Interoceanic Canal Bogged Down in Nicaragua
On its website, HKND Group announces contracts with international firms, such as CSA Global, an Australian geological, mining and management consulting company, and the Britain-based BMT Asia Pacific, an international design, engineering and risk management consultancy company, to develop operating plans for the canal and its ports.
However, two factors have dampened enthusiasm for the project: the news of the financial losses suffered by HKND Group CEO Wang Jing and a severe two-year drought that has made Lake Nicaragua virtually unnavigable.
In 2015, the press reported that Wang Jing’s net worth had shrunk from 10.2 to 1.1 billion dollars, when he lost nearly 85 percent of his fortune due to China’s stock market crisis.
Neither Wang Jing, nor HKND Group, nor the Nicaragua canal commission has issued any declaration with regard to these reports.
This, added to the lack of information about the financiers who are to provide more than 50 billion dollars for the project, has led opponents of the canal, such as Octavio Ortega Arana, president of the Municipalities of Rivas Foundation, to argue that the projected timeframes will not be met.
“I don’t see any progress towards the supposed canal and I think what the government really wants is to get its hands on the valuable land of peasant farmers, for private business interests of the Sandinista Party and relatives of President Daniel Ortega,” the activist told IPS.
Ortega governed from 1985 to 1990 as the leader of the leftwing Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN), returned to power in 2007, and will run again for reelection in November, thanks to a constitutional reform that scrapped limits to the number of terms that Nicaraguan presidents can serve.
The activist Ortega Arana said another situation that casts a shadow over the canal project, added to the resistancemounted by thousands of families living along the projected canal route, is the severe drought plaguing the country since 2014, which has undermined the navigability of Lake Nicaragua.
The devastating effects of climate change and deforestation near the country’s main water sources, including Lake Nicaragua and the Brito, Las Lajas and San Juan Rivers, which are key to construction of the canal, have been widely discussed in news reports, environmental newsletters, the social networks and even by local authorities.
The government’s national port authority, EPN, acknowledged this month that due to the drought and the lower water levels, cargo vessels have had a hard time docking in Lake Nicaragua.
The authorities have been dredging areas near the lake ports to make it possible for smaller boats to operate.
“How are these enormous ships supposed to cross the lake when not even little wooden fishing boats can get around now?” asked Ortega Arana.
However, government officials on the Nicaragua canal commission, such as ecologist Kamilo Lara, say the environmental impact of the drought and decades of deforestation of the area surrounding the lake and the river basins could be curbed by the new infrastructure and environmental mitigation works.
“The studies for the canal include these scenarios and worse ones regarding climate change, which contemplate projects to reforest millions of hectares of land in the water basins and create artificial lakes that would provide the canal route with water,” Lara told IPS.
Talavera argued that the lake would begin to be saved once construction of the canal began. “Today more than ever we need the resources that will come from the Great Interoceanic Canal, to invest them in restoring the environment, and to be able to address the risks posed by climate change,” he said.
Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes
Pictures for this story
This story includes downloadable print-quality images — Copyright IPS, to be used exclusively with this story.
- The first infrastructure works for the Nicaragua canal began in the rural area of Brito in Rivas department, 112 km south of Managua, in December 2014, with reparations of dirt roads for land transport. But since then, the infrastructure works have come to a standstill. Credit: Ramón Villareal/IPS
- In the municipality of Moyogalpa, on Ometepe Island in Lake Nicaragua, local boats are having a hard time getting around because of the low water level caused by the drought affecting Nicaragua since 2014. Credit: Ramón Villareal Bello/IPS