The planning of the Nicaragua Canal is going through a rough patch. Two months after the Nicaraguan government signed the project with Chinese company HK Nicaragua Canal Development Investment Co. Ltd., contradictory reports are coming from both sources regarding the state of the canal.
HK’s Wang Jing told British newspaper The Telegraph that the route of the future canal, dubbed “Great Canal,” is pretty much defined, and it will be able to allow bigger ships through than its counterpart in neighboring Panama. The Nicaraguan government, on the other hand, said that the route will not be decided until viability reports have been issued by the Chinese company.
The route, according to Wang, would start in Isla del Venado, on the Caribbean coast, cross the country and go through Lake Nicaragua, to finish in Brito, on the Pacific coast -- one of the three possible routes identified in early planning. The canal would be 170 miles (240 km) long, three and a half times the Panama Canal, and construction is planned to begin in December 2014.
This statement has worried Nicaraguan, since it entirely contradict President Daniel Ortega's assertion that the route would not be set until later. Environmental groups also raised their voice in concern, since they anticipate a disaster in the lake, the biggest in Central America, which provides the country with fresh water.
Wang did address the concerns in his statements to The Telegraph. “We know Lake Nicaragua is seminal for the country, like the Yellow River is for China. Protecting this lake is the center of our viability report,” he said. “I take responsibility for any environmental damage.” He also assured construction will start in December 2014.
The Nicaraguan government replied immediately, saying that there is no specific route planned for the canal as of yet. Bayardo Arce, who advises Ortega on economic issues and was a prominent figure in the 1970s Sandinista revolution that put Nicaragua in the pro-Communist camp during the Cold War, said that “[Wang] cannot say still which one of the suggested routes it will be, there are many studies to make.”
Hence, the government publicly discredited the man it once presented as the one who would make Nicaragua’s lifelong dream come true. Nicaraguan newspaper La Prensa published a article criticizing Wang.
“Someone who is still working on viability reports cannot say the route is already defined,” added Arce.
The Nicaraguan opposition has taken the opportunity to question the value of the project. Eliseo Núñez, deputy for the Bancada Democrática de Nicaragua (BDN), called the plan a “joke.” “They are taking us for fools, telling us this nonsense joke,” he said.
The agreement between Ortega and Wang to build the canal was signed on June 14. According to it, Nicaragua gave the Chinese company a concession of 100 years to complete and use the project. The cost was estimated at $40 billion, though that sum will not be confirmed until the viability reports are out.
Wang also said that this is a private project, and the Chinese government has no stake in it.
Patricia covers Latin America for the International Business Times.
Before joining IBT in March 2013, she worked at BBC America in New York, La República in Lima...