Fascinating news from Nicaragua is the announcement of a proposed inter-oceanic canal through Nicaragua that will allow larger ships to navigate the isthmus than can currently pass through the Panama Canal.
The Nicaraguan government passed a law to allow a Chinese company to excavate a new sea-level canal between the Pacific and Atlantic oceans. The canal, which would go across Lake Nicaragua, is projected to be at least four times longer than the Panama Canal. The cost of building the canal is estimated at 40 billion dollars.
The Hong Kong-based Chinese company HK Nicaragua Canal Development Investment Co. Ltd. (HKND Group), owned by Chinese magnate Wang Jing won the concession to build and run the canal for 50 years, extendable by another 50 years. It seems that the new legislation contains no specific route for the proposed canal and very little detail on its financing or its commercial feasibility. It allows the Hong Kong company sole rights to plan and build the canal with Nicaragua receiving a very small share of any future profits and no recompense if the canal is not completed.
The centuries old dream of a Nicaraguan inter-oceanic canal is that of thousands of new jobs, and an economic explosion that would mirror the affluence and prosperity of Panama. The major question is, what would the ecological costs be to the region? What will the ramifications be long-term? The legislature that passed Law 840 also abolished legislation that protected Lake Cocibolca and its tributaries. Lake Cocibolca or Lake Nicaragua as it is also known, is the largest freshwater resource in Central America and the second largest lake in all of Latin America. Though no specific canal route has been publicized, the canal would likely cross Lake Nicaragua, and could critically deplete the lake.
The rapid progression of the canal project through Nicaragua’s National Assembly has brought about protests about the granting of rights to the HKND Group with no open bidding procedure and no facts about its funding. It also set off alarms among environmentalists worried about the long-term ecological impact on the region. Law 840 was approved by the Nicaraguan legislature dominated by President Daniel Ortega's Sandinista Front in June 2013 in a hasty two-days.
Chinese tycoon Wang Jing says construction will begin in December, 2014 and be completed in five years! If he is able to pull off the construction of the Nicaragua canal, it will rank as one of the world’s greatest engineering wonders.
The Panama Canal project was fraught with a multitude of roadblocks and took many years to complete. There were many calamitous mistakes and thousands of lives lost. It appears that the Nicaragua canal project may be another debacle in the making. It will be fascinating to view the progress in the coming years.