On Friday night, during the meeting of the Central American presidents with U.S. President Barack Obama, Nicaragua’s president, Daniel Ortega, reiterated to his American counterpart that his government will build the inteoceanic canal.
Witness to the statement was Costa Rica’s minister of the Environment and Energy, Rene Castro, one of the attendees of the Central American Integration System (SICA) and United States dinner at the Teatro Nacional.
- Chinese and American Investment would finance the canal
- Daniel Ortega plans to build the canal during his presidency
- Panama offers technical assistance
- Costa Rica’s support is required for the project to go anywhere
According to Castro, who was Minister of Foreign Relations from May 8, 2010to August 1st, 2011 , President Ortega said the canal projec is moving ahead and will be built with Chinese and American investment.
“Very soon there will be two canals in Central America”, were the words spoken by Ortega says Castro.
What did Costa Rica say on this? “Nothing, we just took note. We all know that the project goes nowhere without Costa Rica’s support”, said Castro.
Costa Rica’s current Foreign Minister, Enrique Castillo, said on Monday that he di not hear what Ortega had said on the subject. However, he recalled hearing the President of Panama, Ricardo Martinelli, offering his Nicaraguan counterpart help with the development of the canal.
“He (Martinelli) said they were willing to provide technical assistance to Nicaragua, with the experience they had”, Castillo told La Nacion.
The Castillo version of the story is confirmed by Minister Castro, that Martinelli offered Ortega help if and when they are ready to build the canal.
Last September, Ortega announced that his government had signed a memorandum of understanding with a Chinese company that commits Hong Kong-based HK Nicaragua Canal Development Investment Co. Ltd. to financing and building the Nicaraguan canal that would unite the Caribbean Sea and Pacific Ocean. The route would include passage through the San Juan river, a river that divides Costa Rica and Nicaragua. Costa Rica has navigational rights of the river, but it clearly belongs to Nicaragua.
Costa Rica and Nicaragua are currently before the International Court of Justice at The Hague on the neighbouring issues.
In October 2010, Costa Rica alleges Nicaragua invaded the area known as Isla Calero, while the government of Daniel Ortega says it belongs to Nicaragua.
The Inter-Oceanic Nicaragua Canal is a proposed waterway through Nicaragua to connect the Caribbean Sea and Atlantic Ocean with the Pacific Ocean. Such a canal would follow rivers up to Lake Nicaragua and then 10+km through the isthmus of Rivas to reach the Pacific.
Such construction of a canal along the route using the San Juan River was proposed in the early colonial era. Louis Napoleon wrote an article about its feasibility in the early 19th century. The United States abandoned plans to build such a canal in the early 20th century after it purchased the French interests in the Panama Canal at a reasonable cost.
Speculation on a new canal continues. The steady increase in world shipping may make this an economically viable project. Alternatively, a railway, or a combined railway and oil pipeline, could be built to link ports on the Atlantic and Pacific coasts. Nicaragua has let contracts to Korean developers to construct a deepwater port and facilities at Monkey Point on the Atlantic coast to improve capacity there.
Several possible routes have been proposed for a canal in Nicaragua, all making use of Lake Nicaragua, the second largest lake in Latin America. Three routes have been discussed to carry traffic from the Atlantic up to the lake, which is at an elevation of 32 m (105 ft) above sea level:
- from Bluefields, up the Rio Escondido and then an artificial canal to the lake
- from Punta Gorda, up the Rio Punta Gorda and then an artificial canal to the lake
- from San Juan de Nicaragua, up the San Juan River — with improvements and new locks — to the lake
An artificial canal would then be cut across the narrow isthmus of Rivas (its lowest point is 56 m (184 ft) above sea level) to reach the Pacific Ocean at San Juan del Sur or Brito.
The idea of building a canal through Central America is a very old one. The colonial administration of New Spain conducted preliminary surveys. The routes usually suggested ran across Nicaragua, Panama, or the Isthmus of Tehuantepec in Mexico.
In 1825 the newly established Federal Republic of Central America considered the canal. That year the Central American federal government hired surveyors to chart the route and contacted the government of the United States to seek financing and the engineering technology needed for building the canal, to the great advantage of both nations. A survey from the 1830s stated that the canal would be 278 km (172.7 mi) long and would generally follow the San Juan River from the Atlantic to Lake Nicaragua, then go through a series of locks and tunnels from the lake to the Pacific.
While officials in Washington, D.C. thought the project had merit, and Secretary of State Henry Clay formally presented it to the Congress of the United States in 1826, the plan was not approved. The US was worried about the poverty and political instability of Nicaragua, as well as the rival strategic and economic interests of the British government, which controlled both British Honduras (later Belize) and the Mosquito Coast.
On August 26, 1849, the Nicaraguan government signed a contract with the U.S. businessman Cornelius Vanderbilt. It granted his Accessory Transit Company the exclusive right to build a canal within 12 years and gave the same company sole administration of a temporary trade route in which the overland crossing through the Rivas isthmus was done by train and stagecoach. The temporary route operated successfully, quickly becoming one of the main avenues of trade between New York City and San Francisco. Civil war in Nicaragua and an invasion by filibuster William Walker intervened to prevent the canal from being completed.
Continued interest in the route was an important factor in the negotiation of the Clayton-Bulwer Treaty of 1850. The canal idea was discussed seriously by businessmen and governments throughout the 19th century. In 1897, the United States’ Nicaraguan Canal Commission proposed this idea, as did the subsequent Isthmian Canal Commission in 1899. However, the commission also recommended that the French work on the Panama Canal should be taken over if it could be purchased for no more than $40,000,000. Since the French effort was in disarray, the U.S. was able to make the purchase at its price.
The Nicaraguan Canal Commission carried out the most thorough hydrological survey yet of the San Juan river and its watershed, and in 1899 concluded that an interocean project was feasible at a total cost of US$138m. At the same time the Geological Society of America published the “Physiography and Geology of Region Adjacent to the Nicaragua Canal Route” in its Bulletin in May 1899 which stands to this day as one of the most detailed geological surveys of the San Juan river region.
In the late 19th century, the United States government negotiated with President José Santos Zelaya to lease the land to build a canal through Nicaragua. Luis Felipe Corea, the Nicaraguan minister in Washington, wrote to US Secretary of State John Hay expressing the Zelaya government’s support for such a canal. The US signed the Sánchez-Merry Treaty with Nicaragua in case the negotiations for a canal through Colombia fell through, although the treaty was later rejected by John Hay. Before Corea completed a draft of the Nicaragua proposal, Congress was considering the Spooner Act, to authorize the Panama Canal. In addition to the promise of earlier completion of the Panama canal, opponents of the Nicaraguan canal cited the risk of volcanic activity at the Momotombo volcano. They favored construction of a canal through the isthmus of Panama.
According to Stephen Kinzer’s 2006 book Overthrow, in 1898 the chief of the French Canal Syndicate (a group that owned large swathes of land across Panama), Philippe Bunau Varilla, hired William Nelson Cromwell to lobby the U.S. Congress for the Panama Canal. In 1902, taking advantage of a year with increased volcanic activity in the Caribbean, Cromwell planted a story in the New York Sun reporting that the Momotombo volcano had erupted and caused a series of seismic shocks. This caused concern about its possible effects on a Nicaraguan canal. Cromwell arranged for leaflets with the stamps featuring Momotombo to be sent to every Senator, as “proof” of the volcanic activity in Nicaragua. An eruption in Saint-Pierre, Martinique, which killed 30,000 people, persuaded most of the U.S. Congress to vote in favour of Panama, leaving only eight votes in favour of Nicaragua. The decision to build the Panama Canal passed by four votes. William Nelson Cromwell was paid $800,000 for his lobbying efforts.
At the start of the 20th century, Nicaraguan president José Santos Zelaya tried to arrange for Germany and Japan to finance the canal. Having settled on the Panama route, the US opposed this proposal.
After the Panama Canal
Since the Panama Canal opened in 1914, the Nicaragua route has been reconsidered. Its construction would shorten the water distance between New York and San Francisco by nearly 800 kilometers (500 mi). Under the Bryan-Chamorro Treaty of 1916, the United States paid Nicaragua US$3 million for an option in perpetuity and free of taxation, including 99-year leases of the Corn Islands and a site for a naval base on the Gulf of Fonseca.
In 1929, the US Interocean Canal Board approved out a two-year detailed study for a ship canal route, known as the Sultan Report after its author, the US army engineer Col. Daniel Sultan. From 1930 to 1931 the US Army Corp of Engineers survey team of 300 men, surveyed the route of any future canal, called the Forty-Niners route because it followed closely the route that miners took in the 1840s California Gold Rush. But Costa Rica protested that Costa Rican rights to the San Juan River had been infringed, and El Salvador maintained that the proposed naval base would affect both it and Honduras. Both protests were upheld by the Central American Court of Justice in rulings that were not recognized by either Nicaragua or the U.S. Both nations repealed the Bryan-Chamorro Treaty on 14 July 1970.
Between 1939 and 1940, with war in Europe underway, a new study was made for the construction of a barge canal. Three variants were considered with minimum channel depths of six-feet, ten-feet and twelve feet.
In 2004, the Nicaraguan government again proposed a canal through the country—large enough to handle post-Panamax ships of up to 250,000 tons, as compared to the approximately 65,000 tons that the Panama Canal can accommodate. The estimated cost of this scheme may be as much as US$25 billion, 25 times Nicaragua’s annual budget. Former President Enrique Bolaños has sought foreign investors to support the project. The scheme has met with strong opposition from environmentalists, who protest the damage that would be done to the rivers and jungle.The project will be like the original plans only in the fact that the US government would buy the land for investors to start building the canal.
In addition to the governmental waterway canal proposal, private proposals have been based on a land bridge across Nicaragua. The Intermodal System for Global Transport (SIT Global), involving Nicaraguan and Canadian and American investors, proposes a combined railway, oil pipeline, and fibre optic cable; a competing group, the Inter-Ocean Canal of Nicaragua, proposes building a railway linking two ports on either coast.
In 1999, Nicaragua’s National Assembly unanimously approved an exploration concession, Ley 319, for the construction of a shallow-draft waterway along the San Juan river, known as Ecocanal. This would connect Lake Nicaragua to the Caribbean, but would lack the inter-ocean link to the Pacific Ocean. This project is loosely based on the 1939/40 study.
It is possible that these schemes could exist in parallel to the proposed inter-ocean canal.
On October 2, 2006, President Enrique Bolaños, at a summit for Defense ministers of the Western Hemisphere, officially announced that Nicaragua intended to proceed with the project. Bolaños said that there was sufficient demand for two canals within the Central American isthmus. Bolaños proclaimed that the project would cost an estimated US$18 billion and would take approximately 12 years to construct. It could take one of six possible routes at approximately 280 km, reduce the transit time from New York to California by one day and a total of 800 km, would 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 would more than double Nicaragua’s GDP based on the canal alone (exclusive of other investments which were estimated in Nicaragua as a result of the canal’s construction). Some sources suggest that construction of the canal 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. The government has been studying proposals for such a development. Supporters believe that all Central America would benefit from the construction of the canal. If a Nicaraguan canal were built, “it would bring an economic effervescence never seen before in Central America,” Bolaños said.
In 2009, Russian President Dimitry Medvedev suggested that Russia would be interested in pursuing the construction of the inter-oceanic waterway canal. However, no progress has been made to date and the construction of the Third Set of Locks for the Panama Canal has apparently dampened Russian enthusiasm for the project. Khalifa bin Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan of the United Arab Emirates has also expressed interest in sponsoring an inter-oceanic canal project.
On July 27, 2012 engineering services provider Royal HaskoningDHV announced that the Nicaraguan government has commissioned a feasibility study to be completed early 2013 at a cost of $720,000. The contract has been awarded to a consortium of Royal HaskoningDHV and Ecorys.
On September 26, 2012, the Nicaraguan government and a newly formed Chinese company have signed a memorandum of understanding that commits Hong Kong-based HK Nicaragua Canal Development Investment Co. Ltd. to financing and building the Nicaraguan canal.Plans call for construction to be partially completed by 2019 when the canal would have the capacity to accommodate 416 million tonnes of cargo.