authority of the Grand Canal”, a special institution made up of representatives of the State to oversee the construction and future operation of the canal.
On the 14th of June 2013, the Authority granted the construction concession to Wang Jing, president of HK Nicaragua Canal Development Investment Co. (HKND), a Hong Kong based company, in a tripartite agreement signed between Nicaragua, Russia and China. During Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov's visit to Nicaragua, in fact, the two sides discussed prospects for bilateral cooperation and the new alternative to the Panama Canal is definitely one of this. The planned was pushed through parliament in 2014 with almost no debate.
The new waterway will be 286 km long, while the Panama Canal is just 81.5 km long. A significant section of the new canal will run through Lake Nicaragua, which is the largest lake in Central America and the second major source of fresh water in Latin America (after Lago Titicaca). The main advantage of the new route is its width of 83 and depth of 27.5 meters, which would make it suitable for large-range ships with a deadweight of up to 270,000 tons. The Nicaragua Canal will be then deeper, wider and longer than the Panama Canal. Related infrastructures include two ports, an airport, an oil pipeline, and other facilities. Impacts are very difficult to assess due to the project's magnitude.
Opponents to the construction of the canal, such as the Coordinadora de la comunidad negra creole indígena de Bluefields (CCNCB), Centro Humboldt (CH) and Consejo de Ancianos del Caribe sur and Centro de Asistencia Legal a Pueblos Indígenas (CALPI) are concerned about the negative effects of the canal for Lake Nicaragua, which is an important source of fresh water for the country. Since the beginning of the conflict, some local and national environmental justice organizations have created the Grupo Cocibolca, a network to share information and organize different mobilizations along the country. Women have had a very relevant role in this such as Mónica López Baltodano and Francisca Ramírez (one of the leaders of the peasant movement in Nicaragua).
Likewise, they fear the environmental impacts on the biodiversity and protected areas like Bosawás, Indio-Maíz, Cerro Silva, San Miguelito and the Bluefields wetlands, as well as the social impacts on the indigenous and tribal people that would be displaced, mainly the Miskito, Ulwa and Creole. To date, the Nicaraguan government has not made public the results of the technical, environmental and social viability studies.
Since the approval of the special law for the construction of the canal, environmentalist and indigenous groups have presented petitions for judicial review to national courts and one to the International Human Rights Commission. In 2017 the National Court rejected the petition to refuse the "Law of the Grand Canal" being a failure for the environmental justice movement. "It is very sad the National Court to not recognize our rights" claim Francisca Ramírez.
Since April 2018, the movement created against the Grand Canal, other environmental movements against the land grabbing in the Bosawás Protected Area, the student and feminist organizations had to strengthen their efforts against the Ortega´s government. Nicaragua is living a deep socio-political crisis that had cost the lives of at least 200 protesters, including students, children, women. More than 1000 wounded and around 5000 arrested and criminalized protesters. The issue of the Gran Canal has been central to the protests against Daniel Ortega's government and to the repression.