Nicaragua “The Other Canal”

The Nicaraguan Canal, also referred to as the Nicaragua Grand Canal, or the Nicaragua Interoceanic Grand Canal is a planned shipping route through Nicaragua to connect the Atlantic Ocean through the Caribbean Sea with the Pacific Ocean.

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The idea of constructing a manmade waterway through Central America is old. The colonial administration of New Spain conducted preliminary surveys. The routes suggested usually ran across Nicaragua, Panama, or the Isthmus of Tehuantepec in Mexico. Construction of a canal using the San Juan River as an access route to Lake Nicaragua was first proposed in the early colonial era. The United States abandoned plans to construct a waterway in Nicaragua in the early 20th century after it purchased the French interests in the Panama Canal, when it turned interests in to building the Panama Canal.

The history of attempts to build a Nicaragua canal connecting the Caribbean Sea and thus the Atlantic Ocean and the Pacific Ocean goes back at least to 1825 when the Federal Republic of Central America hired surveyors to study a route via Lake Nicaragua. Many other proposals have followed. Despite the operation of the Panama Canal that opened in 1914, interest in a Nicaragua canal has continued. With emergence of globalization, an increase in commerce and the cost of fuel, and the limitations of the Panama Canal, the concept of a second canal across the American land bridge became more attractive, and in 2006 the president of Nicaragua, Enrique Bolaños, announced the intent of Nicaragua to proceed with such a project. 

On September 26, 2012, the Nicaraguan Government and the newly formed Hong Kong Nicaragua Canal Development Group (HKND) signed a memorandum of understanding that committed HKND to financing and building the “Nicaraguan Canal and Development Project”. 

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In June 2013, Nicaragua’s National Assembly approved a bill to grant a 50-year concession to finance and manage the project to the private Hong Kong Nicaragua Canal Development Investment Company (HKND Group) headed by  Wang Jing is a Chinese businessman and billionaire. He is Chairman and CEO of Beijing Xinwei, a Chinese telecoms company.

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This concession can be extended for another 50 years once the waterway is operational. Construction of the canal, estimated to cost anywhere from $40 to $50 Billion US Dollars, began in December 2014, with completion due within five years. A recent media report suggested the project would now be delayed or even possibly scuttled due to the personal fortune of Wang Jing having taken a sudden dive with the recent Chinese stock market dip.

Also creating doubt is the fact that the Nicaraguan government has failed to present reliable information about whether or not the project can be financed, thus casting doubt over whether or not it can be completed. Another major issue is that scientists are concerned about the environmental impact of the project, as Lake Nicaragua (similar to Lake Gatun in Panama)  is Central America’s key freshwater reservoir.

epa04523995 Hundreds of demonstrators participate in a protest against the inter-oceanic canal project in Managua, Nicaragua, 10 December 2014. Demonstrators waved flags, chanted anti-government slogans as they marched in the capital. EPA/Mario Lopez
epa04523995 Hundreds of demonstrators participate in a protest against the inter-oceanic canal project in Managua, Nicaragua, 10 December 2014. Demonstrators waved flags, chanted anti-government slogans as they marched in the capital. EPA/Mario Lopez

As of November 2015, no significant construction has taken place.  It had been announced that construction of ports and locks would start before the end of 2015, but no money has yet been deposited for construction. In November 2015 the date of commencement for major construction works was put back to late 2016. 

Even with the Panama Canal expansion project, expected at that time to be completed in 2016, some ships would be too big for the Panama Canal which is a large part of the idea behind the Nicaraguan Canal.

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2 thoughts on “Nicaragua “The Other Canal””

  1. Enjoyed this post. We were recently in Nicaragua and the people seem to see pros and cons but most who we talked to just don’t think it will happen. Will be interesting to follow this.
    Suzi

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