Company spokesman says Chinese state businesses will ‘finance a great part of this project’
Nicaragua is dangerous. That’s why Chinese surveyors mapping the canal route and flagging properties for expropriation in the Nicaraguan countryside need protection from truckloads of police and soldiers, according to the spokesman of Chinese canal concessioner HKND.
“The people go with protection because we don’t know what can happen,” Ronald MacLean-Abaroa, spokesman of HKND, told The Nicaragua Dispatch this week during an interview in Washington, D.C. “Nicaragua is not a very tranquil country, even though it’s a peaceful country now. But there’s always danger.”
Despite Nicaragua’s regional claims to safety, recent attacks by armed groups in rural parts of the country — in Matagalpa last July and in the RAAS last month — have caused a stir throughout the country. But for others living in the countryside, the uncertainty is coming from a military-led Chinese survey team that is scouting land for expropriation to make way for a canal project that will displace an unknown number of Nicaraguan families.
People living along the proposed canal route in Rivas told Confidencial reporter Wilfredo Miranda that Chinese surveyors and their Nicaraguan military guides have been entering private properties without permission or explanation. Some rural residents say they were asked to produce proof of property ownership and asked to sign legal documents presented by the Chinese survey team. Those who could prove land ownership were reportedly propositioned to sell their properties on the spot.
HKND’s MacLean-Abaroa says Nicaraguans need not worry about the impending expropriations. “There is a law and legislation,” he said. “This is a job that the government and state has to do; we [HKND] just indicate where the canal is going to be, and they have to do the expropriations within the law.”
The law, however, isn’t terribly generous to landowners. According to the Canal Law, hastened through congress last year by eager Sandinista lawmakers, the government can expropriate any private property deemed necessary for the canal project. The rightful owners of the land will be compensated only for the cadastral value, which in most cases is a fraction of the land’s real-estate market value — especially in popular tourism areas such as Rivas. Property owners whose lands are expropriated by the government are not allowed to appeal the decision or negotiate a market-value compensation.
“The law establishes a mechanism that gives total power to the Canal Commission, which is above the law and due process,” José Adan Aguerri, head of COSEP, told The Nicaragua Dispatch in an interview last year. “They alone will determine which lands need to be expropriated, and how much they will pay for them. Period.”
But that doesn’t concern HKND’s MacLean-Abaroa, who takes a happy view of the situation. He says Nicaraguans are feeling more confident about the canal now that “it’s evident that the project is advancing.”
The company spokesman said the Chinese surveyors poking about the countryside won’t assume a “belligerent” attitude towards the people living in the canal’s path, despite entering their property with gun-toting soldiers.
“There won’t be any abuses… at least by the company,” MacLean-Abaroa said.
Nicaragua’s Chinese canal is scheduled to break ground by December, even though no one knows how much it will cost, who’s paying for it, what the plan is for expropriations, what the environmental impact will be, or what the greater implications are for Nicaragua carving a privately owned swath through the middle of the country that will have an economy larger than that of the sovereign state. Also, there’s no contingency plan for what will happen if the project is abandoned halfway through construction, leaving a filthy brackish scar across Nicaragua’s beautiful face…And, what the hell, am I the only person concerned about the long-term implications of a potentially massive influx of poor Chinese labor into rural Nicaragua??? I mean, seriously, WTF!!! (Deep breaths, Tim. In through the nose, out through the mouth…there…now back to the article)
MacLean-Abaroa insists the project is advancing “as anticipated” and that groundbreaking will happen on schedule. He says construction will most likely begin with the ports and other infrastructure needed to get the heavy equipment into Nicaragua.
Also, good news for pesky environmentalists. “The environmental impact studies have advanced a lot,” MacLean-Abaroa said, without offering further detail.
As for the price of the canal — last estimated at $50 billion — MacLean-Abaroa says “there still isn’t a final number.” But that’s okay, he said, because “obviously the money isn’t needed up front.”
The issue of raising funds for the project is “a gradual process,” but one that HKND chairman Wang Jing is on top of, MacLean-Abaroa said. And it now appears that the Chinese government is in fact interested in backing the project, he said.
“Mr. Wang is looking at this issue intensely and working with Chinese state businesses that will have a small amount of participation in this project and will finance a great part of this project,” MacLean-Abaroa said. “And then we have to go out into the international markets once we are ready to.”
That’s a different answer than the one he gave Nicaragua Dispatch in an June, 2013 interview.
“This is a totally privately held company and it is going to be private on the international level,” MacLean-Abaroa told The Nicaragua Dispatch. “We are based in Hong Kong because from there we can raise money in Paris, New York and London. But there will be no government involvement whatsoever, not from China or any other country. The minute you get governments involved in this kind of project, the private investors fly away.”
Regardless of who’s picking up the tab, one things is clear: the project is going to start somewhere at some undermined date this year.
“I don’t know exactly where it is going to start, possibly in Brito, but they will probably work from both sides [of Nicaragua], because there is preparation work that needs to be done on both sides,” MacLean-Abaroa said. “And then there will be a more detailed construction plan.”