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Nicaragua approves plan to build canal between the Pacific and Caribbean with China

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
June 11th, 2013
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

Opponents say the ambitious plan is being rushed - but a Nicaraguan congressional committee has given the approval to a China-based consortium the concession to build and operate a canal between the Pacific and Caribbean.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - Jenny Martínez, the infrastructure committee president says the bill has been immediately sent to the National Assembly. The bill is expected to be approved later this week. Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega's Sandinista Front controls the national legislature with 63 out of 92 politicians.

The Chinese company in question, HK Nicaragua Canal Development Investment, is working with the Nicaraguan government on the project. Experts say it may take 11 years to finish, cost $40 billion and require the digging of about 130 miles of waterway.

Naysayers say that the project is far too ambitious for Nicaragua, one of the poorest countries in Latin America. Canal proponents say the waterway could create 40,000 construction jobs and double the per-capita gross domestic product of Nicaragua. The government plans to grant the Chinese company a concession for an initial 50 years -- with the possibility of doubling it.

Critics say there needs to be more information before politicians approve the construction of a canal whose location and environmental impact has not been determined, while others question the plan's viability just a few hundred miles northwest of the Panama canal.

"Since there is no defined path, we can't measure the degree of seriousness of this project," opposition member Javier Vallejos says. "This is like putting the cart before the horses," he added, referring to the fact that legislators are approving the canal's construction before knowing where it would be built.

An adviser to the presidency on environmental issues, Jaime Incer agreed with Vallejos. Incer says that authorities need to define a specific route before approving a concession. "There are at least six proposed routes and five of them include Lake Nicaragua, but there is nothing definite, that's all part of the unknown," he said.

Ortega said the project would start in Bluefields Bay on the southern Caribbean coast, go through the center of the country and into Lake Nicaragua and end at the southern Pacific coast.

Deputy Foreign Minister Manuel Coronel, chairman of the Grand Canal Authority, says that awarding the concession to the Chinese company guaranteed the project would be carried out. "It's a very serious company, very responsible and recognized," he said. "To doubt [the company] is to oppose the project for political rather than realistic issues."

The Hong-Kong-registered HK Nicaragua Canal Development Investment has an office in the Nicaraguan capital.

"This is a great project that has the potential to transform international trade and bring significant economic and social benefits to Nicaragua, their neighbors and Latin America," the company spokesman, Ronald Maclean-Abaroa, said on the group's Web site.

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