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.

News
Pro-Russia rebels guard a train containing the bodies of victims of the Malaysia Airlines flight MH 17 crash in Torez, Ukraine
i100
Life and Style
Child's play: letting young people roam outdoors directly contradicts the current climate
lifeHow much independence should children have?
Arts and Entertainment
Tycoons' text: Warren Buffett and Bill Gates both cite John Brookes' 'Business Adventures' as their favourite book
booksFind out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
Property
Sign here, please: Magna Carta Island
propertyYours for a cool £4m
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Arts and Entertainment
Struggling actors who scrape a living working in repertory theatres should get paid a 'living wage', Sir Ian McKellen has claimed
theatre
News
Skye McCole Bartusiak's mother said she didn't use drink or drugs
peopleActress was known for role in Mel Gibson film The Patriot
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Damon Albarn is starting work on a new West End musical
artsStar's 'leftfield experimental opera' is turning mainstream
Life and Style
Paul and his father
artsPaul Carter wants to play his own father in the film of his memoirs
Sport
Ben Stokes trudges off after his latest batting failure for England as Ishant Sharma celebrates one of his seven wickets
cricket
Arts and Entertainment
Members of the public are invited to submit their 'sexcapades' to Russell T Davies' new series Tofu
tv
News
Sky's Colin Brazier rummages through an MH17 victim's belongings live on air
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch star in the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game
arts + ents'The Imitation Game' stars Benedict Cumberbatch and Keira Knightley
Extras
indybest
News
i100... and no one notices
Arts and Entertainment
Friends reunited: Julian Ovenden, Richard Cant and Matt Bardock in rehearsals for the Donmar revival of 'My Night
with Reg'
theatrePoignancy of Kevin Elyot's play being revived just after his death
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Year 5/6 Teacher

£100 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Chelmsford: The successful applicant w...

Year 5/6 Teacher

£21000 - £35000 per day: Randstad Education Chelmsford: The JobThe successful ...

Business Analyst (Systems/ Incident Analyst)

£40000 - £50000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Business Analyst r...

SAP GRC Architect / Consultant

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: I am currently looking for a PERMANENT S...

Day In a Page

Amazing video shows Nasa 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action

Fireballs in space

Amazing video shows Nasa's 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action
A Bible for billionaires

A Bible for billionaires

Find out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
Paranoid parenting is on the rise - and our children are suffering because of it

Paranoid parenting is on the rise

And our children are suffering because of it
For sale: Island where the Magna Carta was sealed

Magna Carta Island goes on sale

Yours for a cool £4m
Phone hacking scandal special report: The slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

The hacker's tale: the slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

Glenn Mulcaire was jailed for six months for intercepting phone messages. James Hanning tells his story in a new book. This is an extract
We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

Child abusers are not all the same, yet the idea of treating them differently in relation to the severity of their crimes has somehow become controversial
The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

For instance, did Isis kill the Israeli teenagers to trigger a war, asks Patrick Cockburn
Alistair Carmichael: 'The UK as a whole is greater than the sum of its parts'

Alistair Carmichael: 'The UK as a whole is greater than the sum of its parts'

Meet the man who doesn't want to go down in history as the country's last Scottish Secretary
Legoland Windsor's master model-makers reveal the tricks of their trade (including how to stop the kids wrecking your Eiffel Tower)

Meet the people who play with Lego for a living

They are the master builders: Lego's crack team of model-makers, who have just glued down the last of 650,000 bricks as they recreate Paris in Windsor. Susie Mesure goes behind the scenes
The 20 best days out for the summer holidays: From Spitfires to summer ferry sailings

20 best days out for the summer holidays

From summer ferry sailings in Tyne and Wear and adventure days at Bear Grylls Survival Academy to Spitfires at the Imperial War Museum Duxford and bog-snorkelling at the World Alternative Games...
Open-air theatres: If all the world is a stage, then everyone gets in on the act

All the wood’s a stage

Open-air productions are the cue for better box-office receipts, new audiences, more interesting artistic challenges – and a picnic
Rand Paul is a Republican with an eye on the world

Rupert Cornwell: A Republican with an eye on the world

Rand Paul is laying out his presidential stall by taking on his party's disastrous record on foreign policy
Self-preservation society: Pickles are moving from the side of your plate to become the star dish

Self-preservation society

Pickles are moving from the side of your plate to become the star dish
Generation gap opens a career sinkhole

Britons live ever longer, but still society persists in glorifying youth

We are living longer but considered 'past it' younger, the reshuffle suggests. There may be trouble ahead, says DJ Taylor