On May 15, Nicaragua deported two human rights lawyers after their plane landed at Managua’s airport. Both lawyers had worked with groups opposing the Nicaragua Canal project.
Luis Carlos Boub, a Peruvian-Swiss citizen, and Marta Gonzalez of Spain are members of the nongovernmental international human rights organization Center for Justice and International Law.
Boub claimed that the officials accused him of drug trafficking, saying that the claim was “totally false.”
“If they suspected drug-trafficking they would not deport me, they would arrest me,” Buob told The Associated Press.
According to The Tico Times, the director for the Nicaraguan Center for Human Rights is demanding that the government offer an explanation and apology. One spokesperson alleged that Nicaraguan immigration officials had assaulted and threatened the lawyers.
This isn’t the first time the government has targeted critics of the canal project. Journalists covering the project have been harassed and detained, having recording gear seized and photos apprehended by government officials and other pro-government groups. Even foreign press who were invited to the official groundbreaking were turned away from the site.
The Reporters Without Borders 2015 Press Freedom Index ranked Nicaragua 74th for protecting freedom of the press. Another report from Reporters Without Borders claims that journalists in Nicaragua often receive threats of violence for covering peaceful protests.
Nicaragua’s constitution does not protect freedom of the press. Article 52 of the country’s constitution only protects criticism deemed by the government as “constructive.”
Many human rights and environmental activists are fighting against the canal project. Various estimates suggest that the canal will displace an estimated 30,000 to 100,000 people and destroy about 400,000 hectares of rain forests and wetlands.
Critics also content that governmental oversight of the canal project has been slim. With the approval of Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega, the project was rushed through the National Assembly with little to no debate and granted to the Hong Kong Nicaragua Canal Development Group in a no-bid concession.