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Nicaragua’s canal: skepticism and optimism

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

A plan to build a shipping canal to link the Pacific and Atlantic oceans has met a barrage of opposition at home and abroad.

On the other hand, the Nicaraguan public likes the idea.

The project, which involves a concession to a Chinese company, headed by businessman Wang Jing, faces an unprecedented 16 constitutional challenges, including the claim that the project undermines national sovereignty.

The project would cost an estimated $40 billion, and would be run by the Chinese company for 50 years.

Concerns over foreign control over a Nicaraguan mega-project may have been exacerbated by a description of Wang’s headquarters.

“The building is hung with pictures of Chinese leaders, (while) his meeting room boasts an enormous mural of Chairman Mao, and his office contains dozens of scale models of Chinese army tanks, jets, rocket launchers and satellites”, according to an article in Britain's Daily Telegraph.

Another criticism of the plan is that it does nothing to deal with the region’s lack of infrastructure projects, which complement each other, in order to make Central America more efficient.

"It’s already insane for Central America’s small nations to have individual central banks, separate currencies, and customs barriers that make their trucks wait for days on their respective borders”, said Miami Herald columnist Andrés Oppenheimer.

On the other hand, there is no reason for the canal and regional-integration projects to be mutually exclusive.

For his part, Wang denies having any government connection.

“I am a very ordinary Chinese person,” he told Bloomberg News. “I can’t be any more ordinary.”

Meanwhile, 70 percent of Nicaraguans believe the government's claim that the canal would lift the nation out of poverty, according to a recent study by the Montevideo-based consultancy M&R.