Nicaragua Canal

The Nicaragua Canal Interoceanic Canal is a proposed shipping route through Nicaragua to connect the Pacific Ocean with the Atlantic Ocean, represented by the Caribbean Sea. The proposed waterway would follow the St. Juan River from Bluefields, a small Nicaraguan port on the Caribbean Sea, to Puerto Morrito, a community located on the eastern shore of Lake Nicaragua.

The planned canal could be about 175 miles (282 kilometers) long, more than three times the length of Panama's, with locks big enough to accommodate even colossal new container ships. Up to a quarter of a mile (0.4 kilometers) long,

The project also includes provisions for the construction of two deepwater ports, an international airport, two free-trade shipping zones, an oil pipeline, and a railway.

Construction of the canal is estimated to cost $40 billion (€30 billion as to 2013 exchange rates) and is to be completed in 2020.

After crossing Lake Nicaragua, oceanic ships would navigate through the Rivas isthmus, following a manmade canal until they reach the port of Brito, located on the Pacific shores of Nicaragua.

As far as we know, for the first time such a shipping route was proposed in the 18th century, and the first feasibility study was conducted in 1825 by the Americans, on the request from the newly independent Nicaraguan state (as part of the Central-American Federation). However, the United States abandoned plans to construct this waterway due to the conflict of interests with the Great Britain which occupied at the time part of the country, namely, the Mosquito Coast.

In the late 19th century, after a few other unsuccessful projects (in 1849 and in 1888), the United Stated even paid the Nicaraguan Government the rights to build the canal but a few years later, in the early 20th century, they purchased the French interests in the Panama Canal and thus the first project was abandoned once more, until the 1920’s. Once again the feasibility studies were conducted, but the guerrilla war between liberal forces led by the General Augusto Cesar Sandino and the troops of Anastasio Somoza Garcia forced to stop the works indefinitely.

Only in 2004, because the steady increase in world shipping the project of the Nicaragua Canal was considered economically viable. In June 2013, Nicaragua's National Assembly approved a bill to grant the right to the Hong Kong Nicaragua Canal Development Investment Company (HKND Group) to build the waterway. The concession grants to the HKND the right to use the canal for 50 years once the can is operational and can be extended for another 50 years after the first term expires.

Several possible routes have been proposed for the Nicaragua Interoceanic Canal, all making use of Lake Nicaragua, the largest lake in the whole of Central America. This lake Nicaragua is at an elevation of 105 feet above sea level (34 metres).

The projected way would follow the route from Kukra Hill on the Caribbean coast of Región Autónoma del Atlántico Sur (RAAS) to the Escondido River and from there to Lake Nicaragua (however, it may take the route from Roca Caiman of RAAS to the Escondido River and from there to Lake Nicaragua or it would go from the city of Bluefields to the Escondido River and from there to Lake Nicaragua. There exists also a plan to build another route, from  a point near Barra de Punta Gorda on the Caribbean coast of RAAS to Lake Nicaragua. The Ecocanal route would go from the town of San Juan de Nicaragua via the San Juan River to Lake Nicaragua.  Lake Nicaragua covers about six times the area of Los Angeles and is Central America’s largest lake.

Anyway, all the routes go to the town of Morrito, and from there, ships would continue westward across Lake Nicaragua to a port near the town of La Virgen in the Department of Rivas. At that point, ships would enter a manmade canal and navigate across the isthmus of Rivas to reach Brito, a port on the Pacific Ocean in the Department of Rivas.

The plan would require deepening the shallow San Juan River and adding a series of large locks.
Before starting the works, HKND Group has hired Environmental Resources Management, one of the world’s leading sustainability consultancies, to independently assess the environmental and social impact of various routes under consideration.

The estimated cost of $40 billion is about 20times Nicaragua's annual budget, but the Chinese and Russian investors,  support the project, even when the scheme meet with strong opposition from environmentalists, who protested the damage that would be done to the rivers and jungle.  According the ecologists, the Nicaragua Lake is a major source of drinking water and irrigation, and home to rare freshwater sharks and other fish of commercial and scientific value. The forest around it is home to howler monkeys, tapirs, jaguars, and countless tropical birds. The area is a natural laboratory for evolutionary biology. Just as Darwin’s finches evolved into different species as they adapted to the unique environment of individual islands, so it goes with fish as they’ve colonized the region’s network of crater lakes. “These crater lakes are like islands in a sea of land from a fish’s perspective,” says Mr. Meyer, who has been characterizing genetic changes in the region’s cichlid fish populations for dozens of years.

Exactly what ill effects would result from the canal aren’t clear, partly because the plan itself is not clear. But here are a few scenarios.

In addition to the waterway proposal, other plans include a land bridge across Nicaragua Lake, a combined railway (the Intermodal System for Global Transport or SIT Global), linking ports on either coast involving Canadian and American investors, an oil pipeline, recreational resorts, cottages at a low cost, etc.

On October 2, 2006, President Enrique Bolaños of Nicaragua, at a summit for defense ministers of the Western Hemisphere, announced that Nicaragua intended to proceed with the project. Bolaños. He proclaimed that the project would take approximately 12 years to construct. The route would take approximately 280 km, and reduce the transit time from New York to California by one day and 800 km, considerably reduce transit costs from Europe to China and Japan, and have capacity for ships of up to 250,000 tons.

The construction of the canal alone would more than double Nicaragua's GDP. It would enable Nicaragua to become one of the wealthiest countries in Central America, and one of the wealthiest countries in Latin America in per capita terms.  In fact, the Nicaraguan government sees the project as a desperately needed economic boost to the country, the poorest in the Western Hemisphere except for Haiti.

In 2009, Russian President Dimitry Medvedev suggested that Russia would be interested in pursuing the construction of the interoceanic waterway. Khalifa bin Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan of the United Arab Emirates has also expressed interest in sponsoring an interoceanic canal project.

On June 10, 2013, the National Assembly's Infrastructure Committee voted in favor of the project, and on June 13, 2013, Nicaragua's legislature passed the legislation granting the concession ti HKND Group, whose president Wang Jing signed the concession agreement with President Daniel Ortega of Nicaragua giving HKND Group the rights to construct and manage the canal and associated projects. Wang Jing is a Chinese billionaire who wholly owns HKND Group. Wang Jing’s bio on HKND’s website says he is “board chairman of more than 20 enterprises which operate businesses in 35 countries.”

In 2014, the Moscow Times reported that Russia would take part in the building of the Nicaragua Canal, viewing the project in part as an opportunity to pursue strategic interests in the region.

The Nicaraguan government sees a huge opportunity in the project. Indeed, officials claim the canal will triple employment, and lift more than 400,000 people out of poverty by 2018. It's been a dream a long time in the making.


A sad Scarlet Macow thinking about his recent future after the Canal is completed. Video: Univers.GrandQuebec.com

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