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New 'Panama Canal' project sparking war between Colombia and Nicaragua

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
December 27th, 2012
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

Nicaragua, the second poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere, has just inked a deal with a Chinese company for a $30 billion canal. The proposed waterway will connect the Atlantic with the Pacific, and Nicaragua hopes to reap an economic windfall with its construction. However - many think this project will be far too big for Nicaragua can chew, and neighboring South American nation Colombia has began to fill the nearby water with warships in protest.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega seeks foreign investment from Brazil, China, Russia and Venezuela to help build the waterway. Ortega looks to the plan as an alternative to the Panama Canal, fulfilling a national dream more than 150 years in the making.

The United Nation's International Court of Justice in the Hague last week redrew the maritime map between Colombia and Nicaragua, doubling Nicaragua's exclusive economic zone in the Caribbean Sea by 38,600 square miles.

Neighboring nation Colombia has vehemently rejected the ruling. Colombian warships now sail defiantly through Nicaragua's newly acquired maritime territory. The planned waterway has already added more tension in South America.

Among the economic boost brought by the waterway is the broader and more lucrative concessions for fishing and oil exploration. Straightaway, not everyone will be seeking government permission to exploit the area.

Northbound drug runners supplies the hemisphere's $40 billion illegal-narcotics trade. With the court-ordered changing of the guard from Colombia, Latin America's largest navy, to Nicaragua, one of the regions smallest appears almost as an invitation to "test the waters."

"The narcos will undoubtedly probe the Nicaraguan capabilities to patrol their expanded territorial waters," Bruce Bagley, a drug-war expert at the University of Miami says. "If they prove inadequate or incapable, then the drug traffickers will certainly press their advantage." Bagley predicts the recent decision "could easily and rapidly become a major boon for traffickers from Colombia, Mexico and Central America."

A small and compact nation, Nicaragua has taken pride on establishing a "firewall" in the drug war, which has drenched other Central American nations in bloodshed. Will this nation have the military might to back this up?

Nicaragua's top military brass, General Julio CÚsar Aviles, says his country does have the "professional capacity as mariners to carry out this task" of expanding its permanent patrol.

Others point out to the country's limited resources, and inadequate personnel and air support. Nicaragua has only three go-fast patrol boats capable of remaining out at sea for more than a day. The country's ability to protect such an expansive sea tract, which now reaches 200 nautical miles from its shoreline -- is somewhat comical.

Following the ruling last month, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos insists the decision is "seriously wrong" and replete with "omissions, errors, excesses and inconsistencies that we cannot accept."

Santos announced this week that his country has officially withdrawn from the treaty that recognizes the ICJ's authority. "Borders between the states should be established by the states," Santos tweeted, repeating his call for bilateral talks with Nicaragua on the court ruling.

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