Penn State researcher to speak about controversial Nicaraguan canal

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — The controversial development of a canal through Nicaragua, estimated to be the largest infrastructure project in history — and one experts say will have dramatic social and environmental consequences for Nicaraguans — will be the topic of a talk by a Penn State researcher at the Annual Meeting of the American Anthropological Association.

Carter Hunt, assistant professor of recreation, park, and tourism management at Penn State, will discuss the role of government discourse toward foreign intervention in Nicaragua, including policies related to tourism development and the construction of the inter-oceanic canal on Friday, Nov. 20, as part of the five-day, 6,000-attendee meeting in Denver, Colorado.

“This canal will literally bisect the country,” Hunt said. “It will have enormous social consequences, not the least of which it will involve the forced relocation of hundreds of villages lying in the canal’s path. It will also have immense environmental consequences for national protected areas, the Meso-American biological corridor, RAMSAR wetlands, and Lake Nicaragua, a source of drinking water for the majority of the country’s citizens.”

Nicaragua is partnering with the Chinese-based company HKND to develop the Western Hemisphere’s second inter-oceanic canal. Hunt said the Nicaraguan government approved final permits on Nov. 5 and, despite social and environmental protests, construction is underway.

Hunt’s presentation before the American Anthropological Association is based on his contribution to the upcoming Routledge volume "Political Ecology and Tourism." Hunt’s chapter is entitled “A Political Ecology Of Tourism In The Shadow Of An Inter-Oceanic Canal In Nicaragua: Displacing Poverty Or Displacing Social And Environmental Welfare?”

The book is a collection of writings that offer insight into the impacts and outcomes of tourism development policies on the environment and natural resources. It is edited by tourism scholars Sanjay Nepal and Jarkko Saarinen, and includes a forward by renowned political ecologist Piers Blaikie.

Hunt resided in Nicaragua from 2004 to 2005 while working on an organic coffee farm and ecolodge in the central highlands of Matagalpa. From 2007 to 2009, while pursuing doctoral studies at Texas A&M University, he conducted ethnographic research on impacts of tourism along the southern Pacific Coast. That work has been published in the Journal of Sustainable Tourism, Human Organization, and Tourism Planning and Development.

Since then, Hunt has returned to Nicaragua numerous times, most recently in August 2014 while supported by a grant from the Penn State Social Science Research Institute. Hunt has also conducted extensive ecotourism research in Costa Rica. He also leads Penn State study abroad programs on related topics in Fiji and Tanzania. 

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Last Updated May 19, 2016