International Studies & Programs

Home > Other - DO NOT DELETE > News


Back to News
Speaker From Nicaragua Inspires Students

Published: Tuesday, 12 Apr 2016
Author: Joy M Whitten
Department: Latin American Studies Center

Allen Clair Duncan, an activist from Nicaragua, inspired MSU students to get involved during his presentations about what a canal project would mean for his people and land.

The interoceanic canal project carries a price tag of over $40 billion. One of the largest infrastructure initiatives ever proposed, it is heralded as a necessary step to improve one of the poorest economies in the hemisphere. 

However, it has also caused great alarm from both Nicaraguan citizens and international observers.  They voice concerns about the potential costs, displacement of peasant farmers, destruction of indigenous and Afro-descendent lands and communities, environmental damage to Lake Nicaragua and the country's vast rainforests, and the likelihood of actual economic improvement.  The New York Times ran an article on April 5th describing the big plans, questions, and setbacks.

In April, CLACS, along with James Madison College and Peace and Justice Studies, sponsored Allen Clair Duncan to speak on campus.  Allen Clair Duncan is President of the Monkey Point Communal Government, representing the Kriol community of Monkey Point. He also holds a position in the Rama-Kriol Territorial Government, which governs the autonomous territory comprising indigenous Rama and Afrodescendant Kriol communities of the southern Caribbean coast of Nicaragua. The community of Monkey Point is located at the proposed site for the terminus of the Nicaraguan Grand Interoceanic Canal, a massive US$50 billion infrastructure project led by the Chinese-owned Hong Kong Nicaragua Canal Development Company. Mr. Clair has been at the forefront of community activism against the canal, and he has joined other leaders from the Rama-Kriol Territorial Government in demanding free, prior, and informed consent for development projects in their territory.

While at MSU, Mr. Duncan attended an introductory and capstone class in Peace and Justice Studies and inspired students to get involved.  The outgoing president of the MSU Amnesty International chapter heard him speak in the capstone class.  She started making plans for the MSU group to follow developments.  Other students moved to take action were encouraged to connect with the MSU chapter to coordinate their activism when various rulings occur. 

Following his public presentation on April 5th, a panel of scholars addressed issues related to the canal project.  Panelists included Jennifer Goett, Assistant Professor of Comparative Cultures and Politics at James Madison College, Michigan State University; Gerald Urquhart, Assistant Professor at Lyman Briggs College and Department of Fisheries and Wildlife; and Josh Mayer, a master's student in anthropology at the University of Chicago. 

For the last fifteen years, Jennifer Goett has conducted activist research with Afrodescendant Creoles in Nicaragua who are mobilizing to defend their territorial rights. Her forthcoming book, Black Autonomy: Race, Gender, and Afro-Nicaraguan Activism (Stanford), examines the gendered strategies that Creole women and men use to assert autonomy over their bodies, labor, and spaces in the context of militarization and state violence.

Dr. Gerald Urquhart is a tropical ecologist who has worked on Nicaragua's Caribbean Coast for over 20 years.  His research emphasizes community engagement in understanding human interactions with wildlife and natural resources.  He has participated in several workshops on evaluating the social and environmental impacts of the Nicaraguan canal project, and has coauthored many papers on the potential impacts.   

Josh Mayer's research looks at the nexus of indigenous and Afro-descendant territories, financial capital, and postneoliberal governance in Latin America with a particular focus on the case of the Nicaraguan interoceanic canal. Josh has conducted ethnographic fieldwork in Nicaragua's Southern Caribbean Coast Autonomous Region as a Fulbright grantee and received his undergraduate degree in political science from Amherst College.