Nicaraguan Canal Plan Riles Landholders

John Otis has a good article on Nicaragua’s building of a new canal to compete with that of Panama for the Wall Street Journal with Nicaraguan Canal Plan Riles Landholders: Sandinista push to build Chinese-led shipping route across country sparks concerns over property rights. Everybody is trying to use the 1980s land reforms to frame their preferred narrative.

Still, for many here, the expropriation plan recalls one of the most contentious policies of the Sandinista revolution that toppled U.S.-backed dictator Anastasio Somoza in 1979.

Mr. Ortega’s government back then ordered the confiscation of coffee groves, cattle ranches and other properties belonging to Somoza and his cronies. Under an agrarian reform, the government handed out more than 1.5 million acres to peasant farmers. But the Sandinistas also helped themselves to properties belonging to opposition leaders, people who had fled the country or simply those with choice farms.

Michael Healy Lacayo recalled how the Sandinistas expropriated his family’s 600-acre sugar cane plantation in 1980 for having supplied a mill owned by Somoza. The family eventually recovered the farm, but Mr. Healy said such arbitrary decisions turned many against the Sandinistas.

“We are worried because we remember the 1980s,” said Mr. Healy, now president of the Nicaraguan Farmers Union, the country’s largest agro-industry group. “It opens a lot of old wounds.”

One paragraph stood out more than the others:

Octavio Ortega, who has been organizing anticanal protests around the country, said many landowners distrust the project because it has been shrouded in secrecy. He said it was cynical for the developers to base their offers on the assessed tax value, knowing that many property owners lowball this figure to reduce their tax burden.

This sounds so much like the 1952 Agrarian Reform Law in Guatemala. Arbenz and the Guatemalan government offered to compensate landowners for the assessed values of their land. They pretty much said that they were lying about the lands’ real value and that they should be paid ten times more. The rest is history.

Nicaragua is all about family relationships. Octavio Ortega is probably not related to President Daniel but I’m not sure about which “Lacayo” to which Michael Healy Lacayo is connected.