Environmental fears for Lake Nicaragua add to skepticism over 'biggest engineering project in human history'

The project is the brainchild of President Daniel Ortega, who says it will lift his people out of poverty

With a blast of fanfare loud enough to drown out a background buzz of deep scepticism, Nicaragua has declared that it is moving forward with plans to build a waterway linking the Pacific to the Caribbean. The finished project would compete with the Panama Canal, which itself is undergoing a grand expansion.

Billed as the biggest engineering project in human history, the new canal would stretch 173 miles: starting at the mouth of the river Brito on the Pacific side, bisecting Lake Nicaragua near the border with Costa Rica and heading eastwards via the Tule and Punta Gordas rivers as far as Bluefields Bay on the Caribbean.

With a $40 billion price tag, the project is the brainchild of President Daniel Ortega, the one-time Marxist guerrilla turned laissez-faire leader, who says it will lift his people out of poverty, and Wang Jing - described by the New Yorker magazine as “an obscure Chinese tycoon” - who is a lawyer, not an engineer.

A special canal committee created by Mr Ortega said on Monday that it had settled on the route for the canal after considering six different options. Members said they expected ground to be broken this December with a highly ambitious 2019 completion date. (It took 10 years to build the existing Panama Canal, which is one third of the length of the Nicaraguan route.)

However obstacles remain. There is growing concern that by essentially handing over huge swathes of his country to an untested Chinese entrepreneur, Mr Ortega may have violated sovereignty clauses in the constitution.

Opposition may also intensify from environmentalists who fear for the future of Lake Nicaragua and all of the territory that would be torn up to make way for the sea lane.

Congressman Eliseo Nunez of the opposition Independent Liberal Party called this week’s announcement part of “a propaganda game” by Mr Ortega. “A media show to continue generating false hopes of future prosperity among Nicaraguans”.

But Mr Ortega dominates the political scene in his country and there has been little mistaking his determination to get the canal project under way, regardless of the questions about his choice of partner in Mr Wang.

“This is a project that will bring well-being, prosperity, and happiness to the Nicaraguan people,” he said at a ceremony unveiling his dream in Managua just over a year ago.

Nicaragua Canal Development Investment chairman Wang Jing speaks during a discussion group with students from the National Engineering University in Managua Nicaragua Canal Development Investment chairman Wang Jing speaks during a discussion group with students from the National Engineering University in Managua The somewhat reclusive Mr Wang is said to have built his fortune in the Chinese telecoms market. To further his courtship of Mr Ortega, he founded a company in Hong Kong and called it the HK Nicaragua Canal Development Investment Co Ltd (HKND Group).

Officials of the company have claimed that the project would give employment to about 50,000 in Nicaragua. In addition to the canal itself, ports and a new airport would be built.

"This project is going to be the biggest built in the history of humanity. It will be an enormous help to the Nicaraguan people and for the world in general, because world trade will require it, we are sure of this," Wang told students at the Managua University of Engineering.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Office Administrator

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: They make daily deliveries to most foodservice...

Recruitment Genius: Transport Planner

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: They make daily deliveries to most foodservice...

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer - C#, ASP.Net, MVC, jQuery

£42000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Our client is looking for a C# ...

Recruitment Genius: General Driver - Automotive

£15500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the South East's leading Motor Re...

Day In a Page

Solved after 200 years: the mysterious deaths of 3,000 soldiers from Napoleon's army

Solved after 200 years

The mysterious deaths of 3,000 soldiers from Napoleon's army
Every regional power has betrayed the Kurds so Turkish bombing is no surprise

Robert Fisk on the Turkey conflict

Every regional power has betrayed the Kurds so Turkish bombing is no surprise
Investigation into wreck of unidentified submarine found off the coast of Sweden

Sunken sub

Investigation underway into wreck of an unidentified submarine found off the coast of Sweden
Instagram and Facebook have 'totally changed' the way people buy clothes

Age of the selfie

Instagram and Facebook have 'totally changed' the way people buy clothes
Not so square: How BBC's Bloomsbury saga is sexing up the period drama

Not so square

How Virginia Woolf saga is sexing up the BBC period drama
Rio Olympics 2016: The seven teenagers still carrying a torch for our Games hopes

Still carrying the torch

The seven teenagers given our Olympic hopes
The West likes to think that 'civilisation' will defeat Isis, but history suggests otherwise

The West likes to think that 'civilisation' will defeat Isis...

...but history suggests otherwise
The bald truth: How one author's thinning hair made him a Wayne Rooney sympathiser

The bald truth

How thinning hair made me a Wayne Rooney sympathiser
Froome wins second Tour de France after triumphant ride into Paris with Team Sky

Tour de France 2015

Froome rides into Paris to win historic second Tour
Fifteen years ago, Concorde crashed, and a dream died. Today, the desire to travel faster than the speed of sound is growing once again

A new beginning for supersonic flight?

Concorde's successors are in the works 15 years on from the Paris crash
I would never quit Labour, says Liz Kendall

I would never quit party, says Liz Kendall

Latest on the Labour leadership contest
Froome seals second Tour de France victory

Never mind Pinot, it’s bubbly for Froome

Second Tour de France victory all but sealed
Oh really? How the 'lowest form of wit' makes people brighter and more creative

The uses of sarcasm

'Lowest form of wit' actually makes people brighter and more creative
A magazine editor with no vanity, and lots of flair

No vanity, but lots of flair

A tribute to the magazine editor Ingrid Sischy
Foraging: How the British rediscovered their taste for chasing after wild food

In praise of foraging

How the British rediscovered their taste for wild food