Backers of the "Nicaragua Grand Canal" talk about a vibrant commercial waterway that will reshape commercial shipping, reap a windfall for investors and haul one of the hemisphere's poorest nations out of poverty.
But the project's detractors—and they are many—are having a hard time understanding what, exactly, those pro-canal people are talking about. And they also question whether it's being driven by commercial interests, or Chinese geopolitics.
About a year from the scheduled completion of a $5.2 billion Panama Canal extension that will let the existing waterway accommodate bigger ships, a Chinese consortium and the Managua government have said that they began work on a Nicaragua canal.
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Hong Kong Nicaragua Canal Development Investment (HKND) claims that it will complete the megaproject in 2019. (A project "groundbreaking" cited by media reports in December was actually just the start of an access road to let through heavy equipment.)
The Nicaragua Grand Canal is projected to cost $50 billion, and HKND says it will be able to accommodate ships of up to 23,000 twenty-foot equivalent units (TEUs, a measure equal to 20 feet by 8 feet by 8 feet of cargo). That compares with the 13,000 TEUs that the Panama Canal will be able to accommodate after its expansion.