This week, one of our e-journal’s regular contributors, R. Evan Ellis, was forced by the government to leave Nicaragua. Evan was there to conduct research on the planned canal that the Hong Kong Nicaragua Canal Development Investment Company (HKND Group) headed by Wang Jing, a Chinese billionaire has announced it will build from the Pacific to the Caribbean.
In the evening of June 15th, a group of uniformed officers claiming to be immigration authorities arrived at Evan’s hotel room and told him that the government had ordered him to leave the country the next morning—which he did. The supposed reason was that he had not received official approval to conduct research. But according to Jorge Huete of the Academia de Ciencias de Nicaragua, typically researchers come to Nicaragua without any official approval, just as researchers travel to other countries. A well-published and respected scholar, Evan would fit the designation in any country as a professional, credible, objective scholar.
Clearly there was something about his topic that rankled the Nicaraguan government, and perhaps even the Chinese company allegedly building the project. Maybe it was the content. In an earlier article Evan had raised questions about the progress and feasibility of the canal. One would think that if he was wrong, the government and contractors would have been delighted to show him the progress that had been made and their plans.
The removal fits a broader pattern of intolerance by the Nicaraguan government toward outside scholars, journalists and activists. Since 2010, 16 people have been kicked out of Nicaragua, including the Chilean photojournalist Héctor Retamal of the French Press Agency (AFP) and, more recently, Carlos Ponce of Freedom House. As Evan mentioned after returning to the U.S., this lack of transparency and arbitrary action by a government just as it is attempting to increase its attractiveness as a business destination with its new canal will only discourage investors. But more than that, it’s worth considering whether such behavior is appropriate for a country that is part of a free-trade agreement with the United States, the Central America/Dominican Republic Free Trade Agreement or CAFTA-DR.