Please zoom in or out and select the base layer according to your preference to make the map ready for printing, then press the Print button above.

Interoceanic Grand Canal project, Nicaragua


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. 

Basic Data

Name of conflict:Interoceanic Grand Canal project, Nicaragua
State or province: Región Autónoma del Atlántico Sur (RAAS), Chontales, Rivas, Río San Juan, Masaya, Granada y Carazo
Location of conflict:More 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 commodities:Land
Tourism services

Project Details and Actors

Project details

Estimated 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:unknown
Level of Investment:40,000,000,000
Type of populationSemi-urban
Affected Population:1,500,000 - 2,000,000
Start of the conflict:03/07/2012
Company names or state enterprises:China 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 actors:Governmet of Nicaragua, Authority of the Interoceanic Grand Canal, Supreme Justice Court
International and Finance InstitutionsInternational Human Rights Commission (IHRC)
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:Coordinadora 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

Conflict & Mobilization

IntensityHIGH (widespread, mass mobilization, violence, arrests, etc...)
Reaction stagePREVENTIVE resistance (precautionary phase)
Groups mobilizing:International ejos
Ethnically/racially discriminated groups
Local ejos
Social movements
Fisher people
Local government/political parties
Indigenous groups or traditional communities
Local scientists/professionals
Informal workers
Forms of mobilization:Artistic and creative actions (eg guerilla theatre, murals)
Community-based participative research (popular epidemiology studies, etc..)
Creation of alternative reports/knowledge
Development of a network/collective action
Development of alternative proposals
Involvement of national and international NGOs
Lawsuits, court cases, judicial activism
Media based activism/alternative media
Objections to the EIA
Official complaint letters and petitions
Public campaigns
Street protest/marches
Arguments for the rights of mother nature
Refusal of compensation


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-economical 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..)
Other socio-economic impactsDisplacement would affect miskito, ulwa and creole communities.


Project StatusPlanned (decision to go ahead eg EIA undertaken, etc)
Conflict outcome / response:Criminalization of activists
Deaths, Assassinations, Murders
Court decision (failure for environmental justice)
New legislation
Strengthening of participation
Under negotiation
Violent targeting of activists
Application of existing regulations
Development of alternatives:The 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 an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:Not Sure
Briefly explain: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 & Materials

Related laws and legislations - Juridical texts related to the conflict

Convenio 169. OIT

Ley No. 800. Ley del régimen jurídico del Gran Canal y creación de la autoridad reguladora, julio 2012.$FILE/Ley%20No.%20800%20El%20Gran%20Canal.pdf

Convención Ramsar

Carta Americana sobre Derechos Humanos

References to published books, academic articles, movies or published documentaries

Proyecto de Desarrollo Integral del Gran Canal de Nicaragua, informe plan de diseño presentado por HKND

El Canal de Nicaragua en clave regional. Revista Ecología Política

Links to general newspaper articles, blogs or other websites

Nodal (2014) Nicaragua: indígenas piden a la CIDH protección ante Gran Canal

El Nuevo diario (2013) Indígenas recurren contra Ley del Canal

Tico Times (2014). Nicaragua's ambitious interoceanic canal will cross Lake Nicaragua, officials say

El nuevo diario (2014). Nicaragua: Presentan ruta del Gran Canal Interoceánico

Confidencial (2014) Expertos advierten sobre falta de estudios sobre el lago Cocibolca y riesgos ambientales

La Nación (2014). Costa Rica pide a Nicaragua estudios ambientales del proyecto del canal interoceánico

Las venas abiertas de Nicaragua by Boaventura de Sousa Santos

En Nicaragua rechazan recurso contra canal interoceánico

Nicaragua-Chinese partnership announces planned route for proposed inter-oceanic canal

Related media links to videos, campaigns, social network

HispanTV. La Gran Historia - Nicaragua: El Canal interoceánico

El 19 digital. "Gran Canal de Nicaragua tiene definida su ruta" (conferencia de prensa)

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

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).

Nicaragua: Francisca Ramírez, símbolo de la lucha campesina contra el canal de Ortega y los capitalistas chinos

Other documents

LEY No. 800 relativa a la creación del canal y a la autoridad reguladora julio 2012

Other comments:‘The Chinese say we have to leave.’ Juan Félipe Cárdenas. Nicaraguan peasant

Meta information

Contributor:Fundación Neotrópica
Last update12/07/2018



Ruta del Canal Interoceánico

Fuente: El Nuevo Diario

Foro sobre la construcción del canal

Fuente : La Prensa

Grand Canal Infographics


Manifestaciones contra el canal


Francisca Ramírez


Francisca Ramirez