Lago de NIcaragua would become a shipping channel, part of a proposed inter-ocean canal

ShutterstockLago de Nicaragua would become a shipping channel, part of a proposed inter-ocean canal.

It would take an estimated 11 years and $40 billion to excavate a proposed canal through 130 miles of Nicaragua to link the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, providing shippers with an alternative route to the Panama Canal. And the project would have a huge environmental impact on the country, slicing through rainforest and messing with waterways.

But enough already with boring facts and details. President Daniel Ortega is trying to ram the project through his country’s congress faster than Dick Cheney rammed America’s Patriot Act through after 9/11.

If approved, the plan would give a Chinese company a 100-year lease to build and operate the canal, which is expected to be able to handle bigger ships than the Panama Canal, even after an expansion of that project is completed. Nicaragua’s proposed canal would “reinforce Beijing’s growing influence on global trade and weaken US dominance over the key shipping route between the Pacific and Atlantic oceans,” The Guardian reports.

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From the Associated Press:

Ortega presented the canal proposal Tuesday and hopes to submit it to at least an initial vote on Monday, with final approval planned by next Thursday. …

[M]uch of Nicaragua’s water is earmarked for human use, and its lush rivers are too environmentally sensitive to be simply dredged into waterways or dammed to provide water to operate locks. Panama faced few such restrictions in the early 1900s when its canal was built.

In a previous version of the project presented in 2006, the promoters acknowledged they would probably have to build some dams, perhaps on rivers as sensitive as the San Juan, which runs along the border with Costa Rica. …

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With 1.7 billion gallons of water per day needed to run Nicaragua’s proposed locks, and tens of millions of tons of excavation needed, the project certainly looks daunting. …

“I do not understand what the rush is,” [said opposition congressman Luis Callejas]. “It’s such a sensitive topic that the population should be consulted.”

Ortega’s message to Nicaraguan lawmakers seems to be vote yes now, worry about consequences later. When has that strategy ever caused problems?