Nicaraguan official says government looking to give Chinese company concession to build canal

MANAGUA, Nicaragua – A concession to build a canal across Nicaragua linking the Pacific Ocean and Caribbean Sea will be awarded to a Chinese company, the National Assembly president said Wednesday.

Legislative leader Rene Nunez said the company will use funds from investors around the world to build the $40 billion project.

Nunez talked to local media after two bills for streamlining the process of building the canal and assessing its environmental impact were presented to lawmakers.

Opposition congressman Luis Callejas said lawmakers have been asked to discuss the bills Friday. The government plans to grant the Chinese company a concession for 100 years, he said.

“I do not understand what the rush is,” Callejas said. “It’s such a sensitive topic that it should be consulted with the population.”

Nunez said the project is very important for Nicaragua and that’s why is being pursued with urgency. He wouldn’t identify the company or discuss the concession.

President Daniel Ortega said recently that the canal would not go along the San Juan River as it had been planned. He said it would be built farther north, through the waters of Lake Nicaragua.

Ortega said the canal would be an alternative to the Panama Canal and would generate jobs for impoverished Nicaragua and other Central American countries.

The Panama Canal, which opened in 1914 and is too narrow for today’s biggest cargo ships, is being expanded by a consortium led by Spanish construction firm Sacyr-Vallehermoso SA. Panama’s canal authority is spending $5.25 billion to widen the 50-mile (80-kilometre) canal by 2014.

The consortium also includes Italy’s Impregilo SpA, Belgian contractor Jan de Nul and Panama’s Constructora Urbana SA, among others.